While we might pride ourselves on being a democratic country, right now public health and safety should take precedence over democratic processes.
THE dust has settled on the recently concluded Sabah state election but the results and consequences of holding it in the first place could be far-reaching.
Gabungan Rakyat Sabah’s (GRS) narrow win with 38 seats indicates that coalition politics will continue to be part and parcel of the Malaysian landscape.
And the only reason the election win was so close was because the Opposition, Parti Warisan Sabah (the party with the single biggest representation), secured 32 seats with the help of its coalition partners.
Congratulations to new Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Mohd Noor and his victorious partners – but one has to ask the question whether the state election should have been held in the first place with the spectre of Covid-19 looming.
A targeted enhanced movement control order (MCO) is now in place in four districts in the state and the Kota Kinabalu area is on the verge of becoming a red zone.
As the numbers continue to spike, there is a real possibility of the whole of Sabah being put under a lockdown.
Why wasn’t mitigating the pandemic the first priority rather than holding a costly statewide election that risked the emergence of more clusters?
It’s all water under the bridge now. Sabah is a no-travel zone for the immediate future, and the longer the pandemic wreaks havoc there, the more the local economy will suffer.
The attention now shifts to the peninsula where Covid-19 numbers have risen sharply, in the Klang Valley in particular. How will this play out for the next general election? Persistent rumours seem to suggest snap polls are around the corner.
On Sept 18, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said a general election could be called ahead of time should GRS win the Sabah election.
Perikatan Nasional’s control of the Federal Government has been tenuous over the last seven months and this has meant that the Prime Minister has had to bend backwards to accommodate his key coalition partners.
But matters are coming to a head now. First, Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim made the surprising claim that he has “formidable” numbers to justify a change of government.
Next, there have been persistent calls from Umno leaders to leave the Perikatan coalition.
Its deputy president, Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, has reiterated this with a strong statement yesterday, calling for Umno not to be made use of.
Muhyiddin appears to have been pushed into a corner with no choice now but to call for snap elections.
But in politics, nothing is as it seems. It is evident that no single political party is able to muster majority support and that’s why there is always the potential of collaboration with new coalition partners. It will be interesting to watch for new developments over the coming weeks.
At the moment, Malaysians do not have the appetite for another election. Their chief concerns are surviving the pandemic until a vaccine is found and getting the economy back to pre-coronavirus levels.
The current administration has done a commendable job containing the pandemic when compared with the infection rates in many other countries. But it would be foolish to rest on our laurels now.
Using Sabah as an example, medical experts described how the pandemic complicated traditional campaigning methods. They warned that the spike in positive cases during the campaigning period for the state election should be a lesson for any upcoming state or general election.
In fact, these health professionals are united in calling on the government NOT to hold a GE. A snap election would only provide more opportunities for Covid-19 to spread much further than what has happened in Sabah.
Campaigning during a GE would lead to larger and more frequent political gatherings, as well as the vast movement of people throughout the country to attend these gatherings and, ultimately, to vote.
The cost of holding an election is also a concern. Additional social distancing measures would further stress our frontliners and this huge potential cost is the kind of money that we can’t afford to spend due to the economic downturn because of Covid-19.
The truth is, we cannot afford another mass lockdown. And that is exactly what could happen in a scenario if polls were to take place now.
The government may have no choice but to call for a full-blown enhanced MCO. Another prolonged lockdown will shatter our fragile economy which is just showing signs of recovery.
I believe the present administration should be allowed to continue until such a time that our health authorities deem safe to hold public gatherings.
Malaysia has always prided itself on being a democratic country but these are extraordinary times when public health and safety should be the foremost consideration even at the expense of our democratic processes.
Brian Martin, executive editor of The Star, would like to come clean. He has vested interest in the proposed assessment rate hike since he’s a resident of Kuala Lumpur.
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