Don’t hurry into Sarawak polls, says local civil society group

KUCHING: The Sarawak government should not hurry into the state election before the Emergency in the state ends next February, says a local civil society organisation.

Persatuan Pemangkin Daya Masyarakat – also known as Rose – said holding the polls after February would allow young and newly-registered voters the opportunity to cast their ballots, besides prioritising the health of voters in view of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

“Having an election before the end of this year will mean denying about 665,543 Sarawakians the right to vote, which was secured through a High Court judgment the Federal government did not appeal,” Rose said in a statement on Thursday (Oct 21).

In this, Rose is referring to last month’s High Court ruling ordering the government to implement Undi18 and automatic voter registration by Dec 31 this year.

Rose said the names of these voters, who represent an increase of 54.5% of the total number of Sarawak voters in 2018’s 14th general election, would only be added to the electoral roll when the Election Commission (EC) completes the automatic voter registration process in early next year.

“To deny them the right to vote now, when they are on the cusp of being registered, is to show contempt for the High Court’s decision and the Federal Government’s desire to give more power to youths to participate in the nation’s development process,” it said.

Rose was commenting on speculation that the Sarawak Legislative Assembly would be dissolved in the coming days to pave the way for the polls before the year end.

Based on details of the pre-registration verification process displayed on the EC’s website, it said nearly half of Sarawak’s state constituencies would see an increase of over 50% in voter numbers, such as Tupong, Pantai Damai, Samariang, Batu Kawah, Senadin and Lambir.

As such, it said holding the state polls next year would allow the newly-registered voters to participate in deciding Sarawak’s future.

Rose also said the state government should use the remaining Emergency period to request the EC to put in place robust voting procedures to ensure the safety of voters on polling day.

The measures can include suggesting time slots for voting to reduce the number of voters at any one time in a polling station and increasing the number of polling days, it said.

“Special voting arrangements like postal or advance voting should also be expanded to allow Sarawakian voters to vote out-of-region in peninsular Malaysia or Sabah,” it said

“This would save costs and reduce health risks for all involved, compared to having to travel home to vote,” Rose added.