THE suspension of voting in 11 polling stations in Sarawak’s Baram parliamentary constituency due to bad weather should be a lesson for the Election Commission (EC) in better managing the movement of its polling teams and ballot boxes in times of unpredictable weather, Telang Usan assemblyman Dennis Ngau said.
From his experience and what he had seen, Ngau said when EC’s plan A – fly the workers and ballot boxes by helicopters – could not be executed, they had no workable plan B to fall back on.
He said to make last minute arrangements for vehicles, it would be “a very difficult task” for the four-wheel drives if they were to go by road to the 11 places.
He told The Malaysian Insight that even if they could muster the number of vehicles they needed, the EC still needs to find drivers “who know the road”.
Ngau, an ethnic Kayan born and raised in Baram, was referring to drivers with experience in driving on logging roads in treacherous conditions and who understand the logging roads’ unique set of rules.
He said the 11 polling stations are also far in the interior of Baram and some were close to the international Sarawak-Kalimantan border.
For example, the Long Tungan polling station is only 95.4km or 51.5 nautical miles away by helicopters from the town of Marudi, where most of EC workers were to be picked up.
However, by “road”, it is 272.6km.
To Long Mekabar, the distance is 258km by logging road and 98km by helicopter.
Those road trips, Ngau said, might be a seven- to eight-hour bone-jarring drive.
Apart from the distance, logging roads in Sarawak’s interior at this time of the year are also slippery and treacherous.
Ngau was baffled by why EC took their chances in trying to fly their workers just a day before polling when the weather in Baram was so highly unpredictable.
“Okay, it’s something we never experienced after having gone through so many state and federal elections and therefore something we had not expected.”
He said in the past 14 days of campaigning, he has been flying in and out of Baram with little difficulty, but added that it did at times rain in the late afternoon.
“Today, I am flying to Baram and the weather is not so bad.
“When they (the EC) tried to fly out yesterday, the weather happened to be really bad (all day). That was a bit unusual.
“Can’t blame anybody. It’s the force of nature but it’s a lesson the EC will have to learn.”
It was reported earlier today that poor weather coupled with low visibility in Ulu Baram prevented the helicopters from ferrying the EC workers to the 11 polling stations.
The Borneo Post quoted a returning officer, Belayong Pok, as having confirmed that all flights have been instructed to stand down. – November 19, 2022.