Sarawak Advocates Association calls for constitutional amendment to extend state assembly's term

  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020

The Sarawak State Assembly building.

KUCHING: The Advocates Association of Sarawak (AAS) is calling for the Federal Constitution to be amended to allow an extension to the current Sarawak Legislative Assembly's term.

AAS president Ranbir Singh Sangha said the Federal Government should introduce a Bill in Parliament for such an amendment to avert a Covid-19 wave in the state in view of the impending state election.

"The AAS views the ability to determine when it is safe to dissolve the state assembly and hold elections as a fundamental component of Sarawak's rights. Consequently, the AAS urges the Sarawak government to request the Federal Government for such an amendment.

"The AAS will, in the coming days, make representations to the Federal and Sarawak Attorney General's Chambers to ensure that all the necessary safeguards towards preserving democracy are put in place for such an amendment," he said in a statement Tuesday (Nov 24).

Ranbir cited a precedent in 1968 when the term of the then-Council Negri was extended to 1969, beyond the usual five years, due to the Election Commission's difficulties in holding Sarawak's first direct elections.

"To facilitate this, a temporary amendment was made to the Federal Constitution to extend the term of the Council Negri (now state legislative assembly), followed by a consequential amendment to the Sarawak Constitution.

"Just as in 1968, the amendment sought is temporary. Unlike in 1968, the situation today is grave," he said.

The current state legislature's term expires on June 6 next year, upon which a state election must be held within 60 days.

There have been calls for the polls to be delayed in view of the ongoing Covid-19 wave nationwide following the Sabah state election in September.

At the recent state assembly sitting, Layar assemblyman Gerald Rentap Jabu called for the current term to be extended by up to a year so that the next state polls would not have to be held during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He proposed an amendment to the state constitution to allow an extension beyond five years.

However, the Federal Constitution must be amended first as it limits state assemblies to five-year terms.

Ranbir said the AAS was mindful of political challenges if a Bill for such an amendment were to be tabled in Parliament.

However, he said MPs had proven that they could act in one voice when unanimously passing a constitutional amendment to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 years old last year.

"Hence, we urge all MPs to uphold their oath of office to protect, preserve and defend the Federal Constitution which guarantees the right to life of all Malaysians by supporting the Bill for such an amendment," he said.

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