Observers condemn GPS’ application for emergency to be lifted early so state elections can be held

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No other plausible reason for the haste to call for elections when Sarawak’s intensive care unit bed usage is at 80%.

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Sarawak opposition party Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) has condemned the decision of the state ruling coalition, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), to apply for the emergency to be lifted early so state elections can be held.

PSB president Wong Soon Koh accused the GPS government under Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg of rushing to hold the elections before the Undi18 voters – voters between the ages of 18 and 20 – are eligible to vote on January 1 next year.

“This decision by GPS is motivated solely by political expedience to try to win the state elections before the new voters become eligible to vote,” Wong, the incumbent for the Bawang Assan seat.

He was commenting after Abang Johari’s announcement this morning that the Sarawak legislative assembly had been officially dissolved on November 3, the day the Yang di-Pertuan Agong consented to terminate the state of emergency in the state before its due date on February 2 next year.

This paves the way for state elections to be held within 60 days, by January 3.

Abang Johari said he had advised the Yang di-Pertua Negeri Abdul Taib Mahmud to seek the king’s consent to terminate the emergency, which had been proclaimed at the end of the national emergency on August 2 to tackle the Covid-19 epidemic in the state.

“They may say they passed the law to allow Undi18 to vote but the reality is that they fear the uncertainty that comes with the new voters,” Wong said.

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He was referring to the bill GPS tabled in the state assembly in November last year to amend Article 16 of the state constitution to lower the minimum age for an elected representative from 21 to 18 years’ old.

Despite nine opposition assemblymen voting against it, the bill was passed as GPS had a two-thirds majority in the 82-seat assembly to hurdle the mandatory two-thirds support requirement.

Wong said there is also no other plausible reason for the haste to call for elections when Sarawak’s intensive care unit bed usage is at 80%.

“GPS will come give the same nonsensical excuse that their term has expired, and they need to go back to the people for a fresh mandate.

“(Then they should) call for elections when the emergency expires on February 2, at which time 18-year-olds would be eligible to vote.

“They are so frightened of the Undi18 voters they had to petition for early termination of the emergency so they can go to the polls before January 1, 2022.”

Baru Bian, the PSB incumbent for Ba Kelalan, echoed Wong’s arguments and added that no one believed Abang Johari’s claim he was not afraid of the Undi18 votes.

Baru said Abang Johari should prove this by delaying the elections until next year when Covid-19 numbers are more manageable.

“I believe it was an unwise move on their part to request the Agong to lift the emergency. I hope and pray that no Sarawakians will have to pay the ultimate price for their folly,” Baru added.

Another politician, Voon Lee Shan, whose state elections campaign will focus on Sarawak’s independence, said it was clear the GPS government is avoiding Undi18 votes.

“Although it is not clear whether Undi18 will support or be against the GPS government, there is no reason to exclude them in exercising their constitutional right to vote,” said the Parti Bumi Kenyalang president, who is expected to contest in his old stomping ground, the Batu Lintang seat.

Voon was a single-term Batu Lintang rep from 2006 to 2011 before his fallout with DAP.

He said excluding the Undi18 voters from voting or from standing as candidates is against their constitutional right.

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“Sarawakians will see this as an abuse of power.”

A local civil society organisation, Rise of Sarawak Efforts (ROSE), also criticised the early termination of the state of emergency, calling a “deliberate and calculated” attempt to deny youths their votes.

“As we are on the cusp of implementing Undi18 and automatic voter registration, this for us is a deliberate and calculated attempt by the chief minister and GPS government to deny the youth vote as well as the rest of the new electorate who will vote for the very first time,” ROSE coordinator Anne Teo said. – TMI