Sarawak polls date depends on pandemic outcome, says state govt

KUCHING: The Sarawak government will consider the Covid-19 situation and advice from the Health Ministry in deciding when to call the next state election, which is due by mid-2021.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg said although Sarawak was currently reporting new cases in single digits, it could not be predicted whether the situation would be better or worse in the coming months.

Against this is the need to seek a fresh mandate before the state legislative assembly’s current term expires next June.

“For us, we have to look at both sides. We are subject to advice from the Health Ministry on whether we should go (for elections) or not. I am also concerned about the health of the people.

“On the other hand, you cannot govern and take measures against Covid-19 if you don’t have a mandate.

“So this is a very difficult, complex situation. We have to consider every factor, then we decide,” Abang Johari told reporters after announcing an extension of the Sarawakku Sayang special aid package here yesterday.

NGOs and opposition leaders have called for the Sarawak election not to be held during the current Covid-19 surge in the country, which has largely been blamed on the recent Sabah polls.

Asked if the elections would be held this year, Abang Johari reiterated that the decision was subject to advice from health experts.

“We are not crazy for power. What is important is to have a government that has the mandate not only to manage Covid-19 but the state,” he said.

He added that once the election was called, it was the role of the Election Commission (EC) to put in place the standard operating procedures (SOP) for conducting it safely.

“We leave it to the EC to set the SOP and we follow the SOP. I do not want to be like Sabah, because the health of the people is important,” he said.

On the special aid package, Abang Johari said seven measures would be extended until December with a total cost of RM104.84mil to lessen the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The extended measures include discounts on utility bills, Housing Development Corporation rental discounts for tenants, 50% discount for rental of markets and stalls, waiver of permits and licence fees for traders, hawkers and tamu (market) operators and rental waivers for retail SMEs operating in premises owned by state government-linked companies.

In addition, one-off financial assistance of RM500 for the transport sector will be extended to 2,396 e-hailing drivers and 791 driving instructors in Sarawak.

“Basically, we are extending the assistance until December to ease the people’s burden and provide relief to those affected by the pandemic,” Abang Johari said.

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