All eyes on judicial review over Sarawak redelineation exercise


  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 17 Mar 2015

Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How - File pix

KUCHING: The outcome of the judicial review filed by Sarawak PKR against the Election Commission (EC) over redelineation procedures could impact the state polls.

Political pundits will have their eyes trained on the Kuching High Court on Thursday when the next mention is scheduled.

Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How, who is state vice-chairman of the Opposition party is leading the case.

He claims the EC's redelineation exercise so far has been flawed, lacking enough details that will affect voters.

Legal experts in Bersih 2.0 opined the judicial review could take up to two months to complete.

If See is successful, the EC could be compelled to return to step one of the process, which had begun on Jan 5.

That would set back the timetable of the current redelineation exercise, which even in the best-case scenario, may only be completed mid year at the earliest.

The Sarawak Legislative Assembly presently has 71 elected members.

In November, the Assembly passed a Bill seeking for an increase of elected representatives, claiming more were needed to serve the state's scattered population.

"The redelineation procedure always begins with the Assembly," See told The Star recently. "The assembly is first to come up with a Bill to say, 'We want to increase the number of members'. It also sets the maximum number of members in total."

Last November, the Assembly set the maximum at 82 members (which meant 11 new seats could be created).

The EC picks up the next step. It is supposed to conduct an independent study looking into the request.

See explained the EC could suggest any number of new seats as long it did not breach the maximum passed by the Assembly.

He said the EC could even suggest not to create any new seats; it might only suggest shifting boundaries to reduce imbalances in the number of voters between seats.

The EC's proposals must be published twice, each time offering a 30-day complaints' period.

Only after that can it prepare a final proposal that will be presented to the Prime Minister, who will then present it to Parliament.

In the last step, all that is needed from Parliament is a simple majority. This is because the much talked about two-thirds majority requirement has already been fulfilled at the state Assembly level.

The steps outlined here is how redelineation has been carried out in the past, and indeed this time. They include procedures that are untested constitutional issues.

Should the EC propose, say, seven new seats, the state Assembly does not need to reconvene just to approve the number, since it had already approved a maximum of 11.

See said he did not not believe the judicial review would change much of the outcome.

With 15 months to go before the current term of the state government ends, he said there should be enough time for the redelineation to be carried through.

"My intention is more to clean up the (redelineation) process. We want to set a precedent, so that next time, like when the Parliamentary redelineation begins, the process will be more transparent,” See said.

A group called "Rise of Sarawak Efforts" (Rose) headed by lawyer Ann Teo has been helping to coordinate objections from voters, after the first display on redelineation, and the EC's enquiries.

"Our group mainly supported the objectors, especially those from rural areas. We help them with the local enquiries before the EC panel. The first round has ended on March 6," Teo said.

Teo said she had not been impressed with the quality of enquiries. The feedback has been that the panels seem to only listen to the complaints, and not actually "grilling the complainants".

"I would have assumed an enquiry would mean EC would really examine into the details of complaints," she said.

This is why the judicial review was crucial, she added. The judiciary, being independent arm of the Government, gets to scrutinise the EC's procedures, from step one.

Asked to speculate on the polling date, Teo declined to comment - which is a sentiment shared by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak political scientist Assoc Prof Dr Andrew Aeria.

"Personally I don't give a hoot when the state election is going to be. That is a red herring. What people should be asking is, what will the key election issues be," Prof Aeria said.

But he did agree that the judicial review on redelineation has put a spanner in the works.

He added data already available showed constituencies to be imbalanced in voter numbers, and that creating new seats at rural areas would only worsen the imbalance.

Judicial review on procedures aside, the EC was already suffering from a public perception of it not being independent enough, Prof Aeria said.

"The public view is that the EC ends up being the tool of the (state) Assembly, or which ever is the ruling party that commands the majority in the Assembly," he added.

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judicial review , Sarawak , PKR , See Chee How

   

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