Malaysian experts raise Covid-19 alarm over holding snap general election

Voters at a polling centre in Penampang, Sabah, on Sept 26, 2020.
Voters at a polling centre in Penampang, Sabah, on Sept 26, 2020.ST PHOTO: RAM ANAND SUBBARAO

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The sharp rise in Covid-19 cases in Sabah should serve as an "alarm bell" against the holding of a snap general election, warned Malaysia's top medical experts.

Universiti Malaya Academician Emeritus Professor Lam Sai Kit said the recent Sabah state election provided a useful lesson on what is likely to happen if snap polls are held.

"There has been speculation that the government may call for a snap general election based on the results of the Sabah polls. I think (this) will be a wrong move.

"This is not the time to consider a countrywide election," he said when contacted yesterday.

Datuk Lam, who was central in the discovery of the Nipah virus, said a snap general election would only provide more opportunities for Covid-19 to spread much more than what has happened in Sabah.

He said campaigning during a general election would lead to larger and more frequent political gatherings, as well as the vast movement of people throughout the country.

"People would also be urged to return home to their respective states to vote and this would mean that there would be no travel ban," he said, adding that this excluded the movement of Election Commission (EC) and security personnel assisting with the polls.

If snap polls were held, Dr Lam said it would add further stress to front-liners and health services.

"We may have to return to the early days of movement control order as there may be a shortage of medical supplies, including protective gear, test kits, medication and others," he said.

Dr Lam suggested the use of early or postal voting if snap polls were to be held, especially for senior citizens, people with chronic health problems, people with disabilities and front-liners.

Malaysian Medical Association president Subramaniam Muniandy echoed similar views, saying Sabah was a lesson in what could happen if nationwide polls were held.

"It (Sabah state election) was allowed to proceed and cases of Covid-19 did spike there, with several clusters detected. There are also cases in Peninsular Malaysia traced back to Sabah," Datuk Subramaniam said.

 
 

He said the government and EC should consult the Health Ministry on the viability of holding snap polls.

"The government should also gather public feedback," he added.

Dr Subramaniam also noted that there should not be a timeframe with regard to when snap polls should be called.

"Covid-19 cases have been on the rise in the country. We should not put a timeline but focus on flattening the curve again for now," he said.

If there is to be a snap general election, he said that there must be stricter preventive measures.

"Politicians and political parties contesting must also be held accountable and responsible in adhering to the preventive measures," he added.

Universiti Malaya virologist professor Sazaly Abu Bakar warned of the significant health risks.

"Unless the virus is completely eliminated, or an effective treatment or vaccine becomes available, any mass activity which involves a high degree of person-to-person contact, such as a general election, poses a significant health risk," he said.

Prof Sazaly cited complacency due to the perception that the disease was already well under control as a factor for the surge in Covid-19 infections, particularly in Sabah.

 

On Sept 18, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said a general election could be called ahead of time should Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) win the state election.

On Sept 27, GRS, comprising Perikatan Nasional, Barisan Nasional and Parti Bersatu Sabah, secured a majority 38 out of 73 seats in the polls to form the new state government.

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