The early termination of the Sarawak Emergency as announced by Istana Negara today (3rd Nov) means that our DUN is expected to be dissolved in the following day. We also expect the EC to announce a date for the state elections which should be within 60 days and this means anytime in November or by December 2021.
As we are on the cusp of UNDI18 and AVR implementation this for us is a deliberate and calculated attempt by the Chief Minister and GPS govt to deny the youth vote as well as the rest of the new electorate who will vote for the very first time if the state elections were to be held after the original date of expiry of the Emergency.
The GPS does not seem to be concerned about making the state elections as inclusive as possible. We are made to assume that they would rather stick with the known voting patterns or what they are familiar with.
Another concern that we have is low voter turnout. If voter turnout is low this directly affects the legitimacy of the institution we elect. Voter turnout has always been one of the lowest in Sarawak compared with other states. With the Covid-19 situation still at worrying levels and the detection of Delta sub-variants there is a huge possibility that voters will not go back to vote or come out to vote.
It is thus imperative for the SPR to formulate and implement or extend Absentee Voting to various categories of voters. One category is Sarawakians who are staying in Peninsular Malaysia or Sabah and who would need to take time off and spend precious money on airfares to come back to the state to cast their vote. Another is of course those working /living in Singapore and the neighbouring ASEAN region. We call on the EC to allow them to be postal voters or advance voters who can vote at special polling centres set up in major cities or at least one city in each state of the Peninsular. The other category is the elderly in care homes or those in quarantine centres who also should not lose their right to vote - they can have it if SPR implements some kind of mobile ballot box or voting method.
There should also not be a blanket ban on meetings or gatherings related to elections like what is stated by the Health Ministry without making alternative provisions for campaigning. Sarawak is a huge state in terms of geography with just under 50% of our population living rurally or in rural districts where road connectivity leaves much to be desired. Telecommunication and internet connectivity is also sporadic and intermittent. Unlike Melaka state with only 28 state seats and a voting population of about half a million, our 1.2 million voters are spread over 82 state constituencies. If physical campaigns are banned and SPR does not make or provide alternative forms of campaigning eg. over state television and radio this would only discriminate against opposition parties and their candidates who needs to reach voters with their manifestos.
To date even with Nomination Day on the 8th November, SPR has not come up with election SOP for the Melaka state elections. This does not augur well for the confidence of voters and all other contesting parties and other stakeholders like election workers.
The SPR needs to seriously look at the Sarawak election and the different set of challenges it poses and come up with appropriate SOP well ahead as it will take time to communicate these SOPs to the stakeholders.
Dated 4th November, 2021
Statement by Persatuan Pemangkin Daya Masyarakat (R.O.S.E.)