Learn from Sabah, say doctors as Sarawak mulls elections

A spike of Covid-19 cases in Sabah has been reported after the recent state elections.

KUCHING: A medical specialist has urged Sarawak authorities and politicians to learn from the spike in Covid-19 cases following the Sabah elections, as they make preparations for Sarawak’s state elections.

Dr Kuljit Singh, an ENT specialist, said the priority now should be to flatten the curve of Covid-19 infections.

The Sabah elections have been blamed for the recent surge in cases and Kuljit said it was vital that the lessons learned from the first state elections under a pandemic, be put into practice if Sarawak has to go through an election.

The term of the current state assembly will expire in June next year, after which elections must be held.

He said Sarawak needed to be a Covid-19 “green zone state”, where there are no new cases for two weeks.

“Compliance to SOPs, stringent screening for all arrivals into the state and the need for post-election quarantine are also important. From the photos of the Sabah polls, we can see that the people, including leaders, failed to follow the SOPs, such as physical distancing and avoiding crowds.”

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Subramaniam Muniandy called for a shorter campaigning period and to increase the number of polling centres for better crowd control.

He said there should also be increased surveillance efforts in testing for Covid-19 ahead of the polls.

Subramaniam said there was a need to significantly reduce the overall number of Covid-19 cases nationwide first before considering holding another state election.

“From a medical point of view, an election can double or even triple the risk of Covid-19 infections simply because there will be increased movement of people and groups around the state and events where large crowds gather,” he said, adding it was not the right time for polls.

Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg had said a state election could be held “any time from now” as the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak’s mandate expires in June.

Several opposition parties in the state, including DAP and PKR are against it citing the Covid-19 situation, but one lawyer aligned to the state government said it could not be avoided.

Declining to be named, the lawyer said the only way the election could be delayed was if the Sarawak Constitution was amended or if the Yang di-Pertuan Agong declared an emergency.

Meanwhile, Sarawak Bersih chairman Ann Teo told FMT it would be reckless to hold any elections now, given the spike in Covid-19 cases.

She added fears over the spread of the virus could suppress voter turnout if an election was called in Sarawak, similar to what happened in Sabah.

“Another major concern is that over 200,000 Sarawakian voters living outside the state are unlikely to return to cast their votes due to quarantine and costs concerns.

“So, the state government should consider all these factors before calling for an election.”