Further Deferring the Sarawak State Elections

Further Deferring the Sarawak State Elections

Constitutionally, unless sooner dissolved, state legislative assemblies will be dissolved five years from its first sitting.[1]

Since the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly had its first sitting on 7th June 2016,[2] the state legislative assembly should have been dissolved (at the latest) by June 2021 and state elections be called within 60 days from the date of the dissolution.[3]

As a result of the nationwide Proclamation of Emergency issued on 11th January 2021[4] and the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance 2021, the “provisions relating to an election for the election to a State Legislative Assembly …, Constitution of any State and any State Law [has] effect.”[5]

This means that the constitutional necessity for the Sarawak state elections to be held is temporarily suspended[6] until either the Emergency is no longer in force or the Yang di-Pertuan Agong sets a state election date after consultation with the Yang di-Pertua Negeri of Sarawak.[7]

At the present moment, the Emergency is scheduled to cease after 1st August 2021[8] and the Malay Rulers have stated that “there is no necessity to place the country under a state of emergency after Aug 1, 2021.”[9]

Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr. James Jemut Masing, the Deputy Chief Minister of Sarawak, has voiced his concerns that the Sarawak state elections have to be conducted once the Emergency comes to an end.[10]

At this juncture, such concerns are perfectly valid as the Sabah state elections had catastrophic effects on COVID-19 cases in the state.

As admitted by Tan Sri Dato Seri Haji Mahiaddin Bin Haji Md Yassin, the current Prime Minister of Malaysia,[11] and supported by researches which have been conducted,[12] the Sabah state elections resulted in a third wave of COVID-19 infections in the country.

One option to further defer the Sarawak state elections would be by way of a statewide Proclamation of Emergency.

If what happened in Sabah were projected/predicted to happen to Sarawak as a result of the Sarawak state elections, this would be a “grave emergency … whereby the security, or the economic life, or public order in … [Sarawak] is threatened.”[13]

Precedents for a statewide Proclamation of Emergency exist. In the past, statewide Emergencies were declared in Sarawak[14] and in Kelantan[15] due to political instability.

Prior to the nationwide Emergency, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong also issued a Proclamation of Emergency over the parliamentary constituency of Batu Sapi resulting in a postponement of a by-election due to a casual vacancy.[16]

As of 21st June 2021, only 29.89% of the population of Sarawak has been vaccinated.[17]

A further Emergency in Sarawak would enable the health authorities to continue their vaccination efforts and potentially achieve herd immunity (or full vaccination)[18] before the Sarawak state elections are held.

The Election Commission would also be able to use the time to refine its standard operating procedures for elections conducted in the midst of the pandemic.


Proposal to have two rounds of voting

What do I mean by having two rounds of voting? I will explain by way of example.

Let us say there is a four-way fight in a particular constituency. There is a Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate, a Pakatan Harapan (PH) candidate,  a PAS candidate, and an independent candidate.

After the first round of voting, let us assume that the BN candidate received 40% of the votes, while the PH candidate got 30%, the PAS candidate got 25%, and the independent candidate got 5%.

The two candidates with the most votes will then be shortlisted, the constituents will re-vote and based on my example, choose either the BN or PH candidate. At the end of the second round of voting, theoretically, either the BN or PH candidate should have a majority of the votes (barring any intentional spoilt votes as a form of boycotting the two shortlisted candidates).

This will encourage more people to stand for election (as is their democratic right) and yet reduce the current problem where the introduction of more candidates result in the splitting of Opposition votes.

Straight fights (one-on-one) based on merit will also be promoted. The best Opposition candidate (number of votes wise) – in my example being the PH candidate – will face off against the BN candidate.

Undeniably, getting the people to re-vote would mean extending polling day to at least two days (the first day for the first round of voting, tabulation of votes, and shortlisting of candidates for round two) which will lead to the spending of more taxpayer’s money. But isn’t the aim of electing an individual with a majority backing worth the cost involved?

Personally I am opposed to having a Member of Parliament/State Assemblyperson having won a seat by virtue of having the most votes AMONGST the candidates (assuming the most votes amounts to less than a majority of the votes). Such elected individuals can’t honestly say that they have the mandate of the people as they don’t necessarily have the majority of the voters in a particular constituency on their side.

An exceptions to the second round of voting could be made where a candidate has obtained at least 50.1% of the votes after the first round. In such an instance, it would be unnecessary to get the people to vote again as the aim of electing an individual with the majority of the votes has been achieved.

I acknowledge that this rough idea requires much fine tuning before it becomes a viable option. But isn’t the idea worth considering?

*This article was featured in The Malaysian Times