(Miri, Thursday): May 12, 1997 would be a very eventful day for the DAP in Sarawak as well as in Malaysia.
May 12 is the date for the hearing at the Miri High Court of the election petition filed by the defeated SUPP candidate for Kidurong state assemby seat in the Sarawak state general elections challenging to declare the election of the present DAP State Assemblyman for Kidurong, Wong Sing Ai, null and void.
Will the DAP have to face five by-elections if Wong Sing Ai’s assembly seat in Kidurong is declared null and void?
Already the DAP faces the possibility of having to fight four by-elections, the Teluk Intan parliamentary by-election on May 17, the Kemena state assembly by-election in Sarawak on May 24-25, the by-election in Kota Melaka parliamentary seat in view of the sentences passed by the Malacca High Court on DAP Deputy Secretary-General, DAPSY National Chairman and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Guan Eng, for offences under the Sedition Act and Printing Presses and Publications Act disqualifying as Member of Parliament and another by-election in Negri Sembilan resulting from the death of the incumbent. If the DAP has to fight a by-election in Kidurong as well, the DAP will have to face the prospect of fighting five by-elections!
The second event on May 12 is the nomination for the Kemena by-election. The third event is the meeting of the Sarawak State Assembly, where the DAP has three Assemblymen.
The Sarawak State Assembly Speaker, Datuk Song Swee Guan, has announced that the Sarawak State Assembly meeting was originally scheduled to begin on the morning of May 12, but in view of the nomination for the Kemena by-election, the State Assembly meeting has been delayed to the afternoon of the same day.
Why should the fixtures of the Sarawak State Assembly meeting be affected by the nomination of one by-election? I have no doubt that the majority of the Barisan Nasional Ministers and Assemblymen would be at the Kemena by-election nomination centre either at Sebauh, which is 27 miles upriver from Bintulu town, the site of the nomination during the general elections, or in Bintulu itself. How are these Barisan Nasional Ministers and Assemblymen to rush from the Kemena nomination at Sebauh or Bintulu to Kuching to be able to attend the Sarawak State Assembly meeting a few hours on the same day - unless they have special charter planes or helicopters to fly them to the state capital?
Who is paying for such special charter flights - by the state coffers or from the private funds of the Sarawak Barisan Nasional? If these expenses are to be paid by the Sarawak State Assembly or State Government, would the three DAP State Assemblymen also be given the same facilities to being flown back to Kuching for the Sarawak State Assembly - or will this be another example of discrimination against elected representatives from the Opposition?
In any event, is it right for public funds to be used to enable the majority of Sarawak Barisan Nasional Ministers and Assemblymen to be present at the nomination of the Kemena by-election, when this cannot be construed in any manner as public or official business?
The arrogance of the Sarawak Barisan Nasional is still very obvious, although in the recent Sarawak state general elections the voters of Sarawak had taught it a lesson by giving three seats to the DAP.
For instance, although the election judge had declared the election of Celestine Ujang as Assemblyman for Kemena null and void as the disqualification of DAP Candidate Chew Chin Sing was unlawful, the Sarawak Chief Minister, Datuk Taib Mahmud still announced that Celestine Ujang could remain as Minister for Land Development for as long as six months.
It was when I had announced in a press conference in Petaling Jaya that it was unlawful and unconstitutional for Celestine Ujang to remain as Minister for Land Development when his election had been declared null and void by the election judge, and that the DAP was taking legal action to challenge his remaining as Minister, that Celestine Ujang announced his "resignation" as Minister on the same day.
Actually, the question of his "resignation" as Land Minister did not arise, as with his election as Assemblyman for Kemena declared "null and void" by the election judge, his Ministerial position lapsed automatically in the very same minute! Even without his letter of resignation, he ceased to be Minister for Land Development the same instance he ceased to be State Assemblyman for Kemena.
Barisan Nasional leaders are very confident of a landslide victory in the Kemena by-election.
The SNAP President, Datuk James Wong, for instance, said yesterday that the situation for the Barisan Nasional in the Kemena constituency in the by-election is very different from what it would have been in last September’s Sarawak state general elections if Chew Chin Sing had not been unfairly and unlawfully disqualified and there had been a contest in the constituency. He said that the favourable political conditions for the Barisan Nasional will ensure that it could win a huge victory in the Kemena by-election.
