Sarawak state election, Batu Sapi by-election cannot be postponed unless emergency declared, says EC’s ex-deputy chief

(MMO) – Both the upcoming December 5 by-election in Sabah for the Batu Sapi parliamentary seat and the Sarawak state election which must be held by August 2021 cannot be postponed, unless Malaysia declares a state of emergency, a former senior Election Commission (EC) official has said.

Former EC deputy chairman Datuk Seri Wan Ahmad Wan Omar reportedly said that the EC has no powers to postpone such elections which are required to be held under both the Federal Constitution and the state constitution, as long as there is no national emergency or emergency declared in a state.

In a report by local daily Berita Harian, Wan Ahmad said the Batu Sapi by-election — which already has nomination date and polling date fixed — is a matter bound by constitutional provisions, with a vacancy in seat required to be filled up within the timeline determined by the Federal Constitution.

As for the Sarawak by-election, he said it would depend on when the Sarawak state governor dissolves the Sarawak state legislative assembly on the advice of the chief minister.

“If it is not dissolved, then it will be dissolved on its own on June 2021. Therefore the state election has to be held 60 days from the date of dissolution,” he was quoted as saying by Berita Harian.

The Sarawak state election was last held in 2016, with the next state polls due by early August 2021 at the end of the five-year period. But the state election can also be called earlier at any time before the August 2021 period, by calling for early dissolution of the Sarawak state legislative assembly.

With eight months left before the Sarawak state assembly is due to be automatically dissolved in June 2021, Wan Ahmad said that there is no need to expedite the Sarawak state elections if the Covid-19 pandemic has yet to be successfully tackled.

“Just wait until the end of the state assembly’s lifespan, with the hope that Covid-19 has already been controlled to its minimum level.

“If the spread of Covid-19 cases is still high and the state assembly is automatically dissolved at the end of its lifespan, then the (state) Constitution still has two months until August (60 days from the date the state assembly is dissolved) for the EC to carry out elections,” he was quoted saying.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said that both the upcoming Batu Sapi by-election and the Sarawak state election cannot be postponed unless a state of emergency is declared, due to constitutional provisions in both the Federal Constitution and the Sarawak state constitution.

Muhyiddin also said yesterday that voters would not be able to be stopped from travelling across state and district borders or between Peninsular Malaysia and east Malaysia as it is their right to vote.

Commenting on the question of why the government would not perform Covid-19 tests on all voters from outside of Sarawak who returned home to vote, Muhyiddin had yesterday questioned who would be bearing the testing costs and whether the country has sufficient lab capacity to carry out tests on the hundreds and thousands of voters in a short time, also highlighting that a test does not guarantee they would not later be infected after being tested.

Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg said earlier this month that he does not mind if the state holds its election later rather than sooner in light of the worsening Covid-19 situation in the country.

Meanwhile, the Batu Sapi by-election will be held on December 5, but most political parties have since withdrawn from contesting it to give way to incumbent Parti Warisan Sabah.