Bersih Sarawak: Bold changes in voting, campaigning can pave way for safe election

Ann Teo

KUCHING, July 28: Elections can be held safely in a pandemic by taking bold measures to reduce health hazards in voting and campaigning such as by implementing advance voting, postal voting, digital campaigning and increasing polling day to two days.

Recommending these, Bersih Sarawak chairperson Ann Teo emphasised that without these fundamental changes, even delayed elections may not be safe.

“To reduce crowds on polling day and travelling to return to constituencies, we proposed advance voting for those residing outside the State but has polling addresses in Sarawak and postal voting for those residing in Singapore, Brunei, Kalimantan and Southern Thailand with a minimum of 21 days campaign period, to allow enough time to post ballots back to the State.

“Secondly, in person canvassing and rallies during campaign period should be largely replaced by broadcast campaigning which will safer for the voters and party workers too by arranging for state-owned Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) and TV Sarawak to televise party leaders’ debate and allocate free time for all candidates in all constituencies.

“Thirdly, would be to consider increasing the number of polling days from one to two days alongside enforcement of specified time slots for each voter to cast their ballot (as per the times stated in the Voter’s Card sent out by the EC to each voter). The rationale is to reduce the number of voters at the polling station at any given time,” Teo suggested in a statement today.

She also urged Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg and his Cabinet to demand for the above special voting mechanisms to be implemented to enfranchise Sarawakian voters and to provide opportunities for broadcast or digitalised campaigning as conditions for a safe state election from the Election Commission (EC), instead of waiting for the election standard operating procedures (SOP) to be issued.

“We are confident that the Federal government and the EC will heed the requests by the Sarawak State government and the people,” she said.

She highlighted that Sarawak’s voter turnout pre-Covid-19 times has always been one of the lowest in the country at 73 per cent in the last 14th General Election.

“As there are already existing legal provisions in place for postal and advance voting in Malaysia, there are no reasons why they cannot be innovatively expanded to cater for a larger group including Sarawakian voters residing outside the State in Peninsula Malaysia, Labuan and Sabah and even other neighbouring Asean regions,” she said.

While Bersih Sarawak is aware that the mandate of the State Legislative Assembly (DUN) has expired and elections are necessary to choose a new government, Teo however also expressed concerned with the preparedness of all parties to go into an election now given the volatile Covid-19 situation with number of daily infections in Sarawak being erratic and the high number of Delta variant cases detected. — DayakDaily