Freedom to campaign in Sarawak election seriously curtailed!
From reports by election observers in various parts of Sarawak there are a number of significant ways where freedom to campaign have been seriously curtailed in the Sarawak state elections: Firstly, long houses are stopping Opposition parties to campaign-cutting off the info-poor residents from getting information from all sides, which is a necessary condition to make free and informed choice; Tuai Rumah (Chief of long houses) who have just enjoyed a doubling of their government provided monthly allowance (from Rm450.00 to Rm800.00) from February this year are instigated by ruling politicians to keep out Opposition campaigners, thus seriously compromising the freedom of choice by the voters living in the rural communities.
Secondly, some campaign by the Opposition are stopped by the police on account of not getting a police permit-even though the party which refused to give permit in the first place is the police themselves.The police don’t think that they need to prove their suspicion of any threat to security to anyone-thus making it possible and likely for partisan consideration to creep in; We noted that in some instances the police require the Opposition organizer to obtain the approval of long house chiefs in order to be given a permit for gatherings. This is unprecedented as there has been, up to now, no requirement for police permit to organize events in long houses where the ruai(open front yard of long houses) is a common shared space among the long house inhabitants.
Thirdly, stopping the coverage of religious issue specifically the Malay bible issue and the ban over the word `Allah’ for Christians; While the Sarawakians Christians are given exception they are told that their fellow co-religionists in the West Malaysia are stopped from using the word. Meanwhile the Chief Minister try to credit himself by saying that he was the one to stop the printing of serial number on the Malay bible-saying that it is `stupid’. It is not difficult to see that he is trying to gain political brownie point for himself-but at the same time isn’t he giving himself an exception to discuss the religious issue that everyone have to avoid? In a democratic society there should not be any prohibition to discuss issues of public importance especially if it applies only to the public and the Opposition parties. The voters should be free to obtain information from all sides;
Fourthly, the issue of the great wealth of the Chief Minister cannot be questioned in the media or even the State Assembly. In a democratic country all issues of public importance must be open for debate and questioning so that the voters can make judgment for themselves.
Lastly the police and the military voters are beyond accessibility by the Opposition parties for campaigning purposes. Only the incumbent can campaign to them-causing over 90% of these postal voters to vote the incumbent parties!
Given the above situation the cardinal requirement that elections are free, are in doubt. The election administrators involved should be questioned and held accountable for the above situation. For a free election to be conducted there should not be any areas of the constituency and any issues being cordoned off to 1 -side of the campaigners. They must be free to campaign-so that the voters are, after listening to all sides, make informed choices on who to vote. The voters, not the civil servants, should be the final arbiter in an election. In view of this the EC, as the sole body entrusted by the Federal Constitution, and by the Agong who appointed them, to run free and fair elections on behalf the voters, should take all neccesary actions to see to it that all obstructions to free campaigning must be removed at once! All agencies-including the police, the tuai rumah, penghulus must give co-operation to the EC to ensure free elections.
If the EC fail to ensure freedom to campaign by all candidates the EC should be asked to step down for failing to fulfill its mandate. It is equivalent to a foot ball match where the referee refused to allow players from 1 side to enter some taboo spots in the field! No one would like to accept the result of such a football match. Elections should be more serious about ensuring a level playing field than football. The EC should be made to face this grave challenge to the freedom to campaign in Sarawak State Elections or risk being question on their partiality and competence to uphold the integrity of election administration.
MEO-Net will seek an appointment to see the EC and the police chief to thrash out this issue in the remaining days of the election campaign.
MEO-Net was formed in 2009 to link up election observer and voter education groups in Malaysia. It has 6 network members: KOMAS, NIEI, MEW, SEW, SAFREL and MALVU.
Enq. 013-5900339 (Ong BK)
The statement is endorsed by the folowing groups: