Extend voting to two days

KUCHING: The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) Sarawak has proposed that polling in Sarawak’s 12th state election be extended to two days while the campaign period from 14 to 21 days.

It also suggested for affirmative steps to be taken to replace onsite physical campaigning with broadcast campaigning, hold advance voting for registered voters with polling addresses in Sarawak but are residing outside the state and 21 days period for postal voters to cast their votes.

Bersih Sarawak representative Ann Teo said all these radical measures were aimed at the safety of everyone amidst the current Covid-19 pandemic should the state calls for election within the next 60 days after the national Emergency is lifted on Aug 1.

She said unless these measures were implemented even ‘delayed election’ would not help.

On the proposed broadcast campaigning, she said it was to reduce in-person canvassing and rallies during the campaign period, hence providing a safer environment for both the voters and party workers.

“But since Sarawak is marginalised in term of internet connectivity, the Election Commission must use its constitutionally-enshrined powers under Article 115 of the Federal Constitution to arrange for state-owned Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) and TV Sarawak to televise party leaders’ debate and to allocate free air time for all candidates in all constituencies.

“Also, the EC can plead for the goodwill of private television channels to enable informed choices for Sarawakian voters,” added Teo.

She said all these were for the best interest and safety of the people in the state amidst the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Teo reiterated the call by both Civil Society and Bersih Sarawak for EC to speed up the Absentee Voting reform by expanding the categories that were eligible to vote either as postal voter or as an advance voter.

“This has been our recommendation since the mid 2020 when it was thought that the Sarawak state elections would be held last year.

In the age of the pandemic where there are inter-state and inter-district travel restrictions as well as quarantine rules and orders, Teo said special voting arrangements, which are methods allowing voters to cast their vote without turning up in person at a polling station, must be the primary step for any election management body to take along with the other health risks-mitigating SOPs.

This helps in facilitating voter participation and turnout. Sarawak’s voter turnout pre-Covid times had always been one of the lowest in the country at 73% in GE14.