Johor elections: A wasteful risk to public health?


WAITING – it could save lives and would have saved millions that could have been spent on flood victims, athletes, and more.

Why?

This is the first and most obvious question that should be asked about having state elections in Johor.

All decisions can and should be subject to a cost-benefit analysis.

In this case, at first glance, all we can see is the benefit going to politicians, at the cost of the rakyat’s well being.

We are at most 18 months away from the automatic dissolution of Parliament and the State Assembly of Johor - the latter has since been dissolved.

Just as in the case of Sabah and Melaka, the general public probably cannot see a single genuine rakyat-centric reason to dissolve the state assembly.

In Sarawak at least, there was a somewhat more legitimate reason stemming from the fact that elections were in fact due.

Add this to the number of times that a Mentri Besar was replaced since the Sheraton Move, which is honestly too many for the man in the street to keep track of by now.

All in, it is clear we are still in a political pandemic as much as we are still in a health pandemic.

The Johor dissolution did not happen quite as suddenly as the Melaka one, but it still happened fast enough amidst other controversies like those surrounding Azam Baki and Lee Zii Jia that this poor columnist at least did not manage to get in a word edgewise until the deed was already done.

So instead of begging the Johor government not to dissolve, we are left with the more depressing job of articulating what this dissolution teaches us.

Regarding the question ‘why’, I suppose there are no end of reasons why politicians chose this path.

There was a time when I would feel inclined to dig into all the intricate, nitty-gritty, behind the scenes details involved in Johor state-level politics, but as time goes by, I seem to care less and less simply because it seems to matter less and less in the grander scheme of things.

I have a feeling I’m not alone in these newfound inclinations. As more and more of these happen, the signal to noise ratio invariably decreases.

From a more macro perspective, it seems likely enough that politicians are looking to test the ground and mine more data ahead of the coming general elections.

There’s a lot of uncertainty ahead, and perhaps dissolving the Johor state assembly was one of the best ways to get more data that can help determine future directions for these politicians, and give them better bargaining power.

At what price though? As usual, the cost to the politicians is nothing. The cost to the rakyat, on the other hand? Immeasurable.

If there is even one extra family that loses a loved one due to increased Covid-19 infections in the aftermath of these elections, can we justify that loss of life?

Malaysia’s current Covid-19 numbers are the envy of very many countries.

At the time of writing, we are about 107 new cases per 1 million people in our population. By that same metric, Japan stands at about 333, Singapore 574, the United Kingdom 1,350, the United States 2,050, Australia 2,450, and France at 5,340.

One possible reason for this is that Malaysians are still wearing masks - something to be extremely proud of!

Basically though, I doubt we can withstand global trends for long.

Prof Wong Chin Huat did an analysis of when the more contagious Omicron variant hit and how it relates to elections.

He notes that the Melaka elections ended before Omicron really hit Malaysia and that Omicron cases were still in very early double-digit stages around the time of the Sarawak state elections.

Omicron cases have now climbed to mid-3-digit figures, and Johor’s population is much bigger and denser than that of Sarawak.

Will the Johor elections be the tipping point that pushes us over the edge, bringing our numbers up to the dangerous levels experienced by so many other countries?

How many more Malaysian lives will be at risk compared to a scenario where no state elections were held?

The cost of human life is immeasurable. The financial cost however, is rather more measurable.

If anyone has more accurate data, I’d be delighted to be informed or corrected, but according to recent public statements, estimates of costs for having early state elections are between RM40 to RM150mil.

This is insane.

I didn’t spend even 1% of the time that thousands of brave, compassionate Malaysians did doing flood relief work last year. But even in that little time I spent on the ground, it was glaringly obvious that the cost to the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Malaysians (or more) who were affected by these floods must have been an unbearable financial burden.

Are we really saying that we would rather spend tens or maybe hundreds of millions on early state elections to feed the vanity of some politicians, rather than using that money to help flood victims and other deserving Malaysians?

Are the sportspeople we are cutting out of national programmes like squash player Low Wee Wern or Paralympics coach R. Jeganathan, and so on really worth less than these politicians?

The truly worst part of it is, we would be spending those millions on something we could essentially get for free if those politicians had been willing to wait for the 0 - 18 months until the 15th general election.

Having state elections at the same time as general elections probably cuts the costs by 99%. It’s like two individuals booking two private jets for two separate flights from KL to New York City on the other side of the world just because they weren’t willing to wait an extra few hours to travel together. It’s truly insane.

The saddest part for me personally is that there’s probably precious little we can do about it now.

The only hope for the long run is that this serves as another nail in the coffin for the old way of doing things, and spurs the next generation to innovate newer, better ways to run our democracy.

NATHANIEL TAN works with Projek #BangsaMalaysia (not to be confused with the totally unrelated Parti Bangsa Malaysia). Twitter: @NatAsasi, Clubhouse: @Nathaniel_Tan, Email: nat@engage.my. #BangsaMalaysia #NextGenDemocracy.

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