Malaysia faces prospect of flooded polls with Nov 19 election day

In a photo from Dec 20, 2021, rescue workers evacuate people during a flood in Shah Alam, Selangor. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR – The prospect of Malaysians having to brave floodwaters to vote in the 15th General Election has heightened, with the Election Commission declaring Nov 19 as Polling Day.

This is despite the meteorological department having warned that the year-end monsoon will begin by mid-November.

Its deputy director-general Hashim Anip stressed on Oct 6: “We do not encourage GE15 being held (at this time). Why take the risk when facing the monsoon, which we know will cause floods?”

Recent years have seen monsoon floods wreaking havoc nationwide, with the last deluge that subsided in January taking 54 lives, causing RM6 billion (S$1.8 billion) in damage, and displacing nearly 70,000 people at its December peak.

Hawker Panir Selvam Muniandy said residents of Taman Sri Muda – a neighbourhood in Shah Alam, Selangor, which saw 14 deaths in the floods in 2021 – are already “panicking” in anticipation of the coming storms.

“Every morning, I pass by the mosque and temple, and I pray at both for God to save us,” the 66-year-old told The Straits Times. “Everyone here is focused on preparing for the flood, but the government seems very free to announce an election.

“It seems like they don’t want those who suffered in the flood last year to be able to vote.”

The Straits Times has learnt that dates such as Nov 5 and 12 had been considered to reduce the risk of floods coinciding with Polling Day, but these were ruled out due to logistical issues.

“This is because the number of voters has surged to over 21 million. The two-week campaign is in part to ensure there is enough time to print ballot papers, and it was too difficult to ensure the supply of indelible ink by early November,” one well-placed source said.

Some voters now face the possibility of not even being able to get to their polling centres.

“Last year, the road east to Kuantan was impassable. If it’s the route west this time, then I wouldn’t be able to head back to Kuala Lumpur to vote,” said retiree Yvonne Ho, 50, who lives in Janda Baik, a forested area at risk of landslides in Pahang.

The eastern state was one of the worst hit last year, with nearly 40,000 evacuees at one point.

Caretaker Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob dissolved Parliament on Oct 10. Ruling party Umno has come under intense criticism for prioritising the strategic timing of the elections instead of efforts to mitigate the expected floods.

Six states controlled by opposition parties have refused to call concurrent state assembly polls as was previously customary, citing the need to focus on helping their residents deal with the flooding.

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