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KUCHING, Nov 24: Sarawak civil society organisations (CSOs) are concerned over standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the upcoming Sarawak elections which the authorities have yet to release.
A memorandum addressed to Election Commission (EC) Malaysia chairman Datuk Abdul Ghani Salleh, cc-ed to Prime Minister Dato Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Minister of Health Khairy Jamaluddin was handed over to EC Sarawak director Jasni Jubli today.
It was endorsed by 17 CSOs namely Bersih Sarawak, Persatuan Pemangkin Daya Masyarakat (Rose), Undi Sarawak, Terabai Kenyalang Heritage Association of Sarawak (TKHAS), Save Rivers, Keep Green Movement (KGM) – People Associate Development Education Penan Sarawak (Pade), Lawyer Kamek for Change (LK4C), Purplelily Sosial Association Kuching (Purplelily), Persatuan Anak Istimewa Sarawak (Perais), Dayak Think Tank Association Sarawak (DTTAS), Persatuan Pemangkin Kesedaran Sosial (Pemangkin), Sadia Rimbas, Sadia Rajang, Sarawak Association for People’s Aspiration (Sapa), Ikram Sarawak, Abim Sarawak and Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia).
The memorandum noted the Emergency was lifted and the State Legislative Assembly dissolved on Nov 3.
“It has been three weeks now but the EC has been silent about these SOPs. It is the EC’s responsibility together with the Ministry of Health (MOH) to manage and handle the risks that come with conducting elections, especially during these pandemic times.
“The EC and MOH are equally responsible for putting in place public health safety measures and for ensuring that these measures and procedures are understood by all voters and other election stakeholders,” it said.
The CSOs also noted there are an estimated 1,260,000 voters in Sarawak to reach and the channels of communication in rural districts are a known challenge.
As such, they asserted that the SOPs need to be issued and broadcast much earlier.
Calling upon the EC as well as the federal government to give thoughtful attention to their concerns, they said it has to be seriously addressed for the State election.
“In view of Covid-19 safety concerns, we call for free broadcasting time for all political parties via State-owned TV and Radio. These measures must allow political parties to communicate and transmit their manifestos, introduce their candidates and their policy arguments to the voters from Nomination Day.
“It is a suppression of the voters’ right to make an informed decision by knowing or hearing from the contesting parties and their candidates if the SOP does not include this,” it said.
The CSO also asserted it would be unfair to allow the caretaker Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) State government the access to voters via their TV Sarawak channel on Astro Awani while all other parties are denied on-air media access.
They asserted it is imperative for all contesting political parties to communicate their manifestos, candidates and their policies on a level playing field basis; while at the same time, EC and federal government have a responsibility to facilitate this by allowing all contesting parties equal access to State-owned broadcasting and media.
“The EC and federal government must instruct private or independent broadcast media outlets to play a greater role during this election by organising discussion panels for candidates from all parties where local issues are discussed and candidates’ views can be aired.
“Telecommunication companies must also be instructed to play constructive roles by granting Sarawak registered mobile phone numbers unlimited data usage for the period of the election campaign to facilitate the sharing and receiving of campaign broadcasts by political party and candidates through online and social media platforms,” the CSOs said.
The group also called for political gatherings, whether seated or standing, to be allowed in urban or rural areas, with SOPs.
For house-to-house visits and face-to-face leafleting, they suggested that the number of campaigners allowed to be part of a group must be limited to three persons and must not enter the house or the ‘bilik’ of any longhouse.
Debates between potential Chief Minister candidates or party leaders should also be organised as well and telecast on State television and radio channels at least twice: once after Nomination Day and another, two days before Polling Day.
“CSO also demands the EC enfranchise Sarawakian voters who live and work in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah because it is the latter’s constitutional responsibility to make special voting arrangements for an estimated 250,000 disapora Anak Sarawak to vote.
“Allow postal voting to be extended to these category of voters by a gazette pursuant to Regulation 3 (1)(e) of the Elections (Postal Voting) Regulations 2003; or Special Advance Voting; with pre-registration for purposes of entry on a separate voting roll.
“If Sarawak voters in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah are not allowed to vote via absentee voting, such action flies in the face of the EC’s constitutional duty to facilitate voting by all eligible to vote and to manage elections in Malaysia,” the group said. — DayakDaily