Sarawak lawyers moot constitutional amendment to defer state polls due to Covid-19

Jerry Choong
·3-min read
Advocates Association of Sarawak (AAS) president Ranbir Singh Sangha speaks to reporters in Kuching June 11, 2018. — Picture by Sulok Tawie
Advocates Association of Sarawak (AAS) president Ranbir Singh Sangha speaks to reporters in Kuching June 11, 2018. — Picture by Sulok Tawie

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 24 — The Advocates Association of Sarawak has urged the federal government to amend the Federal Constitution and avoid holding the Sarawak state election next year amid Malaysia’s unresolved Covid-19 crisis.

The last Sarawak election was held in 2016 and another must be held next year as the state assembly will automatically be dissolved in June following the expiry of its five-year term.

AAS president Ranbir Singh Sangha said the amendment should be done to avert a new wave of Covid-19 infections nationwide.

“It is our view that the ability to determine when it is safe to dissolve the Dewan Undangan Negeri and hold elections is a fundamental component of Sarawak’s rights,” he said in a statement.

Ranbir cited a potential precedent to extending the current state legislature’s term, saying that it began in 1963, prior to the formation of Malaysia.

“At the time Sarawak had an indirect three-tiered electoral system, consisting of the district council, divisional council and the-then Council Negri.

“Due to the Election Commission’s difficulties in holding the state’s first direct elections, the term of the Council Negri in 1968 was extended to expire together with Parliament in 1969, which is beyond the usual period of five years,” he said.

This was facilitated by a temporary amendment to the Federal Constitution to extend the term of the Council Negri, since renamed as the state legislative assembly (DUN), followed by a consequential amendment to the Sarawak Constitution.

Ranbir also supported Layar assemblyman Gerald Rentap Jabu’s call for an extension for up to six more years Parliament is next dissolved as a response to the impact of Covid-19, which was made on November 11.

“We also endorse the view of Emeritus Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi in his opinion piece published in The Star on Thursday (November 19) regarding the constitutionality of the proposal to extend the term of the current Dewan Undangan Negeri by way of an amendment to the Federal Constitution to defer the state elections.

“The Prime Minister himself acknowledged during his address on November 18 that the third wave of Covid-19 infections in the country today was caused by the Sabah state elections,” he said.

Ranbir said the association will also make representations to the Federal and Sarawak Attorney General’s Chambers in the coming days, to ensure that all the necessary safeguards towards preserving democracy are put in place for such an amendment.

“Just as in 1968, the amendment sought is temporary. But unlike in 1968, the situation today is grave. Similarly, we are also mindful of the political challenges if the bill for such amendment is put to Parliament.

“However, our Members of Parliament have in 2019 proven capable of acting in one voice when unanimously passing the Constitution (Amendment) Bill to lower the voting age from 21 to 18,” he said.

Ranbir concluded by urging all MPs to uphold their oath of office to protect, preserve and defend the Federal Constitution which guarantees the right to life of all Malaysians by supporting the bill for such an amendment.

The 12th Sarawak state election is expected to be held before or by August 7 next year. The state legislature will automatically be dissolved on June 7, 2021, since it first sat in session on June 7, 2016.

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