EC called to allow absentee vote for Sarawakians in Malaya, Sabah

Graphics for illustration purposes

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KUCHING, Nov 15: More than 10 civil society organisations (SCOs) have joined forces to call upon the Election Commission (EC) to grant absentee voter status to Sarawakians living in Peninsular Malaysia or Sabah and allow them to vote in advance before polling day. 

They also urged EC to avoid a total ban on physical campaigning as what happened in Melaka. To them, the EC needed to work closely with the Ministry of Health (MOH) to formulate clear election SOPs for parties and candidates to campaign safely in compliance with Phase 4 of the National Recovery Plan’s guidelines. 

“Elections are not just about casting votes on polling day. Equally important, candidates need to be able to reach out to voters to explain their manifesto and policy positions so that voters are able to make informed choices. 

“This forthcoming state election has disturbingly been scheduled to take place before the end of the year. The surprise lifting of the state of emergency for Sarawak just eight weeks before the implementation of Undi18 and Automatic Voters Registration (AVR), now means that about 666,000 Sarawakians have deliberately been disenfranchised.

“The EC thus needs to do much better than how it is presently performing. Simply abdicating its constitutional authority and responsibilities to oversee and manage elections to the MOH is not acceptable,” said these civil society organisations in a joint statement today.

Among some of these CSOs were Rise of Sarawak’s Effort (Rose), Bersih Sarawak, Save Rivers, Sarawak Association for People’s Aspirations (Sapa) and Sabah Sarawak Rights Australia New Zealand (SSRANZ), Persatuan Dayak Sarawak (Pedas) and Dayak Think Tank Association Sarawak (DTTAS).

These CSOs expressed welcome to EC’s decision to allow all overseas Sarawakians the right to vote by post in the upcoming state election without excluding those who reside in the neighbouring regions of Singapore, Brunei, Kalimantan and South Thailand. 

Bersih Sarawak estimated that there are just over one million Malaysians living and working in Singapore right now out of which quite a number would be from Sabah and Sarawak.  

“Regretfully, the EC has refused to extend any form of absentee voting to the many Sarawakians voters currently residing in Semenanjung Malaysia and Sabah. 

“We estimate that there are about 250,000 Sarawakians who live and work in Semenanjung Malaysia. This number rises when we include Sabah.

“Apart from the prohibitive costs of air fares and land transport to return to vote in their hometowns and villages, Sarawakians in Sabah and Semenanjung Malaysia have to apply for leave from work and risk falling ill due to Covid-19 infections while travelling through crowded airports, planes and hired seats in 4WD private cars.”

To these CSOs, by refusing to make any provision for this group of voters to vote from the state they are living in, the EC has failed to fulfil one of its primary obligations as an election management body which is to ensure credible levels of voter participation in an election. 

“This will in turn undermine the authority of the election results, the representativeness of the Dewan Undangan Negeri Sarawak (Sarawak Legislative Assembly) and the legitimacy of the next elected state government.”

Alternatively, and perhaps more securely, they suggested that this group of voters be given the right to vote by way of voting in advance at special polling centres set up in at least one major town in each state. — DayakDaily