No logical reason to confine state polls to only Sarawakians, says Sarawak Bersih

Sarawak Bersih leader Ann Teo said it would not make much of a difference if the state government abandoned the addition of the definition 'resident of the state' to the Sarawak Constitution. — Borneo Post Online pic
Sarawak Bersih leader Ann Teo said it would not make much of a difference if the state government abandoned the addition of the definition 'resident of the state' to the Sarawak Constitution. — Borneo Post Online pic

KUCHING, Nov 11 — The Sarawak state polls should not be confined to Sarawakians, Coalition for Clean and Fair Election (Bersih) Sarawak leader Ann Teo said in the debate over the definition of a ‘resident in the state’ eligible to be elected to the State Legislative Assembly (DUN).

“There is absolutely no logical reason to confine the qualification of our DUN members to those born in Sarawak,” she told The Borneo Post when contacted on a proposed constitutional amendment affecting the eligibility to be elected to the august House.

“Does being born in Sarawak mean we are automatically endowed with the capabilities to be people’s representative or to represent their interests? A person’s geographic origin or birthplace and background does not define their ability to represent a community of voters.”

“It’s their ethics, principles, education, commitment to the common good and their party manifesto that enables them to represent their constituents,” Teoh stressed.

“Hence, if there are West Malaysians and / or Sabahans who have become permanent residents in Sarawak either by virtue of marriage or work and if they are competent and committed to improve the lot of Sarawakians why shouldn’t we allow them to also represent voters?” she argued.

The Constitution of the State of Sarawak (Amendment) Bill, 2020, tabled by Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah in the State Legislative Assembly yesterday, had sought to define “resident in the state” and to lower the age to qualify for election to the State Legislative Assembly.

After the Bill was tabled and debated, State Legislative Assembly Speaker Datuk Amar Mohamad Asfia Awang Nassar ruled that the Bill be deferred as there were “anomalies” in its reference to the Immigration Act 1959 that needed to be clarified.

The amendment had sought to align the definition of ‘resident of the state’ in Article 16 of the Sarawak Constitution with Section 71 of the Immigration Act, which further refers to Section 66 of the same act, that states that a person shall be treated as a resident of an East Malaysian state if he has within the preceding two years been a permanent resident.

Teo, who is a lawyer, said it would not make much of a difference if the state government abandoned the addition of the definition “resident of the state” to the Sarawak Constitution.

This, she said, was because a court of law called upon to interpret the phrase would still automatically look at the ordinary meaning of the word “resident” and also, be led to interpret it in tandem with and in the light of Section 71 of the Immigration Act.

Even if the state government chose to leave it undefined it was still uniform with other states, she argued.

“On a balance however, adding it will provide more clarity for the Election Commission (EC) in the conduct of elections in particular for nomination.”

“I think someone has forgotten that in respect of a candidate for Parliament or the Dewan Rakyat there is no restriction that only a Sarawakian can be a calon or candidate in Sarawak.

“A Sarawakian can go to another state to contest in the parliamentary seat there,” said Teo, referring to Article 47 of the Federal Constitution.

However, Teo said there was no harm to define the phrase ‘resident in the state’ in the Sarawak Constitution by referencing it to Section 71 of the Immigration Act 1959/63 because Section 71 and the preceding sections of the Act (Part VII) was essentially drafted at the time of Malaysia’s formation and was part of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

“And yes, Section 71 says ‘...a citizen shall be treated as belonging to an East Malaysian state if (a) he is or has within the preceding two years been a permanent resident to the East Malaysian state’,” she said. — Borneo Post Online

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