KUCHING: The Sarawak Legislative Assembly has passed an amendment to the state constitution on the eligibility to be state elected representatives at the second attempt.
State Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah withdrew the amendment Bill he first tabled on Tuesday (Nov 10) in order to present a new Bill on Thursday (Nov 12) containing a new clause to define "resident in the state" in Article 16 of the state constitution.
The first Bill had been deferred by Speaker Datuk Amar Mohamad Asfia Awang Nassar due to anomalies in its drafting, particularly with regard to defining "resident in the state" in accordance with Section 71 of the Immigration Act.
This had drawn strong objections from Opposition lawmakers as Section 71 of the Immigration Act provides that citizens shall be treated as belonging to an East Malaysian state if they have been permanent residents in the state for two years.
Karim said the new Bill would remove interpretative ambiguities on the intent and purpose of the proposed amendment, which was to prevent non-Sarawakians residing in the state from being qualified to seek election to the state legislature.
"The state government does not want people from outside Sarawak to meddle in our affairs and play any role in determining the destiny of our state," he said when tabling the Bill.
As such, he said the new amendment provided a clear definition of "resident in the state" as a citizen born in Sarawak, with at least one parent also born in the state, who is normally resident in the state, or a citizen not born in Sarawak but has one parent born in the state and is normally resident in the state.
"Therefore, a Sarawak-born person would not be qualified to stand for election after this amendment if he is already a resident outside the state.
"People with no Sarawakian connection either by birth or the birth of their parents and not normally resident in Sarawak will be disqualified," Karim said.
The amendment also sought to lower the age of persons qualified to stand for election from 21 years to 18 years in tandem with a similar provision in the Federal Constitution.
During the debate on the Bill, Opposition lawmakers raised concerns on the new proposed definition of "resident in the state", saying it was still ambiguous.
Baru Bian (PSB-Ba'Kelalan) said a child born in Sarawak to non-Sarawakian parents who were also born in Sarawak was not automatically a Sarawakian.
"The proposed definition is still not watertight. We cannot define a person as a Sarawakian solely based on his birthplace or his parents' birthplace," he said.
Chong Chieng Jen (DAP-Kota Sentosa) proposed amending the definition to state that at least one of the parents is a Sarawakian, rather than being born in Sarawak.
He also called for the term "Sarawakian" to be inserted and defined in the state constitution.
However, Karim later told reporters that the word "Sarawakian" could not be put into the state constitution as it would contravene the Eighth Schedule of the Federal Constitution, which covers provisions to be inserted in state constitutions.
He said Section 5 of the Eighth Schedule uses the phrase "resident in the state" and does not specify "Sarawakian" in the stipulation on persons qualified to be members of the state legislature.