KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian government is looking at ways to defer or suspend elections because of the surge in Covid-19 cases, two ministers told Parliament this week.
Bound by the Constitution, the government is currently unable to stop a Sabah by-election on Dec 5 as well as a state election in Sarawak, which is due after June next year.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Special Functions) Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof told Parliament on Monday that large gatherings during the Sabah state election in September had caused the current surge in infections in the country.
"Election is under the jurisdiction of the Election Commission (EC) and I am unable to provide further information on whether a by-election or a general election can or cannot be held but the government is always monitoring.
"If need be, create a specific Act, the government is studying and making proposals to the people," he said on Monday (Nov 2) in reply to a question in Parliament.
Another minister on Tuesday, however, told parliament that legislation to suspend elections would be contrary to the federal Constitution.
"The creation of a Bill to postpone an election during the Covid-19 pandemic is against and inconsistent with the federal Constitution, and to amend it would require the support of two-thirds MPs," said Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Takiyuddin Hassan.
Datuk Takiyuddin said the government could instead invoke an emergency.
"The government may propose to postpone an election if this pandemic is deemed to be declared an emergency as provided under Article 150 (1) of the Federal Constitution," he said Tuesday, without elaborating, in a written reply to Barisan Nasional MP Mahdzir Khalid.
On Oct 25, the King rejected a controversial request from Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin for emergency powers.
Datuk Seri Mahdzir on Monday (Nov 2) had asked Mr Muhyiddin if the government had any plan to amend the Constitution, or create a specific Bill to enable an election to be postponed amid the pandemic.
Sabah is set to hold a by-election in Batu Sapi on Dec 5, following the death of state opposition MP Liew Vui Keong. On Tuesday, Sabah recorded 678 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections in the state to 16,873. The cumulative death toll for the state is 131.
Nationwide, a record 1,054 positive cases were reported, bringing the total number to 34,393. The death toll is 263 so far.
The deteriorating Covid-19 situation has prompted Malaysia's Health Ministry to call for amendments to the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 to allow for elections to be deferred for safety reasons.
"Back in 1988, we were only looking at infectious diseases within a locality but now we have to look at it on a nationwide and even global scale. We need to amend and strengthen the Act for future use. We have sent a proposal for amendments to the Attorney-General's Chambers and we hope they will be reviewed as soon as possible," Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah was quoted as saying on Oct 30 by local news site Free Malaysia Today.
He added that it is not suitable for elections to be carried out as the current infection rate still had not reached the ministry's target of less than 0.5.
"The ministry understands the need to hold an election according to the law. If we must carry one out, although now is not a suitable time, we need to look at the principles of no inter-district or interstate travel, no campaigns and no walkabouts or house-to-house visits," said Tan Sri Noor Hisham.
Politicians and election workers who visited Sabah during the two-week campaign period preceding the state poll on Sept 26 have been blamed for spreading the coronavirus in the rest of the country after they returned home.
Sabah was already in the grip of a surge in Covid-19 cases during the campaign period following an outbreak at a detention centre for illegal migrants.