Saturday, December 3

Sarawak elections through the years


The state polls this year are not the first to be affected by an Emergency. In the second part of this series, we look back on Sarawak’s past elections and the historic events that shaped them

The Sarawak State Legislative Assembly building stands on the Petra Jaya side of the Sarawak River.

BEFORE Sarawak became a part of the Federation of Malaysia, the Sarawak Governor at the time Sir Alexander Waddell had, on July 22, 1963, issued a proclamation on the formation of the first Supreme Council with the appointment of Sarawak National Party (SNAP) chairman Tan Sri Datuk Amar Stephen Kalong Ningkan as the state’s first chief minister.

Other members of the Supreme Council were Datuk Amar James Wong Kim Ming as deputy chief minister, Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud as Minister of Communication and Works, Dunstan Endawie Enchana as Minister of Local Government, Awang Hipni Pengiran Anu as State Minister and Teo Kui Seng as Natural Resources Minister.

Tun Abang Openg Abang Sapiee, who is the father of Sarawak’s current Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg, was appointed the state’s first Yang di-Pertua Negeri.

This marked the end of colonial rule and therefore, the birth of Sarawak as a self-governing country until the formation of Malaysia.

First state election: 1969

The Federation of Malaysia came into being on Sept 16, 1963, with the formation involving Sarawak, Malaya, Sabah (which was then called North Borneo) and Singapore.

Singapore, however, was expelled from Malaysia on Aug 9, 1965, due to differences with the federal government and racial tension.

While Peninsular Malaysia had held its general elections in 1955, 1959 and 1964, Sarawak only called its inaugural state polls on May 10, 1969, after the Dewan Rakyat and the Sarawak’s Council Negri were dissolved on March 20 that same year.

(Sarawak had amended its constitution to change the Council Negri to Dewan Undangan Negeri or State Legislative Assembly in 1976).

A total of 48 state seats were contested that year but the polls, which were scheduled for four weeks, could not be completed as hoped.

Due to the May 13 riot in 1969 in the peninsula, a State of Emergency was declared and all ongoing polls, including in Sarawak, were suspended until 1970.

This was the first time that any election had to be put on hold due to an Emergency.

The parliamentary and state elections in Sarawak resumed from June 6, 1970 to July 4, 1970.

The polls were held at the height of the communist insurgency.

A tragedy struck in Sarikei on June 29, 1970 where three election officials were killed by communist guerrillas on their return journey after completing polling at a station.

There was also an incident where a land mine exploded outside the polling station in Sarikei.

Separation of parliamentary, state polls

Sarawak held its second state election on Aug 24, 1974. The DUN was dissolved together with the Dewan Rakyat on July 31, 1974. A total of 48 state seats were contested.

Sarawak later decided not to hold its state polls together with parliamentary elections in 1978 – the state election was only held later in 1979.

Former Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) president Tan Sri Wong Soon Kai had, in 2013, said this was because the Barisan Nasional (BN)-led state government at the time had decided to disassociate itself from the politics of Peninsular Malaysia.

Thereon, the practice of holding separate state and parliamentary polls has become a tradition.

Since then, Sarawak has been holding its state and parliamentary elections at an interval of two to three years between each other.

Sabah, on the other hand, has been holding its state elections together with the federal elections – up until 2018.

The subsequent Sarawak state elections were held in 1983, 1987, 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016, while its parliamentary elections were called in 1982, 1986, 1990, 1995, 1999, 2004, 2008, 2013 and 2018.

For the record, the Sarawak state election on April 15, 1987, was a snap election that resulted from the ‘Ming Court Affair’, which was regarded as a culmination of the dispute between former chief minister and governor Tun Datuk Patinggi Abdul Rahman Ya’kub, and his nephew and the then chief minister, Abdul Taib.

Abdul Rahman had 27 assemblymen teaming up with him to demand for Abdul Taib’s resignation or face a no-confidence vote in DUN Sarawak.

Abdul Taib, however, refused to budge. He called for a snap state election that ended in his favour as his Sarawak BN coalition won 28 seats out of the total 48. Abdul Taib will go on to serve as chief minister for over two decades.

File photo shows election workers handling postal votes. — Bernama photo

A different Emergency

The current 18th Sarawak State Legislative Assembly is due to expire on June 6, this year, but due to the Emergency from Jan 12 to Aug 1, the state is unable to hold the state polls.

The Yang Di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah had declared the state of Emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic and to empower the government to take extra measures to contain the virus.

According to the Emergency Proclamation, no elections are allowed and the state and federal governments will function as usual.

On May 25, the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO), in a statement dated May 25, said the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong would decide when the Sarawak DUN will be dissolved.

It said Abang Johari had informed the King during a virtual meeting that the term of the 18th Sarawak DUN would end on June 6, 2021, after which the 12th state election would have to be held in accordance with the provisions under the Sarawak Constitution.

The CMO pointed out, however, that following the Declaration of Emergency, the power to dissolve the State Legislative Assembly is now with the Agong, in consultation with Yang Di-Pertua Negeri Sarawak, in line with Articles 13 and 15 of the Emergency Ordinance (Essential Powers) 2021.

The CMO added that the Agong had, after looking at the worrying Covid-19 situation, advised the Sarawak government to continue functioning as usual, vested with the powers provided for under the Emergency Ordinance (Essential Powers) 2021.

The Sarawak State Legislative Assembly currently has 82 seats.