Image Source: BH Online
Amidst speculations and reports by various news portals that Sarawak DUN will be dissolved this Friday and that polls will be held before the end of the year, ROSE calls on the Chief Minister of Sarawak, Datuk Patinggi Abang Zohari not to hurry into the state polls before the Emergency is over.
As Emergency rules still apply until 2nd February 2022, the Yang Di-Pertuan Agung will have to end the Emergency prematurely to allow elections to be held this year. As this Emergency is only in force in Sarawak, the CM as head of the State Executive is responsible to advise the Agung via the TYT on the timing to end the Emergency to allow for state elections. Thus, it is not entirely true that he does not have power to decide on the time to have elections.
Having an election before the end of this year will however mean denying about 665,543 Sarawakians the right to vote. A right which they secured via a well-argued High Court case and judgement which the Federal Government did not appeal. The names of these 665,543 voters (which represents an increase of 54.5 percent of the total number of Sarawak voters at GE14) will only be added to the electoral roll at the completion of the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) process by SPR come January 2022. To deny them the right to vote now, when they are on the cusp of being registered, is to thus show contempt for the High Court’s decision and also the Federal Government’s desire to give more power to youth to participate in the nation’s development process.
From an analysis of the pre-registration verification process currently being undertaken by SPR, details of which are displayed on their website, almost half of all Sarawak state constituencies will experience a more than 50 percent increase in voter numbers. Some suburban and growth areas will see up to a 95 percent increase in new voters. Among these constituencies are Tupong, Pantai Damai, Semariang, Batu Kawah, Senadin and Lambir. It is without a doubt that these are the areas in which young people will be voting for the first time and making their mark after the implementation of UNDI18 and the AVR by the end of the year.
Holding the Sarawak elections next year will therefore allow more than 1.9 million qualified voters who are eligible to participate to decide on Sarawak’s future. It is therefore incumbent on the decision-makers including the Chief Minister to enable the voices of the young to be heard in the coming state elections.
Despite the number of daily Covid 19 infections going down, the stats show that ICU occupancy is not going down nor are the daily hospital admissions. We thus also urge the Chief Minister to prioritise the health of voters.
Instead of rushing to an election before the end of 2021, the state government needs to use this time to ask the Election Commission to put in place robust voting procedures that reduce the number of voters at any one time in a polling station. They can do so not merely by suggesting time slots for going out to vote but by increasing the number of polling days. Special voting arrangements like postal or advance voting should also be expanded to allow Sarawakian voters to vote out-of-region in West Malaysia or Sabah. This would save costs and reduce health risks for all involved if they were forced to travel home to vote instead.
Strict measures must also be put in place by the Election Commission for the campaign period. To compensate for any reduction of face-to-face campaigning, televised and radio debates can be held. Equal air time slots can be given to all contesting political parties or candidates for each kawasan. There are a myriad of other ways to manage the risks associated with a Covid election and the Chief Minister can lead the way by showing the rest of Malaysia that Sarawak knows how to hold safe and inclusive elections.
Statement of Persatuan Pemangkin Daya Masyarakat (ROSE)
21ST OCTOBER 2021