Persistent demands by Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi for snap polls while the Covid-19 pandemic shows no sign of abating have been roundly condemned by those who keenly follow Malaysia’s election politics.
They said such a call was irresponsible and reckless at a time when the Covid-19 infection rate is heading for the worst, adding that a general election is no guarantee of a solution to the current political quagmire.
They also rubbished Zahid’s reasoning that more than 30 countries have had general elections during the pandemic season.
Lee Hwok Aun, a senior fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, said holding elections at this time was “the height of irresponsibility”.
He also pointed out that other countries had held elections due to their governments’ mandate expiring.
“Some countries have held elections because terms have run their full course, and some have also held snap elections but when the pandemic has been a bit more under control.
“Even if some may have held elections while the pandemic is surging, why would Malaysia want to follow suit?” Lee told MalaysiaNow.
Addressing Umno members at his Bagan Datuk division recently, Zahid questioned the view that a general election should not be held during the pandemic.
“Even if some may have held elections while the pandemic is surging, why would Malaysia want to follow suit?”
“More than 30 countries have already done so. Why is Malaysia afraid? I think that we’re not worried about Covid-19, but about other things,” he said last week.
Talk of snap polls recently intensified among a group of Umno hawks who are threatening to take the party out of the ruling bloc, even as a fierce wave of the Covid-19 pandemic continued, with daily cases breaching 3,000 yesterday after more than three months of spikes.
Authorities have warned of a collapse of the public healthcare system which has taken in tens of thousands of Covid patients since early last year, as well as of stricter lockdowns in badly affected states.
Election analyst Hisommudin Bakar said Zahid’s comparison with other countries was misplaced.
He said many countries which held elections in the past year had seen a spike in infections.
“Citing other countries as examples, or even the availability of vaccines, is not a valid excuse looking at the situation we have in Malaysia,” he added.
Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, more than 60 countries have postponed their elections.
The US, South Korea, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Singapore and New Zealand are among those which held elections during the pandemic due to expiry of their terms.
But a day after the US presidential election, more than 91,000 new cases were reported.
Ambiga Sreenevasan, who headed Bersih 2.0 during an eventful phase for the electoral reforms coalition, is not surprised by Zahid’s call.
“This call seems to be at the behest of all those who are facing cases in court,” she said, referring to the multiple corruption charges Zahid is facing.
“That those facing grave charges or who have been convicted are in positions to call the shots on when we must have elections is astounding enough,” she added.
Ambiga said unlike those of other countries, Malaysia’s electoral system is not prepared to do away with conventional voting which carries the risk of the virus spreading.
“Having a general election to restore political stability is just a vain illusion and an excuse by greedy politicians to grab power.”
“Other countries may have had elections in the early days of the pandemic but many have systems in place like efficient postal and absentee voting systems, electronic voting and other such means by which huge crowds may be avoided,” she told MalaysiaNow.
Hisommudin agrees that Malaysia’s voting system is not virus-proof.
He said the Election Commission (EC) could have come up with a more efficient system as well as SOPs.
“The EC has squandered the opportunities it had during three elections – Chini, Slim and Sabah – to introduce a more efficient voting system,” Hisommudin, who heads the Ilham Center which conducts opinion polls and observes elections, told MalaysiaNow.
But he said public apathy on SOPs is also a concern, which could trigger virus spikes during polls.
Lee meanwhile said the whole idea of snap polls at this time was due to power grabs and infighting among political coalitions.
“It is totally unacceptable for political games to cause the rakyat to be exposed to health hazards,” he said, adding that even if Malaysia was financially able to hold elections, it should be avoided for now.
Thomas Fann, Bersih’s current chairman, does not believe that a general election can bring about political stability.
He said the root of the problem lies in laws to deter party hopping.
“Having a general election to restore political stability is just a vain illusion and an excuse by greedy politicians to grab power,” Fann said, adding however that this was his personal opinion.