Sarawak should appeal to lift emergency

Covid-19 has been used to justify Parliament being delayed, shortened and void of any debates. Now it is to justify declaring a state of emergency. But the power and authority in today’s government have been adequate to deal with the pandemic. – Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad

It is understood that when a national emergency is declared, the whole nation is covered. Like it or not, the Borneo territories of Sabah and Sarawak are also affected.

However, under the Federal Constitution, certain “concessions” are permitted. I have read the statement from Constitutional Law expert Prof Datuk Shad Saleem Faruqi and trust that he is legally accurate on the issue at hand.

Among other things, Shad pointed out that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has to amend the existing ordinance within the emergency period to allow Sarawak to have its state election this year.

“The Yang di-Pertuan Agong has the power to consult with the Yang di-Pertua Negeri Sarawak to order an election as soon as possible, after he has amended the ordinance to allow election in the state,” he said.

I have also noted with interest the statement from Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing on the emergency and the state election.

Last Friday, Masing revealed that the Sarawak cabinet had discussed informally a plan to appeal to the king to lift the emergency order in Sarawak if the state can bring the Covid-19 situation to a manageable level.

He said if the appeal is favourably considered, it would pave the way for the 12th state election to be held as the term for the current State Legislative Assembly ends in June.

What is important to note here is that under an emergency, Parliament and all the state legislative assemblies are suspended, meaning they do not have to meet. Elections are also suspended. Absolute power is in the hands of the federal government.

Malaysia’s 15th general election is only due in 2024; so the emergency scheduled till August this year has no bearing on GE15.

However, in the case of Sarawak, that is a different story. The current term of the state government ends in June this year and state polls must be held latest by August.

Thus, the GPS government’s plan to appeal to the king to lift the emergency in Sarawak is understandable. I envision that Sarawak leaders want a leeway as to when they should call for the election without being tied down till August.

I support the proposal. I also think that GPS should appeal to the king to lift the emergency in Sarawak as soon as possible without waiting for the pandemic to subside.

Why? In the first place, an emergency is not necessary in Sarawak as we have done fairly well in managing the pandemic over the past 10 months.

I have voiced my protest against dragging Sarawak into the emergency mode from Day One — on Jan 12 to be exact, the first day the emergency was proclaimed.

That day, I registered my displeasure on social media questioning the necessity by Putrajaya to drag my homeland into this emergency, which I thought was preposterous.

At that time, Sarawak recorded less than 2,000 cases. The Pasai Siong cluster was just discovered. I stated then that “an emergency for the whole of Sarawak, just because of a few significant clusters, is just outrageous”.

I maintained to this day that the MCO and CMCO announced earlier should suffice. It must be noted here that the emergency was declared, as stated by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, to contain the pandemic.

According to him, the “calm and stability” from the emergency would help spur the Covid-19 stricken economy.

Not surprisingly, the opposition Pakatan Harapan leaders did not agree with Muhyiddin’s emergency and MPs have started appealing to the king to lift the emergency. Whether they succeed or not in their quest is left to be seen.  

Similarly in Sarawak, the local opposition has also started bashing GPS, accusing it of being impatient to hold the state elections without regard for the lives of Sarawakians.

We are only too familiar with such political salvos. I am not a politician and I will not assess or judge the issue from the political angle.

As a Sarawakian, I am against the emergency because it is unnecessary and unwarranted. Neither do I think the state election should be held when the pandemic curve does not allow it. No sane government would call an election now and I believe the GPS government would do the right thing.

I hope I can trust in the wisdom of my fellow Sarawakians, from both sides, to act responsibly and honourably in handling the two main issues at hand — the pandemic and state election.

GPS and the opposition have to listen to the “voice of reason” from Sarawakians who are not interested in their political wrangling, particularly during such crucial times.

Taking pot shots at each other and toxic politics must stop. Politics is not about gunning each other down all the time. Let us understand that honest people can have honest differences.

There are also consequences of political interference in good intentions. Politicians should bear that in mind.

Meantime, let’s work together to contain the pandemic. Politics and elections are of no priority for Sarawak now.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune. Feedback can reach the writer at sirsiah@gmail.com