Thursday, September 24

Consider postal voting for overseas Sarawakians in next election, Bersih tells EC


File photo for illustration purposes

KUCHING: The Election Commission (EC) should consider postal voting as an option for Sarawakians outside the state to cast their votes in the next state election, which is due by mid-2021, said Bersih Sarawak today.

Bersih Sarawak chairperson Ann Teo said she could not agree with a recent ministerial reply in Parliament that there was no provision under the law to enable voters to utilise postal ballots.

“If the EC is ready to extend postal voting to cover for Sarawakians who live, study or work outside the state and whose voting addresses are still in their home state, it is a matter of a simple notification by way of gazette,” she said in a statement.

According to her, Regulation 3(1)(e) of the Elections (Postal Voting) Regulations 2003 provides that any person who has registered as an elector under the Elections (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002 and is “a member of any category of persons designated as postal voters by the Election Commission from time to time by notification in the Gazette” shall on receipt of a postal ballot paper, be entitled to vote as a postal voter at an election in accordance with these regulations.

She reminded all that this was done before the 2018 general elections, where postal voting was extended to staff from nine government agencies who were on duty on polling day.

The agencies were Fire and Rescue Department, Prisons Department, Maritime Enforcement Agency, Police Reserve Volunteers, Immigration Department, Health Department, National Registration Department, Civil Defence Force, National Disaster Managemeent Agency.

As such, Teo urged the EC to extend such postal voting rights to all other overseas Malaysians and specifically Sarawakians, who will be having a state election any time soon, and Sabahans, who will be casting their votes in 60 days.

She pointed out that the current Covid-19 pandemic had presented more barriers to Sarawakians and Sabahans to travel home to vote.

“Other than the health risks posed to those who travel by flight and public transportation, the much lesser frequency and costs of flights across the South China Sea will be an added burden, not to mention the loss of income or jobs for certain job classes or industries.

“Under these circumstances, a large chunk of Sarawakians and Sabahans will be excluded from exercising their democratic rights to choose their wakil rakyat (elected representative) and indeed to determine the future of their home state if the right to vote including the option to vote via postal ballot is not extended to them,” she said.

According to Teo, a leading political scientist and analyst Dr Bridget Welsh has recently estimated that 25 per cent of East Malaysian voters are in Peninsular Malaysia or Singapore, and another 15 per cent away from home in neighbouring Sabah or vice-versa.

Given this, she said an approximate 600,000 of Sarawakian and Sabahan voters were studying, living and working in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore.

She added that this approximation was done based on the voting population of Sarawak at 1.24 million as of the first quarter of this year, and Sabah at 1.12 million as of Feb 25 this year.