No Need For Emergency To Avoid Borneo Polls


 


Despite the recent decision by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the prime minister continues in his attempt to make a case for the need to declare an emergency as the only way to prevent the Batu Sapi by-election and the Sarawak state election from taking place. 
The argument being that holding a by-election or state election could result in a spike in Covid-19 infections and endanger the health and well-being of the rakyat. The prime minister, having learnt the lesson during the Sabah state elections, wishes to avoid a repeat of that incident.
In my view, this argument proceeds on a questionable premise, namely that the only solution to this problem is to stop the by-election and the Sarawak state election from taking place and to prevent the exercise of democratic processes in this country. I offer an alternative perspective and approach.
For the Batu Sapi by-election, which will take place on Dec 5, most political parties have already publicly declared that they will not contest the seat. And that they would give Warisan a walkover and let the Warisan candidate win uncontested. 
Given that the seat was held by the late Liew Vui Keong, who sadly left us on Oct 2 and who was from Warisan, allowing Warisan to retain the seat uncontested would result in there being no change in the number of parliamentary seats currently held by the various political parties in the Dewan Rakyat. In other words, it will preserve the status quo.
Interestingly, it is Perikatan Nasional itself, led by the prime minister, that has yet to state its intentions in respect of the Batu Sapi by-election. BN, Sabah Pakatan Harapan, PBS, PCS, and Star have all said that they would sit this by-election out. Will PN also put aside its political agenda for the sake of the nation?
In addition, if the electorate of Batu Sapi could persuade any potential independent candidates not to stand, and if the major political parties can ensure their members do not support and sponsor an independent candidate, there will be only one Warisan candidate on nomination day on Nov 23. 
If there is only one candidate on nomination day, he or she will win unopposed and there would be no need for a campaigning period or for an election. The constitution would be respected, the law would be followed, and no one’s health would be jeopardised.
As for the Sarawak state election, this has to be held no later than Aug 6, 2021. This is because the first sitting of the Sarawak state legislative assembly after the last state election was on June 7, 2016. The maximum life-span of the state legislative assembly is five years, at which point the assembly will be dissolved automatically.
Hybrid campaign
Unless called earlier, elections must then be held within 60 days of that dissolution. There are just over nine months to go between now and Aug 6, 2021.

The Sarawak state legislative assembly building
There is more than enough time for the Dewan Rakyat to pass such new laws as are necessary, or to amend existing ones, and for the Election Commission to make new regulations or amend existing ones, for a purely postal ballot election to take place. 
Nine months is ample time to educate the voters on how to register for, obtain, and vote with a postal ballot. Guidelines could be drafted to carry out an online-only election campaign or to utilise current guidelines to have a hybrid campaign, with a limited number of in-person attendees.
Expanding the eligibility of postal voting to all registered voters in Sarawak would in fact increase and strengthen democracy by enfranchising a greater number of the electorate. Sarawak could make history by being the first state to hold an election that is conducted purely and fully by postal voting.
One argument may be, why wait till the last minute to have the Sarawak state election? Actually, having it earlier would be an attempt by the Sarawak state government to find the most politically-opportune time to hold an election and to maximise the advantage and benefit to the incumbent government. Wouldn't that be considered politicking?
Which is precisely what the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has advised politicians to stop doing.
Adjustments to the way in which the Batu Sapi by-election and the Sarawak state election are to be carried out can be accomplished if only there is the political will to do so. There is, I repeat, no need whatsoever to keep insisting that declaring an emergency is the only way to delay the Batu Sapi by-election and Sarawak state election. 
All it requires is a genuine desire to find an acceptable solution that upholds the constitution and the rule of law, rather than an attempt to disregard these in the name of a so-called threat to national security, or economic life, or public health. 
If the prime minister and his cabinet would spend more time working with the
opposition to come up with a mutually-acceptable solution, rather than to continue harping about the need for an emergency, I have every confidence that the rakyat will be able to get through this in a responsible and mature manner. Will our political leaders do the needful?

ANDREW KHOO is an advocate and solicitor and co-chairs the Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee. He writes here in his personal capacity. - Mkini

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.


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