-BERNAMA file pic
-BERNAMA file pic

THE Sarawak election is months past its due as the five-year term of the state assembly expired in June.

An election would have been held were it not for the emergency imposed across the country because of raging Covid-19 infections, which flared up after Sabah's snap election last year.

The emergency was lifted for the rest of the country in August, but remains in force in Sarawak till early new year, because of fears of a similar Covid-19 resurgence if the state followed Sabah into an election soon after the national emergency was lifted.

But, now it seems that Melaka will beat Sarawak to holding its state polls. Talk has been rife that Sarawak will hold its own polls by year end but will not be dictated into having it synchronised with Melaka's.

The fact that Sarawak has been given priority in the national immunisation roll-out and that it became the first state to have over 90-per cent of its population vaccinated was precisely so it can sooner overcome the anomaly of being the only state with a legislature that has run its full course.

Now, it appears, the timing of the polls has itself become the subject of a political debate, with the opposition accusing the state ruling coalition of being in an unseemly rush to have the election before the year is out.

For good measure, the opposition parties are making the charge that the haste is so that the state will escape having 18-year-olds added to its electoral roll if the election occurs this year.

The principal contention of the opposition is that the state government is being irresponsible for planning the vote in the midst of the current Covid-19 outbreak in the state which, in recent weeks, has topped the national case charts, with a daily caseload in the thousands and rising.

But, the wind has been taken out of the sails of such a charge of irresponsibility as the daily case numbers have dipped below a thousand this week and likely to track the national downward trend.

The Sabah comparison is also no longer quite apt as its polls happened before mass vaccinations. While it is true that breakthrough infections occur among fully vaccinated individuals, the nation as a whole has now moved into the phase of treating Covid-19 as endemic.

Asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic cases now form the bulk of infections, relieving medical services from the severe pressures they once were under.

If schools and all economic sectors have or are fully reopening, it stands to reason that our politics (including elections) should likewise be returning to what they used to be, pre-pandemic.

To be sure, a return to pre-pandemic normality must come with a caveat: that all the standard operating procedures — especially those to do with social distancing, masking and hand-washing — introduced following the pandemic be vigorously applied.

If anything, the Sabah polls should be a cautionary tale of what to do and not do while out on the electoral hustings. It should not be used as an excuse for indefinitely suspending the proper workings of our democratic way of life.

It is all rather curious that the opposition, which ordinarily should be the keenest to have its popularity tested in a vote in hopes of taking over as the next state government, should be humming and hawing about when such a vote should take place.

Such posturing should instead be replaced with a firm and clear focus by both sides of the political divide with laying out their respective political plans to carry the state forward.

And if indeed the government were viewed as hoisting an already postponed election on voters with undue haste, it surely must know that voters will have the final say.

The writer views developments in the nation, region and wider world from his vantage point in Kuching, Sarawak