Malaysia is preparing for major floods. So why is he holding an election?

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CNN

The Malaysian government’s insistence on holding a snap general election next month during a monsoon season that is expected to bring devastating floods risks putting politics above the lives of people, opposition lawmakers and politicians. analysts say.

Malaysia will go to the polls on November 19, the country’s Election Commission announced last week, after Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob dissolved parliament on October 10 when he called for a nationwide vote to end years of political instability.

But critics say holding the elections during the annual northeast monsoon season – when much of the country is likely to be flooded – is a desperate bid to retain power by Ismail’s ruling coalition .

“Their strategy is clear: they want to keep voter turnout low because the roads will be flooded and access to polling stations will be cut off,” said Charles Santiago, MP for the opposition Democratic Action Party.

Santiago believes voter turnout will be low, which would help Ismail’s United Malay National Organization (UMNO) win a majority of seats in parliament.

The lawmaker filed a lawsuit in Malaysia’s High Court on October 14, seeking to delay the election. The verdict in the case is expected on Friday.

Santiago said holding the vote during the monsoon was an ‘opportunistic decision’ by the government and there was ‘no rush’ to call elections, noting that their terms were not due to end until July 2023 .

The government also has a responsibility to “prioritize protecting the lives of its people and not endangering them”, he added.

“But their political careers are far more important than the lives of ordinary people,” he said.

CNN reached out to the Malaysian prime minister’s office for comment on protocols relating to the upcoming elections and flooding, but received no official response before publication.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ismail acknowledged the possibility of monsoon floods in several parts of the country, but said he hoped they would not be “severe”.

“If flooding occurs in certain regions and states, (we) have enough personnel to save people, especially those affected by flooding,” he said.

This would include nearly 70,000 search and rescue officers drawn from the police and military, he said. “The number will be increased if it is not enough,” he said. Boats, four-wheel drive vehicles, trucks and aerial assets will also be deployed, he added.

More than 6,000 flood evacuation centers had also been set up, which “also served as voting centers”, he said, adding: “We are ready”.

Like most of its Southeast Asian neighbours, Malaysia is vulnerable to seasonal flooding.

Last year’s deluge was the worst on record – 54 people died and tens of thousands were displaced by floodwaters in eight states, including the capital Kuala Lumpur.

While officials called it a ‘once in a century’ event, the disaster exposed the reality of extreme weather caused by climate change and shone a spotlight on the prime minister and members of his coalition cabinet. newly come to power.

Syed Saddiq, founder of the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA), recounted tragedies on the ground.

“It was lamentable. People were stuck on rooftops. One of our volunteers even fell on a corpse,” said the former Minister of Youth and Sports. “Thousands of lives have been destroyed. Flood damage also amounted to billions.

The government’s alleged mismanagement and delayed authorities’ responses to the floods sparked a huge public backlash.

“I don’t deny (weaknesses) and I will improve in the future,” Prime Minister Ismail said last December after people across the country were trapped for days by floodwaters.

But critics say the holding of elections during the monsoon season suggests that commitment has been forgotten.

“We have politicians who think about votes instead of saving lives,” Syed said, adding that his party had prepared flood relief for much of the year in anticipation of the monsoon. “They clearly haven’t learned. Their decision is not only unacceptable and irresponsible, it is inhumane.

The monsoon season in Malaysia has arrived early this year, and bad weather has already hit several parts of the country. Flood alerts were recently issued in the states of Sabah and Sarawak after days of high winds and continuous rains.

“Many places across Malaysia will face possible flooding during the monsoon season in November,” the Malaysian Meteorological Department said on October 6. “Much will depend on weather conditions…but the 15th general election is not expected to take place during the monsoon.”

Despite this warning, political observers said the vote was still likely to take place.

“The prime minister had the prerogative to dissolve parliament (on his own terms) just before the monsoon season,” said anti-corruption lawyer Cynthia Gabriel, founding director of the Center for Combating Corruption and Cronyism ( C4).

Gabriel said the government was likely looking to take advantage of divisions between opposition parties and low voter turnout.

“Low voter turnout due to heavy rain and potential flooding is likely,” Gabriel said. “And that will certainly have an impact on the outcome of the general election.”

Political analyst Bridget Welsh echoed that sentiment. “Voter turnout can drop if bad flooding happens,” she said.

“UMNO wants polls to happen as soon as possible to capitalize on what they believe to be their advantage, but this may backfire as it will remind voters that their focus is power and not people.

“If that happens, (there will be) public anger and more will come to vote.”

Kamarudin Ahmad, a lawyer and UMNO member, said he was “confident” in the party’s ability to “handle any flooding situation that may arise on election day”.

“(Various) preparations have already been made,” he told CNN. “UMNO has faced difficult situations in the past. The floods will pose no obstacle to our campaign.

But for many, surviving the predicted coming floods will take priority over voting.

Aini Othman, 27, from the town of Kuala Sepetang in the northwestern state of Perak, recalls wading waist deep in last year’s floods to put the young members of her family safe. ” I do not know how to swim. But I had no choice if I wanted to save my family,” she said.

And as preparations for this year’s monsoon kept her busy, she said she had little time to think about politics – at least for now.

“The floods will come but they will go away,” she said. “The Malays are not gullible. Those who seek power may very well pay the price once the floods are over. »

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