Free and Fair Elections in Sarawak Jeopardised

Press statement: 13 April 2011

Free and Fair Elections in Sarawak Jeopardised

BERSIH 2.0 would like to express serious concerns regarding several issues that jeopardise free and fair campaigning in the days leading up to the Sarawak state elections on 16 April 2011.

1. Distinction between political interest and administrative positions

BERSIH 2.0 is appalled that Prime Minister Najib Rajak has cancelled this week’s Wednesday cabinet meeting to campaign in Sarawak. As the leader of the national government and Barisan Nasional (BN), Najib has set a bad example of blurring the lines between the federal government on the one hand and party politics on the other. Instead, Najib should emulate the first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman who took two months leave to campaign in the 1959 elections. During his absence, Deputy Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Razak acted as head of the government. We are disappointed to note that both Prime Minister Najib Razak and Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yasin were in Sarawak campaigning for Barisan Nasional in the past few days. It is not stated if the head and deputy head of the government took leave to campaign in Sarawak.

This separation of powers is further confused by the manipulation of the Ikatan Relawan Rakyat (RELA) and the armed forces in the Sarawak state elections. It has been reported that political secretary to the Sarawak Chief Minister, Wilso Nyabong Ijang, called on RELA members to ensure victory for BN candidates in the upcoming elections, equating administrative obedience to the government with political support for the party in power. This is in breach of administrative neutrality. In addition, there are also allegations that the military has been intimidating constituents to vote for BN by threatening to tear down schools should the opposition win . Such dirty tactics must not be employed in election campaigning and the Election Commission must investigate into such claims and take action against those responsible. The latest incident involves Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yasin allegedly “reminding” an official gathering of teachers held on government time to mark “X” next to the BN candidate on their ballot papers .

BERSIH 2.0 would like to emphasise that those holding executive and administrative roles must not confuse or sideline their duties in favour of partisan political interests. We remind politicians on both sides of the political divide, including Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat, to abide by this principle.

2. Corrupt practices

BERSIH 2.0 condemns the ongoing bad practice of offering gifts, money and promises of development with the intention of influencing the voters’ choices. This amounts to election offences. One key example that mars the reputation of PM Najib Razak is the scrambling for “goodies” containing Tupperware merchandise during a rally at MBKS stadium on 9 April. Another more serious example is Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) deputy president Peter Nyarok’s threats to longhouse chiefs that he would use his “ministerial power” to withdraw promised minor rural projects if the opposition wins in the respective longhouses . We call on all candidates and politicians to respect the Election Offences Act 1954. The EC must prove its independence by taking immediate action against those who commit election offences, and not “pass the buck” to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

3. Postal votes

Based on the figure released by the EC, there are only 34 overseas Sarawakians who will be voting via postal ballot. We question if this figure is an accurate reflection of the actual number of registered Sarawakian voters living overseas considering the restrictive postal voting regulations which only allow postal votes from diplomats and overseas students.

The EC, which has extended postal ballot rights to police spouses under Sub-regulation 3(1)(f) of the Elections (Postal Voting) Regulations, should have done so for all Sarawakians studying or working in Semenanjung Malaysia, Sabah, Singapore, Brunei and other countries. The expensive transportation cost is believed to be one of the reasons why Sarawak had a low turnout of 62% in the 2006 state poll. In the 2008 general elections, Sarawak registered a lower turnout at 58%, the lowest amongst all states and a stark comparison to 79% for Semenanjung Malaysia.

BERSIH 2.0 is deeply disappointed that the EC has simply ignored the appeal of civil society on March 22 calling for both postal voting rights for Sarawakians and a campaign period of at least 21 days to allow for large scale postal voting. The EC should be responsible for the potential disenfranchisement if the turnout in Sarawak elections is again much lower than the national standard.

4. Barring of activists from entering Sarawak

In the past week, two activists – BERSIH Steering Committee member Dr Wong Chin Huat and Steven Ng – have been barred from entering Sarawak. We reiterate that this is an outrage and outright abuse of power by Chief Minister Taib Mahmud in his effort to stifle dissent. Bersih 2.0 demands that the complete list of individuals barred from entering Sarawak is made public, together with the reasons for such a denial of entry. We will support any legal challenge to define and test the scope of the constitutional provision enabling Sabah and Sarawak to control movement and immigration.

Yours sincerely,

Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan
Bersih 2.0 Chairperson

The Steering Committee of BERSIH 2.0 comprises:
Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan, (Chairperson), Andrew Khoo, Arumugam K., Dr Farouk Musa, Haris Ibrahim, Liau Kok Fah, Maria Chin Abdullah, Richard Y W Yeoh, Dr Toh Kin Woon, Dr Wong Chin Huat, Datuk Yeo Yang Poh, Zaid Kamaruddin, Subramaniam Pillay and Arul Prakkash.