Malaysia declares state of emergency in Sabah constituency to postpone by-election

The declaration of emergency was made to prevent a fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The declaration of emergency was made to prevent a fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.PHOTO: BERNAMA

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, on Wednesday (Nov 18) assented to a declaration of emergency in the Sabah parliamentary constituency of Batu Sapi, to postpone a by-election due there next month and prevent a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

A new date will be fixed for the by-election, which was to have been held on Dec 5.

"His Royal Majesty has assented to the proclamation of emergency for P185 Batu Sapi, Sabah, as a proactive step to curb the Covid-19 pandemic," said Comptroller of the Royal Household Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin in a statement.

The announcement was made after the King had an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to discuss the issue.

The King was briefed on the emergency proposal by health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, chief secretary to the Government Zuki Ali, Attorney-General Idris Harun and Election Commission chairman Abdul Ghani Salleh, said Datuk Indera Ahmad Fadil.

The King said it was appropriate for an emergency to be declared to delay the Batu Sapi by-election, as it would otherwise see over 3,000 people travelling from peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak to vote in Sabah.

Sultan Abdullah also noted that the state-wide election in Sabah on Sept 26 had triggered a spike in cases to triple digits, after having dropped to a single digit previously.

On Oct 25, the King had rejected a proposal by Tan Sri Muhyiddin to declare a nationwide emergency, a plan ostensibly aimed at tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. Critics, however, claimed that he was using it as an excuse to stay in power and that he no longer commanded majority support in Parliament.

Later on Wednesday, Mr Muhyiddin said in a special address on the emergency declaration that there would be no curfew or military rule enforced in the Batu Sapi constituency, and that economic and social activities could continue, subject to health protocols under the ongoing Conditional Movement Control Order for the whole of Sabah.

He pledged that once the pandemic was over, the by-election would take place.

The Batu Sapi parliamentary ward lost its representative when MP Liew Vui Keong, 60, a  former law minister, died on Oct 2.

Apart from the Batu Sapi, two other seats have been vacated in the last few days with the deaths of two lawmakers.

MP Hasbullah Osman from Umno, who was the federal lawmaker for Gerik constituency in Perak, died on Monday of a heart attack. He was 63.

On Tuesday, state lawmaker Manis Muka Mohd Darah, 65, from Parti Warisan Sabah, died. She represented the Bugaya state seat.

Under Malaysian law, a by-election must be held within 60 days, once Parliament or the state assembly has been informed of a seat vacancy.

PM Muhyiddin, in his address over television and on social media platforms, said the Cabinet had discussed postponing the Batu Sapi by-election in its meeting last Friday and took into account the spread of Covid-19 in Sabah following the state elections.

He said that on Sept 12, nomination day for the Sabah polls, there were 808 accumulative cases in Sabah but this almost doubled to 1,547 cases by polling day on Sept 26.

"The Covid-19 situation in Sabah worsened when a spike happened in the four weeks after voting day. On Oct 24, Sabah recorded 11,285 accumulative cases and became the first state in Malaysia to record more than 10,000 cases.

"Today, Sabah still has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Malaysia, with 24,269 cases and 181 deaths," he said, attributing the rampant spread to poor compliance of safety measures.

He added that fears among election workers of the possible exposure to the virus meant that the Election Commission has managed to appoint only 143 workers, just 17.1 per cent of the number needed for the by-election.

The need for election workers to travel and pass through many districts, the possible threat to public health, and the risk to 22.3 per cent of voters who are senior citizens and therefore vulnerable to the disease, were among some of the factors which led to the decision, he said.

Based on data from the Election Commission, there are 32,962 voters in Batu Sapi, with 3,170 of them living outside the constituency, including in Sarawak and peninsular Malaysia.

There are also an estimated 16,000 voters with incomplete addresses, which would make it difficult to implement postal voting.