Malaysia's Sarawak yet to decide on state election date amid Covid-19 surge

Sarawak must hold its polls by June 2021.
Sarawak must hold its polls by June 2021.PHOTO: AFP

KUCHING (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Sarawak government is still weighing when to call its next state polls amid the current surge of Covid-19 infections around the country.

Sarawak, Malaysia's biggest state by land size, must hold its polls by June next year, or the state assembly will automatically dissolve at the end of its five-year term.

Sarawak typically holds its state polls separately from Malaysia's general election, though its 31 federal MPs are elected during national polls.

The 82-seat Sarawak assembly is dominated by the four-party Gabungan Sarawak Party (GPS) coalition. GPS is an ally of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Perikatan Nasional, which governs Malaysia.

GPS has 72 seats in the state assembly after the last state polls in May 2016.

Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Tun Openg said that although Sarawak was now reporting new cases only in single digits, the situation could worsen in the coming months.

"We are subjected to advice from the Health Ministry whether we should go (for elections) or not. I am also concerned about the health of the people," said Datuk Patinggi Johari. "On the other hand, you cannot govern and take measures against Covid-19 if you don't have a mandate. So this is a very difficult, complex situation."

He told reporters after an official function: "We have to consider every factor, then we decide."

NGOs and opposition leaders have called for the Sarawak election not to be held during the current Covid-19 surge in the country, which has largely been blamed on the recent Sabah polls.

Asked whether the elections would not be held this year, the chief minister reiterated that the decision was subject to advice from health experts.

"We are not crazy for power. What is important is to have a government that has the mandate not only to manage Covid-19, but also the state.

"We are still weighing it, but it is yet to be decided," he said.

He added that once the election is called, it is the role of the Election Commission (EC) to put in place the standard operating procedures (SOP) for conducting it safely.

"We leave it to the EC to set the SOP and we follow the SOP. I do not want to be like Sabah, because the health of the people is important," he said.

Malaysia has reported a surge in infections in the last few weeks, mostly blamed on the two-week election campaigning period before the Sept 26 Sabah state polls.

The country reported above-800 daily Covid-19 cases in five of the last six days.

On Friday, the government reported 710 new infections in the last 24 hours, and 10 deaths - the highest death toll in a single day caused by the disease since Covid-19 was tracked in Malaysian in January.

The death toll stood at 214.

Sabah state, the epicentre of the current spike, has the highest number with 528 cases or 74.3 per cent. This was followed by Selangor (62), Penang (39), Negeri Sembilan (37) and the federal territory of Labuan (19).

Malaysia has logged a total of 24,514 Covid-19 cases since January.

There are now 90 people being treated in intensive care units, with 28 of them requiring ventilator support.