Current Affairs, National

The Election Commission (SPR) must implement reforms to ensure elections in Malaysia are ‘pandemic-proof’

Press statement by MP for Bandar Kuching, Dr Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen on 21 September 2021:

 

It is simply not the time to hold a conventional election whether on a State Level or even a General Elections

 

Having a conventional election during a time of pandemic would be disastrous. We are still reeling from the health fallout from the recently concluded Sabah state elections, which sparked the third wave all around the country. That should have served as a strong reminder that the Covid-19 virus does not take a leave of absence just so that an election can be held. 

While this year we will have achieved a higher Covid-19 vaccine coverage especially in Sarawak and across the country, we must remember that the vaccine itself is not a ‘silver bullet’. Furthermore, with the spread of the Covid-19 Delta Variant, we have seen how vaccines are insufficient in controlling the transmission of the disease.

In Parliament, I have submitted a question to the relevant Minister on whether the Election Commission (EC) have come up with pro-active reforms including absentee voting or extending postal voting to either vulnerable population or those working or studying outside the states, especially in Sabah and Sarawak.

 
For illustration purposes.
 

Absentee or postal voting would make it easier for voters residing in other states to vote instead of them having to return home and causing a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases, as what happened in Sabah.

 

However, based on the answer given, the federal government do not intend to implement such reforms and even said that they have instead recommend voters to change their voting address to the place they are currently staying, rather than finding ways for voters to vote safely in their respective states or even place of choice.

If a Sarawakian, Sabahan or even a Kelantanese wants to vote at his hometown, it is the duty of the EC to come up with a way to vote safely in their place of choice.

Any inconveniences imposed on voters either directly or indirectly through unnecessary regulations or non-availability of facilities can be construed as a suppression of the fundamental rights of a voter.

This is especially important in view of the upcoming Sarawak State Election and a possible General Election as early as next year.

Even though currently the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has extended the Proclamation of Emergency for Sarawak until 2 February 2022 to delay the holding of the Sarawak State Assembly Election, but the use of emergency proclamations is a short-term and unsustainable solution that offers no guarantee elections can be carried out safely once the proclamation has expired.

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 or even a possible General Election have sidelined the people’s right to vote and democracy, as well as put the health of citizens at risk. 

That is why I strongly urge the EC to be pro-active and make the necessary adaptation to:

 

1. Allow out-of-region voters or absentee voters to vote in advance

 

This will allow these people to vote 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.

This will require the EC gazette out-of-region voters as advance voters eligible for postal voting under Regulation 3(1)(e) of the Elections (Advance Voting) Regulations 2012 in order to implement such a process.

 

2. Extend polling day to a polling period of up to a week and schedule voters by streams (saluran)

 

Through this initiative, we can 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.

 
MP for Bandar Kuching, Dr Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen.
 

I strongly believe that in view of the pandemic, it is the EC’s duty to make it as convenient and safe as possible for voters to cast their votes. This includes safety and security measures to make sure any postal or absent voting process or facilities must be tamper-proof, transparent, fair and convenient for eligible voters so that it will instil public confidence on the system itself.

Such reforms are important not just for the pandemic, but also to encourage more voter participation especially for elections held in Sabah and Sarawak. Many Malaysians, including Sabahans and Sarawakians, are compelled to find jobs far from their homes due to unequal economic development among the states. It is estimated that up to 20% of eligible Sabahan and Sarawakian voters are living and working in Peninsular Malaysia and a good number of citizens from the West Malaysia are doing likewise in Sabah and Sarawak.

 

That is why I call on the EC to not sleep on their laurels and expedite the process for postal voting or any other means to enable Malaysians who want to vote to do so safely and without much inconvenience.

 

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