The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) understands the rationale for the Yang DiPertuan Agong (YDPA), on the advice of the PM, to extend the Proclamation of Emergency for Sarawak until 2 February 2022 to delay the holding of the Sarawak State Assembly Election given the current surge of COVID-19 infections nationwide.
However, Bersih 2.0 is of the view that the use of emergency proclamations is a short-term and unsustainable solution that offers no guarantee elections can be carried out safely at their expiry. As it is, we already have the nationwide Proclamation of Emergency since January 2021 that is due to expire on 1 August 2021 for this purpose, and now a targeted emergency has been declared for Sarawak.
Elections cannot be postponed indefinitely and neither can democracy be suspended due to any crises that may arise. Ways to conduct elections safely and easily can and must be explored and implemented by the Election Commission (EC). During the seven months of the Emergency, the EC’s failure to present any plans to allow safe voting in the Sarawak Election has sidelined Sarawakians’ right to vote and its democracy, and put the health of its citizens at risk.
The EC must present its plan and roadmap for the Sarawak State Election when their Emergency is lifted on 2 February 2022, and these plans must be debated in November this year during the second sitting of the fourth session of the Parliament. Failure to provide alternatives to make voting safe and easy would be a dereliction of EC’s constitutional duty.
Among the alternatives the EC could consider to minimise the health risks to Sarawakian voters include:
(1) Allow out-of-region voters or absentee voters to vote in advance without the need to travel back to their constituencies to cast their votes. These would not only include Sarawakians who are living in the Peninsula but also those in the state itself who are working in major towns within the state. Such facilitation would eliminate the need for interstate and inter-division travels.
(2) Extend polling day to a polling period of one week and schedule voters by streams (saluran) to cast their ballots to reduce crowding at polling centres. Absentee voters can also start voting at the start of the polling period but their poll closes three days earlier so that their ballots can be delivered back to their respective constituencies for counting.
Now that the Sarawak State Election is further delayed, it is incumbent on the EC to deliver on Undi18 and Automatic Voters Registration so that young Sarawakians can vote for the first time in the election by February 2022.
The EC, as Malaysia’s electoral management body, has to be proactive and progressive in facing hurdles brought about by any crisis and should look at best practices from around the world to carry out its duty instead of relying on the government to use drastic measures such as proclamations of emergency.
Statement issued by:
The Steering Committee of Bersih 2.0