Extend absentee voting facilities to guarantee Sarawakians’ voting rights in state election

A digital flyer on absentee voting campaign.

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KUCHING, Nov 3: Bersih Sarawak and eight other Sarawakian civil society organisations urged the Election Commission (EC) to fast track reforms in expanding access to absentee voting in time for the Sarawak State Election.

In a joint statement today, Bersih Sarawak urged the EC to undertake this measure to ensure that all eligible Sarawakians can decide the future of Sarawak in the coming state election, which is expected to due in June 2021.

The Covid-19 pandemic, travel and quarantine restrictions into Sarawak, the group emphasised were among obstacles that will make it more difficult or even impossible for ordinary Sarawakian voters to go home to vote.

“As such, there is a need to immediately extend absentee voting facilities to include diasporic Sarawkians working, studying or living in Semenanjung Malaysia, Sabah, Labuan, Singapore, Brunei, Kalimantan (Indonesia) and Southern Thailand.

“The EC must urgently emplace the necessary regulations to expand access to absentee voting whether by way of postal vote (mail-in ballot), early voting or distant voting for those who cannot return home because of inter-state and inter-district travel restriction,” the statement highlighted.

“The Covid-19 situation had made it imperative for the EC policy committee on Absentee Voters to fast trace these reforms with ample time to communicate the procedures to the voters and in time for the Sarawak state elections.

It explained that EC should extend its existing legal framework for postal voting to Sarawakians outside the state and whose voting addressed are still in their home state.

“It is a matter of simple notification by way of gazette. We believe it is a similar kind of amendments in respect of advance voting; all that is needed is a change to Regulation 27A of the Conduct of Elections Regulations and the changes does not need to be debated in Parliament. We do however agree that more resources and budgets will be needed for implementation.”

As the legitimacy of a government is affected by turnout, Bersih Sarawak reminded that it was the responsibility of the EC to ensure voters’ maximum access to normal and absentee polling facilities.

Bersih Sarawak also called on Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg not to call for early election and let the Sarawak State Assembly (DUN) runs its full term until June 6, 2021 so to allow all Sarawakians to have a meaningful say in the future of Sarawak.

“The EC can hold the state election as late as Aug 5, 2021. This will be in line with the advice of Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah to avoid early elections.

Additionally, Bersih Sarawak also expressed concerns that young Sarawakians aged between 18 and 21 will be effectively disenfranchised if state election is conducted before July 2021 which is the anticipated date of implementation of Undi18 and automatic voter registration.

Bersih Sarawak also urged for rallies, door-to-door canvassing and in-person campaigning to be replaced with televised party leaders’ debate and free airtime for all candidates in all constituencies so that voters can make uniformed choices which the EC
can arrange under its constitutionally-enshrined powers under Article 115 of the Federal Constitution.

The statement was also endorsed and jointly issued by Lawyer Kamek 4 Change (LK4C), Save Rivers, Penan Baram Empowerment Networking Association (Pena), Persatuan Pemangkin Kesedaran Sosial Kuching, Bersih Sibu, Ikram Sarawak and Persatuan Pemangkin Daya Masyarakat (Rose).

The group has also launched an online petition for the Sarawakian public to sign and make these demands and calls to the Chief Minister and EC.

The link to the online petition is http://chng.it/VmPkX9Wq24. — DayakDaily