Low voter turnout for the upcoming Sabah state election?

No matter how challenging the new normal is, political parties and independent candidates are expected to proactively influence and motivate voters’ behaviour to vote on Sep 26.

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Published by Focus Malaysia, Borneo Today & Sin Chew, image from Focus Malaysia.

With more than a week to polling day, the Election Commission’s (EC’s) optimism  that there will be a 70% voter turnout during the upcoming Sabah state election does not reflect the reality on the ground due to the worrying trend of a spike in Covid-19 infections.

It is expected around 1.12 million eligible voters will be casting their ballot.

But the recent emergence of the Benteng Lahad Datu cluster in the state might scare some Sabahans away from voting on Sept 26. This cluster was first discovered on Sep 1 with seven people infected.

By last Wednesday (Sept 9), the cluster had a total of 130 people infected. This worsened to a total of 420 infections as of Sept 14 when 17 people were infected.

We have seen in Kedah how one cluster of Covid-19 infection can spread to neighbouring Perlis and northern Penang.

The recent spike of Covid-19 cases in the districts of Tawau and Lahad Datu serve to heighten the low voter turnout in the respective constituencies.

There is the fear that it might be difficult for voters to apply physical distancing measures on polling day itself when there are long queues at polling centres.

Several groups might contribute to the low voter turnout in the Sabah election.

Firstly, senior citizens are particularly the most vulnerable group to infectious diseases, especially those with other underlying chronic health conditions. Due to health concerns, they might not choose to vote to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19.

Secondly, for Sabahans who are originally from rural constituencies, they might feel that going back to their constituencies just for the sake of voting is time- and cost-consuming.

There is a high possibility of exposure to the virus when they travel via air or road.

Not to mention, with the Covid-19 virus overshadowing the election, some families might choose to avoid the crowd at polling centres and thus, do not vote.

The pandemic may also affect voter turnout in an indirect way. Some Sabahans in the Peninsula have become jobless as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. They would be more preoccupied with looking for a new job, rather than returning to Sabah to vote.

This is despite the price of airfare appears to have normalised recently. A check on one-way ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu revealed it can cost as low as below RM200.

Although some have been calling for postal voting among Sabahans in the Peninsula who number around 25,000 registered voters including the civil servants, and Sabahans who reside abroad, the Election Commission (EC) is not planning to extend postal voting to these group.

Another factor that may result in a lower voter turnout is when some residents might find it particularly troublesome to vote based on the specific timing suggested by the EC.

Families members who are staying in the same house have been given different voting time.

For instance, a family member was given the 8am to 10am time slot to vote, while another family member who also resides in the same house, was given a time slot of between 2pm and 4.30 pm to vote. This makes the voting process more complicated.

Hence, different voting time suggested by the EC might hinder families who are staying together to go out to vote. Some family members might just feel can’t be bothered to vote separately.

Another factor for low voter turnout is the youth’s disillusionment in politics. Many young voters may not be planning to vote as they feel it’s meaningless to vote for candidates who might party-hop after winning.

They are tired of the sweet promises given by politicians as at the end of the polling day. There is this perception that politicians are fighting among themselves for their self-interests instead of prioritising the people’s needs.

Moreover, their desire to topple the Barisan Nasional (BN) during the 14th General Election (GE14) may be muted now when the Warisan-led state government did not manage to fully or effectively resolve and mitigate socio-economic issues such as job prospects among youths and basic infrastructure access among rural residents in its 26-month rule.

Now, even though the recent Chini and Slim by-elections reflected higher voter turnout at 73.87 and 68.4 per cent respectively, this does not mean that a similar pattern will be repeated in Sabah.

The scale of the Sabah state election is relatively larger compared to Chini and Slim whereby 73 state seats are to be contested.

Also, unlike GE14, there is an additional 13 state seats to be contested in Sabah.

Voters’ inclination and turnout regarding these additional state seats cannot be ascertained this time around as many factors come into play, some of which have changed since.

However, no matter how challenging the situation is, political parties and independent candidates are expected to proactively influence and motivate voters’ behaviour to come out to vote on Sep 26.

Amanda Yeo is Research Analyst at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

中文

刊登在:Borneo Today.

由于近期新冠肺炎(Covid-19)案例有飙升的迹象,马来西亚选举委员会所预估的70%高投票率未免显得过于乐观。

预计大约有112万名合格选民将会履行公民责任,在即将来临的沙巴州选投票。

但最近涌现的拿笃堡垒感染群可能迫使更多沙巴人不愿在9月26日投票。该感染群是在9月1日首次发现,当时有7人被感染。

截至上周三(9月9日),该感染群共有130人被感染。截至9月14日,总计420人被感染,形势并不乐观。

吉打感染群就是一个很好的例子。近期已传播到邻近的玻璃市和槟城北部。

斗湖和拿笃近期所激增的新冠肺炎案件有可能造成低投票率。人们担心,在投票中心大排长龙的情况下,选民很难在投票日当天保持社交安全距离。

当中,有几个群体可能促使低投票率。

首先,老年人是最易感染群体,尤其是患有潜在慢性疾病者。由于健康方面的顾虑,他们可能选择不投票,以减少感染的风险。

其次,对于来自乡村选区的沙巴人来说,他们可能觉得回家投票即耗时又耗力。况且,在飞行和驱车途中,他们更易感染病毒。

新冠肺炎也让不少在半岛工作的沙巴人失业。虽然最近机票价格已经规格化,一张从吉隆坡到亚庇的单程机票只要200令吉,但这没有促使他们回家投票。他们只想在近期内找到新工作。

尽管有政治人物和非营利组织呼吁让大约2万5千在半岛工作的沙巴选民进行邮寄投票,但选委会貌似不准备采纳这一建议。

目前为止,只有来自沙巴的公务员和居住海外的沙巴人能进行邮寄投票。

另一个致使低投票率的因素是,一些居民觉得根据选委会所制定的投票时间让他们更难以履行公民责任。 一些住在同一个屋檐下的家庭成员被安排在各个不同时间点投票。

譬如,一名家庭成员可能被安排在上午8点至10点之间投票,而另一名家庭成员则被安排在下午2点至4.30点之间投票。这样的投票程序更为复杂。

因此,由选委会所制定的投票时间可能阻碍同一个屋檐下的家庭外出投票。有些家庭成员可能不愿意单独投票。

除此之外,另一个导致投票率低的原因是年轻人不再对政治抱有幻想。许多年轻选民可能不打算投票,因为他们觉得投票毫无意义。他们深信候选人很可能会在胜选后跳槽。

他们也对政治人物的甜言蜜语感到厌倦。他们觉得,政客成天为自我利益斗争,而不是优先考虑人民的需求。

此外,大多数选民如同第十四届大选那般想推翻国阵的景象已不复存在。他们认为这26个月以来,民兴党所领导的州政府未能充分或有效解决和缓解诸如年轻人的就业前景和基础设施发展等社会经济问题。

尽管最近的珍尼和仕林补选反映较高的投票率,分别为73.87和68.4%,但这并不意味着沙巴州将重现相似的投票率。

与珍尼和仕林相比,沙巴州的选举规模相对较大,后者要竞选73个州议席。

另外,与第十四届大选不同的是,来临的州选还将竞选13个新的州议席。由于很多不确定性因素,选民对于13个新州议席的偏好和投票率无法就此确认。

但无论形势多么严峻,各个政党和独立候选人应激励选民在9月26日履行公民责任,进行投票。

杨颜殷是EMIR Research的研究分析员, EMIR Research是一个独立的智囊团,专注于根据严格的研究提出战略政策建议。

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