An observer of Sarawak politics has criticised the 70% voter turnout targeted by the Election Commission (EC) in the upcoming state polls, saying the commission should come up with ways to facilitate the return of the remaining 30% who are by and large expected to comprise outstation voters in Sabah and the peninsula.
Sarawak political commentator Jayum Jawan said the EC should in fact be targeting a 100% voter turnout on Dec 18.
“That is a low target set by the EC,” he said, referring to the figure of 70%.
“After its experience of running elections for some 60 years or so, the commission should be targeting a 100% turnout.”
The long anticipated Sarawak election was announced on Nov 24, with 12 days of campaigning following nomination day on Dec 6.
Sarawak has the largest state legislative assembly in the country, with 82 seats to be contested come election day.
Before the dissolution of the state assembly, Gabungan Parti Sarawak had held 68 seats – 47 belonging to PBB, 11 to PRS, seven to SUPP and three to PDP.
A total of 1.2 million voters are eligible to vote, comprising 1,228,858 ordinary voters, 12,585 military personnel and their spouses, 10,458 police personnel and 113 absentee or overseas voters.
Jayum said the EC should take a creative approach to diversifying voting methods, especially to address absentee voting.
He said the pandemic situation had made it even more important to ensure that voters are able to exercise their right to cast their ballots.
“The low turnout of less than 100% and the fact that there are those who are away and therefore cannot cast their votes are issues that the EC has to overcome,” he told MalaysiaNow.
“The EC needs to find innovative ways to ensure that those who cannot return to vote can still cast their ballots from wherever they are.”
While this might be challenging, he said it was “a new millennium”.
“Members of the EC need to equip themselves with new ideas, new methods, so that all rightful voters can cast their votes, wherever they may be.”
Analyst James Chin at the University of Tasmania meanwhile said the 70% target was doable.
“I think 60% to 70% is achievable,” he said. “It should not be a problem for rural areas, particularly for voters from longhouses.”
The issue for him will likely lie in urban areas.
He said the election would likely see a lower voter turnout, especially in these locations.
Noting the date of polling on Dec 18, he said it would be difficult or impossible for Sarawak voters residing in other states to cast their votes as they would need to extend their Christmas or year-end leave.
“It’s quite clear that polling day is near Christmas,” he told MalaysiaNow. “Most people will come back to Sarawak one or two days before Christmas, and they will take a break until New Year’s Eve.
“It is impossible for people to take extra leave or to spend on buying flight tickets twice to go back to Sarawak just to vote, and then come back again for Christmas. It is impossible,” he said.
The Melaka state election on Nov 20 saw a 65.85% voter turnout, below the 70% target set by the EC.
The Sabah election in September last year saw a voter turnout of 66.61%.