KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — The Sabah chapter of electoral watchdog movement Bersih 2.0 on Sunday (2 August) urged the Election Commission to allow postal voting for Sabahans working and residing in Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia in the upcoming snap election.
In a statement yesterday, Bersih 2.0 Sabah highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic has posed extra challenges to Sabahans who are keen on casting their votes, such as losing their due to the Movement Control Order phases and economic recession, an increase in transportation costs, and added health risks “due to the long journey by flight and other public transportation”.
“Moreover, flight prices are expensive, and not all eligible Sabahans can afford the ticket home to cast their votes,” it added.
“Too many Sabahans, especially the youths”, said Bersih 2.0 Sabah, have left their hometowns in Sabah in search of better opportunities elsewhere in Malaysia, as “employment, education and other amenities are severely lacking” in the East Malaysian state.
“All these while, even in the absence of the epidemic, the difficulties and cost to return to Sabah to vote have forced many Sabahans, especially those without any financial means and failure to request for leave from work, to not return home to vote and forgo their democratic right to determine the future of our nation.
“Failing to overcome these obstacles that prevent Sabahans to vote showed that Kuala Lumpur has structurally sidelined and neglected the welfare of Sabahans since 1963,” the statement read, referencing the state’s rights “enshrined in the Malaysian Agreement 1963”, among which “promised a democratic federation”.
While the Parliamentary Select Committee led by former minister Dr Maximus Johnity Ongkili had called for postal voting for Sabahans, Sarawakians and West Malaysians not residing in their own regions “as early as 2012”, it “has not been implemented after two general elections”.
“While Malaysians residing overseas have been able to use postal votes since 2018 even if they were oceans away from home, Sabahans cannot do so as if the South China Sea is wider than the Pacific Ocean.
“The failure to ensure the same right for Sabahans as most West Malaysians who do not have to fly home to vote showed the previous EC placed Sabah amongst their lowest priorities,” said Bersih 2.0 Sabah.
The chapter called upon “members of the Sabah public, of all political, socioeconomic, age and gender backgrounds” to sign a petition regarding the matter.
The petition, directed to the EC, garnered 3,542 out of 5,000 target signatories as of Monday afternoon at 2.50pm.
Meanwhile, lawyer Marcel Jude, alongside businesswomen Margret Binsing and Tessa Romana, is seeking a quashing order from the High Court against the decision of Yang Di-Pertua Negeri Tun Juhar Mahiruddin’s decision to dissolve the Sabah State Assembly on 30 July.
The trio are also seeking an order against His Excellency Tun Juhar and the EC chairman on calling for the Sabah State election, with the exception that all MCOs are uplifted or, if the election were to be held during the Recovery MCO period, provisions are made to ensure safety regulations are adhered to.
They argued that holding the state election during RMCO is unlawful, null and void, as “it will bring people together, creating crowded spaces and confined areas and remove physical distancing on a large scale for the population of Sabah”.
The hearing for their case is scheduled for 14 September, based on the Kota Kinabalu High Court electronic filing system, according to Jude.
The Election Commission must, by law, hold state elections within 60 days after the State Assembly is dissolved.
Sabah’s snap election followed what appeared to be a thwarted attempt of a coup by former Chief Minister Musa Aman at the eleventh hour.
Musa earlier claimed that he had secured a simple majority to form a new multi-party government for Sabah.
He added that he would be leading several Sabah State Assemblymen to have an audience with His Excellency Tun Juhar.
The Sabah ceremonial head of state, instead, consented to the dissolution of the state assembly after Shafie had met with him on 30 July.
The Sabah State Legislative Assembly has 65 representatives, including five nominated representatives.
Currently, the Sabah State Government has 45 seats while the opposition holds 20. Musa is the sole Umno representative in Sabah’s State Assembly.
For Musa to have a simple majority, he would require 33 seats.
The Straits Times last month reported sources as saying that at least 14 assemblymen have agreed to desert Shafie — one of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s staunchest political allies — in favour of Musa.
In June, Musa was acquitted and discharged of all 46 criminal charges — involving corruption and money laundering — made against him in connection to timber concessions contracts in Sabah after the prosecution decided to drop all such charges against him.
Musa was accused of abusing his position during his tenure as Sabah chief minister and the chairman of Sabah Foundation Board of Trustees chairman by allegedly receiving US$50.1 million from eight logging concessionaires in exchange for approval of logging concessions to 16 companies.
Pakatan Harapan condemns former chief minister Musa Aman’s coup attempt
The Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition in a statement on 30 July condemned the “traitorous” and “immoral” move by Musa and other top leaders of the Perikatan Nasional alliance in “buying over” the support of representatives.
“Only the people [of Sabah] can defeat the evil coup launched by former chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman, who has the full support of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin.
“Pakatan Harapan strongly condemns the traitorous political move launched by Tan Sri Musa Aman, the Prime Minister, the Home Affairs Minister and Perikatan Nasional, as well as the RM32 million offer for each [representative], along with offering the post of Deputy Chief Minister,” the statement read.
The statement — issued by Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Anwar Ibrahim, National Trust Party (AMANAH) founder Mohamad Sabu, and Democratic Action Party secretary-general Lim Guan Eng — also criticised the “irresponsible” action of attempting to seize power during the COVID-19 crisis.
The coalition also expressed its full support of Chief Minister Shafie Apdal, a founding member of the Sabah Heritage Party (WARISAN). WARISAN is an allied party of PH.
PH’s governance came to an abrupt stop when events following the “Sheraton Move” earlier this year saw Dr Mahathir’s then-right-hand man Muhyiddin taking the mantle of Prime Minister, following a power vacuum left by the former’s resignation from the post.
The PH coalition had earlier wrested power from Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional (BN) alliance in 2018. BN governed Malaysia for 61 years since the nation’s independence prior to the 2018 general election.
The political crisis saw certain factions in the Malay-centric Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and the PKR parties purportedly attempting to form an alliance with Umno and other parties in a bid to establish a new government.