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KUCHING, Sept 21: The Election Commission (EC) must take a proactive approach to electoral reforms including adopting absentee or postal voting to enable elections to be conducted safely and efficiently, given that conventional election practices could be disastrous during a public health crisis.
Pointing out that now is simply not the time to hold conventional elections, be it the upcoming State Election or a possible General Election, Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii however reminded that elections cannot be postponed indefinitely and neither can democracy be suspended due to any crisis that may arise.
“There are ways to conduct elections safely and easily which the EC must explore and implement.
“During the seven months of the Emergency, the EC has failed to present any plan to allow safe voting in the country which has sidelined the people’s fundamental rights to vote, its democracy and put the health of citizens at risk,” he criticised in a statement today.
He raised this following a reply to his question on the matter in Parliament which indicated that the government has no intention to extend absentee or postal voting in the electoral reforms but instead, recommended that voters change their voting address to the place they currently reside in.
Dr Yii stressed that the Sabah state elections, which sparked the third wave across the country, should have served as a strong reminder that Covid-19 does not take a leave of absence just so that an election can be held.
“Even though Sarawak has achieved a high vaccination rate, we must remember that the vaccine itself is not a ‘silver bullet’ and now with the spread of the Delta variant, we have seen how the vaccine itself is insufficient to control the transmission of the disease,” he said.
In view of the coming Sarawak State Elections and a possible General Elections as early as next year, he urged the EC to allow absentee or postal voting that would make it safe and easier for voters residing in other states or outside the country to cast their votes, instead of having them return home which could cause a surge in Covid-19 cases like what had happened in Sabah.
“Such a facility would minimise the need for inter-state and inter-division travels. This will require the EC to gazette out-of-region voters as advance voters eligible for postal voting under Regulation 3(1)(e) of the Elections (Advance Voting) Regulations 2012 to implement such a process,” he explained.
It is estimated that up to 20 per cent of eligible Sabahan and Sarawakian voters are living and working in Peninsular Malaysia and a good number of citizens from the Peninsula are working in Sabah and Sarawak.
Another measure he proposed is extending the polling period up to a week with voters scheduled to cast their ballots in order to prevent crowding at polling centres.
“Absentee voters can also start voting at the start of the polling period with their poll closing three days earlier so that their ballots can be delivered back to their respective constituencies for counting,” he added.
Noting that the current Emergency Order is in place in Sarawak to hold off the State Election until Feb 2, 2022, Dr Yii reminded that the emergency proclamation is just a short-term and unsustainable solution that offers no guarantee elections can be carried out safely at its expiry.
“In view of the pandemic, it is the EC’s duty to make it as convenient and safe as possible for voters to cast their votes. This includes safety and security measures to make sure any postal or absent voting process or facilities must be tamper-proof, transparent, fair and convenient for eligible voters to instill public confidence in the system itself.
“Such reforms are important not just for the pandemic, but also to encourage more voter participation especially for elections held in Sabah and Sarawak,” he said. — DayakDaily