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KUCHING, Oct 21: Rise of Sarawak Efforts (Rose) calls on Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg not to rush to hold State polls before the Emergency is over.
According to Rose, as the Emergency is still in effect until Feb 2, 2022, the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong will have to end the Emergency prematurely to allow elections to be held this year.
“As this Emergency is only in force in Sarawak, the Chief Minister as head of the State Executive is responsible to advise the Agong via the Governor on the timing to end the Emergency to allow for State election. Thus, it is not entirely true that he does not have power to decide on the time to have elections,” said Rose.
Rose argued that holding an election before the end of this year will however mean denying about 665,543 Sarawakians the right to vote, a right which they secured via a well-argued High Court case and judgement which the federal government did not appeal.
The names of these 665,543 voters (which represents an increase of 54.5 per cent of the total number of Sarawak voters at the 14th General Election) will only be added to the electoral roll at the completion of the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) process by the Election Commission (EC) come January 2022.
“To deny them the right to vote now, when they are on the cusp of being registered, is to thus show contempt for the High Court’s decision and also the federal government’s desire to give more power to youth to participate in the nation’s development process,” said Rose.
Rose said from an analysis of the pre-registration verification process currently being undertaken by EC, details of which are displayed on their website, almost half of all Sarawak state constituencies will experience a more than 50 percent increase in voter numbers.
“Some suburban and growth areas will see up to a 95 percent increase in new voters. Among these constituencies are Tupong, Pantai Damai, Semariang, Batu Kawah, Senadin and Lambir. It is without a doubt that these are the areas in which young people will be voting for the first time and making their mark after the implementation of UNDI18 and the AVR by the end of the year.
“Holding the Sarawak Elections next year will therefore allow more than 1.9 million qualified voters who are eligible to participate to decide on Sarawak’s future. It is therefore incumbent on the decision-makers including the Chief Minister to enable the voices of the young to be heard in the coming state elections,” said Rose.
Despite the number of daily Covid-19 infections showing a downward trend, statistics show that ICU occupancy is not declining, neither is the number of daily hospital admissions.
“We thus also urge the Chief Minister to prioritise the health of voters,” said Rose.
The NGO opined that instead of rushing into an election before the end of 2021, the State government needed to use this time to ask the EC to put in place robust voting procedures which reduce the number of voters at any one time in a polling station.
“They can do so not merely by suggesting time slots for going out to vote but by increasing the number of polling days. Special voting arrangements like postal or advance voting should also be expanded to allow Sarawakian voters to vote out-of-region in West Malaysia or Sabah. This would save costs and reduce health risks for all involved if they were forced to travel home to vote instead.”
Rose said strict measures must also be put in place by the EC for the campaigning period. To compensate for any reduction of face-to-face campaigning, televised and radio debates can be held.
“Equal air time slots can be given to all contesting political parties or candidates for each constituency. There are a myriad of other ways to manage the risks associated with a Covid election and the Chief Minister can lead the way by showing the rest of Malaysia that Sarawak knows how to hold safe and inclusive elections,” said Rose. — DayakDaily