Bersih and Rose report: Sending food, other contributions, lucky draw among alleged misconducts during 12th Sarawak Election

The Sarawak State Election Observation Report by Bersih and Rose.

Editor’s note: This news story has been updated to reflect the correct information as updated by Bersih and Rose in its Sarawak State Election Observation Report issued on Feb 27, 2022.

By Karen Bong

KUCHING, Feb 23: Distributing food supplies, other types of contribution and giving lucky draw slips were among the misconducts that may have constituted an election offense allegedly committed by candidates from both political divides during the 12th Sarawak Election.

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) and Rise of Social Efforts (Rose) highlighted these findings in their Sarawak State Election Observation Report which was carried out by some 20 election observers mobilised on the ground and online to monitor the State Election held between Dec 6 and 18.

Physical observations were carried out in Opar, Satok, Batu Kitang, Batu Kawah and Gedong, while online observations were focused in Opar, Serembu, Mambong, Repok, Pakan, Meluan, Ngemah, Dudong, Bawang Assan, Pelawan, Tamin, Piasau, Pujut, Senadin, Telang Usan and Ba’Kelalan.

The observers in their online observations found several malpractices of treating and gifting during the campaigning period. The Report named Engkilili independent candidate Gemong Batu and Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PBS) Piasau candidate Teo Jia Jun providing food supplies to voters, while Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) Asajaya candidate Dato Sri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah for organising a lucky draw.

Rose president and Bersih Sarawak chair Ann Teo also raised issues over the misuse of government resources and assets, especially in making use of government business to their advantage through launching of events to announce infrastructure and development projects.

“The other is unequal access to media platforms for all candidates and parties including involving the Sarawak Public Communications Unit (Ukas) which is directly under the Chief Minister’s Office that was used for campaigning purposes for the interim government political parties.

“We also noted undue influence from both the caretaker government and the Federal government. For example, candidates appropriately pointing out there will be no allocation if the GPS candidate lost, and that development projects will be difficult to implement if the State and Federal government have different direction, meaning from different divide,” she said in an online press conference over Zoom today.

Teo addressing the online press conference.

The Report also emphasised the lack of voter access particularly postal voting which should be offered to Sarawakians living in other States within Malaysia and not only overseas as obstacles to participation in elections and depriving citizens’ right to fair vote.

Apart from that, the Report also raised that the EC was late in announcing the registration for postal voting overseas including for those residing in Singapore, Brunei, Southern Thailand and Kalimantan who were eligible for postal voting. This resulted in some overseas voters not having enough time to register themselves.

In this case, Teo said the Election Commission (EC) has taken a step backward in the management of elections in which otherwise could have better the rate of voter turnout that only recorded 60.67 per cent in the 12th Sarawak Election.

The Report also highlighted EC’s delay in announcing the election standard operating procedure (SOP) that resulted in parties and candidates not having enough time to prepare to comply with the guidelines, while the short campaigning period of only 12 days was insufficient in view that Sarawak is a vast State and a constituency can be larger than a State in the Peninsula.

“Thus, we are calling for the Federal government including the EC to draw up caretaker government guidelines to spell out what can and cannot be done during the election period. This needs to be looked into seriously,” Teo added.

Bersih chairperson Thomas Fann also agreed that the EC needed to work harder in improving voters’ access through postal or absentee voting because circumstances like work opportunities have disallowed an individual to be physically present.

“They should be given the right to absentee or advance voting. As the postal voting was only offered to those overseas and not those living within Malaysia, as a result the number that applied was extremely low and if not mistaken only about 200.

“If not, there could be up to 3,000 votes at least (from Sarawakians living in Sabah and Peninsula Malaysia). This is a lesson to be learnt. We hope the EC will do better because postal and advance voting is a doable process that could increase voters turnout,” he said.

Fann briefly shares his observations on the 12th Sarawak Election.

Teo added that the EC should really pull up their socks because Malaysia, including Sarawak, want an EC that is truly independent and lives up to the standards of democracy.

“The EC should make elections as inclusive and participative as possible where any Tom, Dick and Harry and even the OKU (disabled people) can easily exercise their rights as well as enfranchising as many Malaysians as possible.

“I am sure EC can do better. It is only a matter of will so that people do not lose hope and the value of their vote,” she concluded. — DayakDaily