Asia

Malaysia's Muhyiddin says polls in two states can't be avoided unless emergency declared

KUALA LUMPUR – A by-election in Sabah in December and state polls for Sarawak next year are unavoidable events, unless an emergency is declared for the country, said Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Saturday (Oct 31).

Amid worries in Malaysia over holding elections during the current surge in Covid-19 cases, he said his government is bound by the federal Constitution and has no powers to stop the process of democracy.

“If you ask me, there should be no elections now as the Covid-19 cases are spiking. However, we can’t call it off unless we declare a state of emergency,” Tan Sri Muhyiddin said in an unscheduled televised address.

The Malaysian King just last Sunday (Oct 25) rejected a proposal by Mr Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional government to declare a national emergency.

The opposition has accused the Prime Minister of pushing for an emergency to avoid a vote in Parliament against his Budget 2021 that could cause the collapse of his eight-month old government, due to lack of support from MPs.

Mr Muhyiddin holds a slim two-seat majority, with 113 seats, in the 222-strong Parliament. But this majority has not been tested with a vote in the House.

The Batu Sapi parliamentary by-election in Sabah will be held on Dec 5 after a 13-day campaigning period. The by-election is called following the recent death of the Batu Sapi MP.

Sarawak, which holds its state elections every five years separately from the Malaysian general election, is due to hold its next polls in the middle of next year.

The five-year term of the Sarawak state assembly will end in June 2021, and polls must be held within 60 days, according to the Constitution.

Said Mr Muhyiddin: “What can be done? That is what the Constitution dictates, thus we are forced to have elections.”

He called instead on Malaysians in these two states to strictly follow health protocols, referred to as SOPs or standard operating procedures in Malaysia, when these polls are conducted.

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“Unless an emergency is declared as per Article 150 in Batu Sapi and Sarawak, then we can postpone both elections until the Covid-19 (pandemic) ends,” he said. “If the elections can’t be postponed for any reason, my plea to voters in Batu Sapi and Sarawak is – be careful.

“Take care of yourselves, follow the SOPs with full discipline when elections come,” Mr Muhyiddin said.

The Malaysian public is against the holding of polls following a surge in infections since September, blamed partly by the two-week political campaign preceding the Sept 26 Sabah state polls.

During the intense Sabah polls, there was free mingling of political campaigners from all over Malaysia and Sabah voters, as they held big rallies and did house-to-house visits.

“Election Commission chief had told me that many of the EC staff fear of reporting for duty at Batu Sapi for fear of contracting Covid-19,” said PM Muhyiddin.

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Malaysia on Friday reported 799 new Covid-19 infections, with 466 or 58.3 per cent of the cases coming from Sabah state.

Except for Thursday’s figure, Malaysia has reported at least 700 cases a day in the last 14 days.

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