Polls delay due to Emergency will only benefit the opposition in Sarawak

By Abdul Rashid Hasnol

IF all went according to plan, the Sarawak election would have been done with by last year, without a change of state government. But as with just about everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended plans to hold the polls.

Worse still, Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg appears to be powerless in deciding when to dissolve the state legislature and pave the way for the polls, now that the federal government has declared an Emergency.

The Sarawak legislature expires in June and an election must be called by August – if the Emergency is lifted by then.
But if it had its way, the state’s ruling coalition, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) would want to get the election out of the way before then.

Last week, the state Cabinet decided to appeal to the King to suspend the Emergency in Sarawak so the polls could be carried out after the pandemic is under control, said Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri James Masing.

The Emergency, declared by the King early last month on the advice of the Prime Minister, strengthens Perikatan Nasional’s tenuous grip on power at the federal level. But in Sarawak, it gives the opposition time to regroup and woo the voters.

After Pakatan Harapan was toppled at the Federal level, its leadership in Sarawak was thrown into disarray. Four MPs from Sarawak PKR have left the party since, two of whom have been made Deputy Ministers in Putrajaya.

The party is still reeling from the defections, with its state chief and Julau MP Larry Sng recently resigning from his post to make way for a Dayak, but later retracted following persuasion from Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

The state DAP too has been hit by defections, including the resignation of its Padungan assemblyman Wong King Wei from the party.

PH has also failed to come to a consensus on seat-sharing with another formidable state opposition party, Parti Sarawak Bersatu. A three-way contest will only benefit the GPS.

This is why Abang Johari is eager to hold the election sooner. Besides, with the pandemic still raging, GPS expects a lower turnout from voters residing in the Peninsula who are largely pro-opposition.

For Abang Johari, this would be his maiden election as CM. He took over from the hugely-popular Tan Sri Adenan Satem who died unexpectedly in 2017.

Adenan himself won a huge mandate during the 2016 state election and his successor Abang Johari is seeking to replicate that.

This is why Abang Johari is not leaving anything to chance. He wants the election soon, even if this means bringing his case to the Agong on why Sarawak should be allowed to hold the polls during a pandemic. – Feb 4, 2021


Abdul Rashid Hasnol is a FocusM contributor.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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