KOTA KINABALU: When Bakri Mohd casts his ballot in the Sabah state election next month, it will be the third time for him in less than three years.
But that is only if he decides to make the trip back to his home state yet again, with the cost, the Covid-19 pandemic and party-hopping candidates weighing in on his decision.
The 61-year-old has been based in Selangor for the past 21 years, driving a taxi for a living.
As a voter in the Bongawan state constituency, which is under the Kimanis parliamentary constituency, he fulfilled his responsibility at the 14th general election in May 2018 and at the Kimanis by-election in January.
For the state election due on Sept 26, however, he remains undecided.
“If I have the money, I will go back, but times are hard,” he said, lamenting that his income had been affected badly by the movement control order.
“The Covid-19 threat is still around. So I’m still undecided over whether to go back to vote this time around.”
Bakri added that having three elections in the same constituency in less than three years was a burden on the people.
“It is troublesome. Besides, there is no guarantee that the candidate you vote for will stay put in his party.
“We all know about the party-hopping culture in Sabah. We can’t do anything about that as we are ordinary people.
“But at the same time, we as Malaysians should not let go of such opportunities and our responsibility as voters.”
The Kimanis parliamentary seat was vacated in December last year after the Federal Court upheld the election court’s declaration that the victory of former foreign minister Anifah Aman in GE14 was null and void.
In the by-election in January, Umno’s Mohamad Alamin defeated Warisan’s Karim Bujang in a straight fight.
Voters in Sandakan will also be going to the polls for the third time in less than three years. A by-election was held there in May 11 last year, with DAP’s Vivian Wong beating Parti Bersatu Sabah’s Linda Tsen and three independent candidates.
A Sandakan voter who identified himself only as Adrian noted that voters in the constituency would be the only ones casting their ballots every year since GE14.
“Imagine the trouble for Sandakan voters living outside the district and more so for those working or studying outside the state,” said Adrian, who works in Peninsular Malaysia most of the time.
Echoing Bakri’s concerns about party-hopping, he said he was torn between carrying out his responsibility as a voter and the thought of the eventual political outcome.
“If I don’t go back and the result turns out to be something I don’t favour, then I’ll only have myself to blame for not playing my part,” he said.
“However, I’m still considering whether to go or not. My hope is that whichever party wins, it will be with a wide majority so that we won’t have any of this party-hopping nonsense.”
Political analyst Tony Paridi Bagang said Sabah voters could be deterred from returning to their voting districts not only by financial hurdles but also by the disappointment of recently seeing their representatives switch parties.
“Voters are upset because their assemblymen betrayed them by switching allegiance,” he said. “They feel that their votes are like commodities being traded by their representatives.
“Not going back is one way of showing their protest.”
He added that the fear of Covid-19 would also make people think twice because of the higher risk of infection during a mass event such as an election.
The Election Commission (EC) has set Sept 12 as nomination day. There will be 73 seats contested, 13 more than in GE14.
EC deputy chairman Azmi Sharom is hoping for a 70% voter turnout. He said as many as 1.12 million voters are eligible to vote in the election, comprising 1.10 million regular voters, 81 overseas voters, 9,488 soldiers and their partners and 11,423 policemen and their partners.
Sabah Bersih 2.0 has urged the EC to allow postal voting for Sabahans working in Sarawak and the peninsula and Upko deputy president Donald Mojuntin has suggested that the commission open up voting centres in the peninsula, Sarawak and Singapore.
Azmi subsequently said the EC was looking at improving the postal voting process to allow voters in the peninsula to mail in their votes.
However, he added that such a move could not be implemented for the snap election as the existing system could not accommodate a large number of postal voters.