The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) wishes to respond to the COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for the conduct of the 12th Sarawak State Legislative Election that was issued by the Election Commission (EC) on 5 December 2021, a day before nomination day, just as it was for the Melaka state election. In our view, it should have been issued much earlier so that the parties and candidates can make advance preparations for their campaign.
With regard to the SOP issued, BERSIH is pleased that there are some easing of electioneering SOPs for the Sarawak as compared to the Melaka election, such as allowing SOP-compliant physical ceramahs for some DUNs, house to house leafleting and campaigning and allowing more bilik gerakans in a DUN for each candidate. However, BERSIH is still concern that the SOPs issued by the EC are still overly restrictive in some areas, some may be in contravention of existing laws and some may disadvantage certain political parties.
These are the restrictions that are of concern to BERSIH:
- Interstate travel restricted to 5 top leaders from each contesting party is unnecessary restrictive considering the fact that Sarawak has a land mass almost the size of Peninsula and has 82 state constituencies, the limitation of 5 cannot be due to concerns about crowding. This is also in contravention of Section 67 of the immigration Act 1959/63 that allows citizens to enter East Malaysia to exercise their legitimate political rights. While interstate travel for entry into Sarawak requires approval through the Enter Sarawak app for all citizens, such restrictions on political activities can only be construed as politically-motivated. This restriction would disadvantage national parties while advantaging local-based ones.
- The ban on physical ceramah/rally except in DUNs that has poor Internet connectivity is unnecessary since 64 out of the 82 DUNs (78%) are allowed and only 18 urban constituencies are disallowed. The SOP to hold a physical ceramah such as limiting to 50% capacity of the venue or a maximum of 150 persons should apply to all DUNs.
- Voters who are COVID-19 positive are not allowed to vote. According to the EC, this is in line with the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342) but the right to vote is enshrined under Article 119 of the Federal Constitution. In order not to disenfranchise such eligible voters and not to violate their constitutional right, we call on the EC to provide special voting arrangement (SVA) for these voters if they have indicated that they wish to vote. This could be in the form of a mobile ballot box brought to where the person is receiving treatment or under quarantine.
- For PUI/PUS individuals, they are required to apply for permission from the District Health Officer before they can come to their polling centre to vote in a special tent set up at every polling centre. We suggest that such application for permission to be abolished as the District Health Officer would be in violation of a citizen’s constitutional right to vote if he/she refuses permission. The requirement for the PUI/PUS to travel to polling centres in their own vehicle is an improvement from the requirement for political parties to ferry them as it would have been an election offence for parties to ferry voters on polling day.
- Similarly, the requirement for voters who needs to cross districts or leave areas under EMCO to apply from for permission from the police before they can vote is unnecessary and violates their constitutional rights. Voters should only be required to show proof of the location of their polling station if stopped by the police.
- BERSIH is also dismayed that apart of encouraging parties and candidates to use social media, printed media and television to campaign, they did not play a more active role to facilitate access to such media, especially state owned television and radio, where the lack of internet connectivity necessitate the use of television and radio to reach rural voters in Sarawak.
In view of the lack of initiative by the EC to facilitate fair media access for all contending parties and candidates, BERSIH will continue with our #SuaraUntukSemua initiative, started for the Melaka election, with our media partners – Astro Awani, Sinar Harian and SinChew Daily, to provide a platform on social media, print media and television. Interested candidates can submit their videos (under 5 minutes duration) to us at [email protected] or Telegram t.me/BersihOfficial.
BERSIH calls on the EC to re-consider some of their SOPs for the Sarawak election based on the concerns raised by us above. It is important that whatever SOPs issued are balanced between public health safety and the need for campaigning so that voters can make better informed choices. It is also critical that the EC is seen as a truly independent body and that the SOPs do not disadvantage any parties or candidates, and that they protect and uphold the constitutional right of every citizen to vote.
Statement issued by:
The Steering Committee of BERSIH