Following the death of Batu Sapi MP, Datuk Liew Vui Keong on October 2, 2020, a by-election has been called by the Elections Commission with the nomination will be conducted on November 23, 2020 and polling day on December 5, 2020. This is in line with Article 54(1) of the Federal Constitution which states that the Elections Commission must fill the seat within 60 days from the date it declares the seat as vacant.
During the 14th General Elections in 2018, with voters turnout of 73.77% the late Datuk Liew Vui Keong from Warisan garnered 12,976 votes and won the seat with a majority of 4,619 votes beating the incumbent Datuk Linda Tsen Thau Lin from Barisan Nasional, Hamza A. Abdullah from AMANAH and Normah Bongsu from PAS.
Historically, this seat was considered as a Barisan Nasional stronghold with them winning it on every occasion since its inception in 2004 except for the last General Elections. This parliamentary seat has been held by the late Datuk Chong Ket Wah since General Elections 11 until his passing in 2010. Following his demise, his wife Datuk Linda Tsen Thau Lin was chosen as Barisan Nasional candidate and successfully retained the seat in the 2010 Batu Sapi by-election with a majority of 6,359 votes and in the General Elections 13 in 2013 with a majority of 3,798 votes.
Fresh from winning the Sabah State Election and backed by the popularity of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, one could easily be persuaded to think that Gabungan Rakyat Sabah would have a great prospect of snatching this seat from WARISAN. However if we look closely at the results from the last General Elections, it is quite apparent that WARISAN still holds the advantage by not just winning the parliamentary seat, but also both State Legislative Assembly seats under it with a significant margin. To make matters worse, the spike in the number of new cases of COVID-19 in Sabah have raised serious questions on the safety of the people in Sabah especially the constituents of Batu Sapi.
Recently major political parties such as Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Harapan, Parti Cinta Sabah and STAR have announced their decision not to contest in the by-election due to the COVID-19 situation. The decision made by these political parties are seen to be responsible and noble even though the Federal Constitution states that a by-election needs to be conducted, hence stressing that the focus now should be the safety and wellbeing of the people. Concurrently, there have been calls for Gabungan Rakyat Sabah not to contest in this by-election paving the way for WARISAN to retain the seat.
Although this by-election presents an opportunity for Gabungan Rakyat Sabah to strengthen its footing in Sabah politics, it also leaves them in a predicament of having to decide whether to contest or not in the by-election. Apparent internal bickering between BERSATU and UMNO seen throughout the recent Sabah State Election could prove to be Gabungan Rakyat Sabah’s Achilles heel if they chose to contest. Furthermore, a decision to contest would also indicate that the lust for power is superior to safeguarding the people from the clear and present danger posed by COVID-19.
All things considered, public safety should be held of paramount importance hence Gabungan Rakyat Sabah should take the high road and not contest in the by-election. By not contesting, the risk associated with the campaign activities would be significantly reduced. The elections would be only be limited to WARISAN contesting against independent candidate/s, if they were to be any. Campaigns most likely will be through social media platforms thus lowering the risk of spreading COVID-19 during the campaign period.
At this critical moment, Gabungan Rakyat Sabah needs to make sure that the decision made does not reflect negatively on its image and credibility. Upholding the wellbeing and safety of the people must be seen to be the main agenda of the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah government. More importantly the decision they will make will also have a significant impact at national level which saw many Malaysians blaming the recent Sabah State Election as the cause of the third wave of COVID-19 in Malaysia. Do not let history repeat itself, Batu Sapi must not be the new Epicenter of COVID-19 in Malaysia. Thus, it is wise for Gabungan Rakyat Sabah not to contest in the Batu Sapi by-election. In the long run, this could prove to be the situation of “lose the battle but win the war”.
By, Ahmad Syukri bin Khusaini
(Currently pursuing International Masters in ASEAN Studies at Asia-Europe Institute, Universiti Malaya)