As we write this review for the Year 2020, several unprecedented events came to mind.
Firstly, the unexpected fall of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) federal government in late February after being in power for a mere 22 months due to intense contestations, party-hopping and re-alignment amongst members of Parliament, probably precipitated by an unclear succession of the premiership position. What was clear, however, was that a big chunk of the electorate who had voted out the Najib regime felt their mandate given to the PH government the last GE14 stolen, were outraged, disillusioned, despondent and dis-empowered all at once or gradually as things unfolded in the following months. ROSE registered our condemnation and tried to shine a light during that time through several statements in the media -
By March 2020, the Covid-19 virus infections have reached our shores and the first death was that of a fellow Sarawakian succumbing to the infection the day after the new Perikatan Nasional (PN) government declared a total lock-down (1st Movement Control Order - MCO) to control the pandemic. It would be the 12th May before major segments of the economic activity resumed or the workforce was allowed to go back to work here in Sarawak.
Amidst this backdrop of unprecedented events in the life of our nation as well as that of our personal lives, ROSE also struggled to cope with the new normal and is still trying to find solid ground. We are hit with the challenges of engaging with our members and volunteers on a face-to-face basis. Events and programmes that we had planned in the run-up to the state elections expected to be held in 2020, also had to be put on hold for more than half of the year or longer. We had to ask ourselves what was the silver lining for us and realized we did had quite a few to count:-
- We started January and February 2020 with voter registration (VR) booths in shopping malls located in the outskirts of Kuching to ride on the festive periods. Many new volunteers joined us during this period. The voter registration efforts continued and were sustainable, in spite of the imposition of MCO by the work of our ‘local champions’ who are not hindered by the travel or movement controls since they are only moving around in their own districts to manually register new voters. For the year 2020, we submitted 1,636 new voter registration forms to SPR. We also supplemented the VR efforts with poster distribution designed to give information to new voters to register themselves. Our staff and volunteers distributed about 900 pieces of ‘DILARANG MEROKOK-#Sarawak Kita Punya’ posters to eateries and other establishments from Kuching to Serian in the month of July 2020.
- In February, we organised and hosted two trainings in collaboration with Akademi Pilihan Raya for polling and counting agents (TOT) as well as election observation (Pemerhati).
- During the 1st MCO, we also found ourselves responding to the needs of the mainly B40 communities in and around Kuching for aids in food and basic essentials. We partnered with CovidCare Malaysia, Makan Kongsi and MARI to distribute such aids worth slightly over RM50,000 to 553 needy families mainly for those whose bread-winners were unable to earn an income due to the MCO or had lost their jobs.
- Not knowing that the Sabah elections in late September would trigger the 2nd wave of Covid 19 infections, our seasoned trainers were by that time well on the way to delivering PACA-Training of Trainers sessions for political parties upon their request. By October 2020, our team had conducted 2 online sessions and 5 (2-day face-to-face) sessions with a total of no less than 200 participants from about 54 constituencies (DUN) or more in southern, central and northern regions of Sarawak. The objective was to empower grassroots to defend/protect the votes during elections time so that we do not have to rely (too heavily) on polling and counting agents ‘imported’ from other parts of the country. We can only hope that this objective will be realized when the party workers do their part to train the locals from their respective DUN constituency to serve as PACA in the coming state elections/general elections.
- Bengkel Kesedaran Demokrasi Dengan Belia Sarawak - in anticipation of the implementation of automatic voter registration and the lowering of voting age to 18 in July this year, we had applied for some funding for the purposes of conducting citizenship and voter education workshops/outreach with young people between ages 16-30 as the target group participants. It also included registering them as new voters of course. Preparation work by the project team, including module-writing and communications with project partners, started in August. Our greatest challenge was that these institutions of higher learning (public and private) remained closed for physical classes on campus for most of the year hence we were unable to get them to partner with us for the workshops. We then decided to invite youths from local NGOs and youth communities including accepting public youth online registrations. These workshops in Kuching and Samarahan commenced in December 2020 with full compliance to all Covid SOPs by the participants and our suppliers. Our trainers and facilitators also travelled to Sibu, Miri and Mukah in January 2021 to conduct these outreaches. At the time of writing, the final workshop scheduled in Betong on 23rd Jan had been postponed due to the CMCO imposed in Sarawak and the MCO in Sibu (3rd wave).
Group photo of the participants of Miri workshop
Rest assured we will complete the workshop series and continue to engage with Sarawakian youths in our efforts to foster a more informed and participatory citizen-voters. Here is the link to one of our press releases on the workshop: https://pressreader.com/article/281805696521109,
Last but not least, realizing that the pandemic is not likely to disappear soon despite vaccine roll-out in March 2021, the way that we do things; engage and mobilise our members and volunteers, conduct our advocacy or educational programmes AND communicate with voters in 2021 will need to change and change fast. We are also reminded of the need to form alliances with like-minded civil society organizations here in our state and nationally in order to strengthen our voices and work.
As for the anticipated 12th Sarawak state elections, the recent Emergency Declaration (expiring 1st August) and first Ordinance has prohibited elections during the period of the emergency unless the YDPA thinks it appropriate after consultation with the Governor of Sarawak. Be that as it may, we still expect an election to be held in the later part of this year and our activities will be geared towards it.
For us in ROSE, the advocacy for absentee and/or remote voting reforms by SPR MUST continue to make the state election results more representative and reflective of the wishes and mandate of Sarawakians. On the other hand, whilst these reforms and rules have yet to be implemented, we strongly urge all voters residing in major cities and towns as well as the ones in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Singapore to consider and plan to come back to vote in due course, keeping in mind that the votes of those working out of Sarawak make a crucial impact on the outcome of the election process.
With that, we wish all our members, volunteers, supporters and partners a SAFE, FRUITFUL and BLESSED year ahead and ask for your continued support, mutual encouragement and participation/involvement in our mission and efforts to make Sarawak (and Malaysia) a better place for all.
Exco Persatuan Pemangkin Daya Masyarakat (R.O.S.E)
Dated this 31st January 2021