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COMMENT | The Covid-19 factor in Sabah polls

Bridget Welsh

Published
Modified 24 Sep 2020, 11:39 pm

COMMENT | With case numbers from Sabah sharply rising, reaching 627 during the campaign so far, there is real anxiety about Covid-19 on the ground. These concerns affect not only the voting this Saturday but raise serious questions about how the health pandemic will affect lives moving forward within Sabah and Malaysia more broadly.

While people outside of Sabah are asking whether a second wave is starting or whether developments in Sabah will lead to a wider trajectory for the state and Malaysia as a whole, those inside the state are assessing the performance of the Muhyiddin Yassin federal government. While views vary, increasingly, Covid-19 governance in Sabah is being seen as a failure of the federal government. Poor management of undocumented persons and federal facilities feed conspiracy rumours while inadequate health services, neglect of poor populations, limited testing, the imposition of a same-blueprint fits all approach and the perceived use of Covid-19 for political ends have left a mark - one that is staining Malaysia’s record in Covid-19 management.

Recommendations

Before delving into the different facets of Covid-19 in Sabah and how the disease has shaped this state election, let me begin with some recommendations:

First, the Election Commission (EC) should do more to assure that the standard operating procedures (SOPs) are put in place to protect Sabahans as they go to vote. The lack of adequate assurances and a clear outline of additional measures that protect citizens have contributed to anxiety. Peninsula-based politicians failing to set good examples by wearing masks properly in campaigning did not help.

Across the world, from South Korea, Mongolia to neighbouring Singapore, elections have been held without any negative health ramifications. This was the case in the Chini and Slim by-elections here in Malaysia as well. Voting rights need to be guaranteed and there is a responsibility on the part of the EC to do more to show how it is protecting these rights. It should be made starkly clear that going to vote will not endanger voters with the assurance that the elections are administered in a way that does not endanger voters. Neither Chini nor Slim led to Covid-19 clusters and this should be the case in the Sabah polls as well - if SOPs are enforced.

Second, an independent body, led by Sabahans and comprised of medical professionals and representatives of civil society, should be set up to assist with Covid-19 management in the state and to work collaboratively with federal and state health authorities. In principle, Sabahans need to be ... 

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