Sabah polls kick off with lower turnout expected due to Covid-19

KOTA KINABALU – People across Sabah state started queueing – adhering to new Covid-19 safe measures – as early as 7am on Saturday (Sept 26) to cast their votes in the state election, even before polling stations opened at 7.30am.

The election will prove to be a crowded affair, with over 400 candidates vying for 73 state assembly seats, with some seats seeing an 11-corner fight.

However, the drastic uptick in Covid-19 cases in the east coast of Sabah has dampened expectations for voter turnout, with the Election Commission (EC) revising its turnout forecast from 75 per cent to 70 per cent.

As at noon, the voter turnout for the election stood at 42 per cent, with half a day of voting remaining.

Almost 1.1 million Sabahans are eligible to vote, and some 28,000 staff members have been deployed to conduct the elections, which involves 2,540 voting channels at 741 voting stations across Malaysia’s second-biggest state.

Election workers were dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) and scanned the temperature of every voter at the entrance of polling stations. Voters in queues stood at safe distances apart.

However, voters described the process as smooth.

One the of the voters, Ms Julia Chan, 37, said the entire process took 20 minutes despite the safety protocols, which was much faster compared to the 90 minutes it took her in the 2018 elections.

Another voter, Mr Phang Yuk Yin, said that many voters had turned up in the morning despite Covid-19 concerns.

“It is a very efficient process by the EC. End of the day, as Sabahans, this is our state and this is our responsibility,” Mr Phang, 51, told The Straits Times.

Voter Phang Yuk Yin shows his inked finger after voting. He described the voting process as efficient. ST PHOTO: RAM ANAND

Sabah incumbent Chief Minister Shafie Apdal, who voted at his state constituency Senallang on Saturday morning, also said that the voter turnout could be lower due to concerns over the virus.

There 730 active cases in the east coast of Sabah alone, all of them discovered this month. The state alone recorded three-digit daily infections twice this week.

Polling officially ends at 5pm. However, polling stations in remote areas with fewer voters are expected to close as early as 2pm.

The EC said it aims to have the full results by 10pm, but said that it is largely dependent on the returning officers at polling stations, some of which are in remote areas.

The vast interiors of Sabah, with no immediate road access, means some ballot papers are being transported via helicopter.

In the last Sabah state elections, conducted concurrently with the 2018 national elections, the results were announced only at 5am, after a 77 per cent turnout.

ST previously reported that thousands of Sabah voters who are working or studying in Peninsular Malaysia are expected to miss the state elections, unable to afford the flight tickets, coupled with concerns of the virus’ spread.

The state election comes just days after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim launched a bid to topple Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration, claiming he had mustered enough support from MPs to take over.

A victory in Sabah for Mr Muhyiddin’s coalition would be crucial for the premier to keep hold of his allies and protect his wafer-thin Parliament majority, which appears uncertain at this point.

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