In making such a statement, James Wong was in fact making a back-handed admission that if Chew Chin Sing had not been unfairly and unlawfully disqualified in the last general elections, he would have unseated Celestine Ujang although the latter was a five-term incumbent Assemblymen as well as Minister for Land Development.
This explained why Chew Chin Sing had to be disqualified on Nomination Day in the last general elections, although using the most frivolous and unlawful of grounds. Three proposals to prevent future abuse of powers by Returning Officers in unlawfully disqualifying opposition candidates, including amendment to the election law to require a Returning Officer to pay damages up to RM100,000 to the wronged State Assembly candidate
Although the Sarawak election judge had declared Celestine Ujang’s election and Chew Chin Sing’s disqualification as null and void, and ordered the holding of a by-election, the fact remains that Chew Chin Sing had been unlawfully denied the right to be elected Assemblyman for Kemena in September last year.
He had not only been denied the right to be elected State Assemblyman for the past eight months, but for the next four years going by the admissions of the Sarawak Barisan Nasional leaders that although the Barisan Nasional would win with a huge victory in Kemena, they would have lost it in the general elections last September.
I want to make three proposals to deter and punish any Returning Officer in future from subverting the constitution providing for free and fair general elections and from taking the law into his own hands by disqualifying opposition candidates on baseless or fictitious grounds, as in the case in Kemena.
Firstly, the Election Commission should blacklist Wilfred Jolly, the Returning Officer who unlawfully disqualified Chew Chin Sing, from being appointed as Returning Officer or in any other capacity connected with the conduct of elections in future.
Secondly, the Sarawak State Government should suspend the present appointment of Wilfred Jolly, who was District Officer of Bintulu at the time of the Nomination last year and promoted to Principal Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Land Development, for he has shown by his conduct to be unfit to hold responsible public positions.
Thirdly, the Election Law should be amended to prevent gross abuse and misuse of powers by Returning Officers by providing that a returning officer should be required to pay RM100,000 damages to a State Assembly candidate who had been wrongfully and illegally disqualified, as in the Kemena case. For a returning officer who unlawfully disqualified a Parliamentary candidate, he should be required to pay damages up to RM200,000.
DAP leaders and members are aware that although in the run-up to last year’s general elections, we had expected to win in the Kemena constituency, the by-election is a different ball-game altogether.
Barisan Nasional leaders who claim that they could win in a big way is not completely without basis. However, the biggest victory in the Kemena by-election would be won by the voters of Kemena, who are having a 'once-and-a-lifetime' opportunity to get goodies from the Barisan Nasional - provided the DAP contests in the by-election.
The Sarawak DAP State Committee is undecided whether to contest in the Kemena by-election as the Barisan Nasional could win with a huge victory, which would mean the DAP could lose with a huge defeat.
The Sarawak DAP State Committee has formed a special five-man committee to study the situation and to take the final decision whether to contest or not, and I give full backing and authority to this committee to take all decisions in connection with the Kemena by-election - including the decision to stay out of the by-election. Call on Malaysia to set the national objective to be among the first 10 cleanest and least corrupt nations in the world
In his speech at the National Congress on Vision 2020 on Tuesday, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad proposed that Malaysia take giant steps forward on the national social agenda of ensuring 'a fully moral and ethical society, whose citizens are strong in religious and spiritual values and imbued with the highest of ethical standards'.
He said: "Of course, we must always be on guard against corruption. Today, as ever, we should take not an ounce of comfort from surveys which show that by so-called ‘Asian’ standards or developing country standards or ‘world’ standards we are not too badly off; or that we are said to be no more corrupt than quite a few ‘developed’ countries. Thank God corruption in Malaysia is not, as it is in most countries, a way of life."
There is not only no cause to take 'an ounce of comfort' from such surveys but real cause for concern that in international surveys, as in Transparency International’s international corruption perception index for 1996, Malaysia is ranked No. 26 out of 54 countries.
With the big number of high-profile but unresolved cases of corruption involving leaders in high political places, there is great danger that Malaysia’s ranking in the international corruption surveys will slip further behind for this year.
The seriousness of corruption in Malaysia can be seen by the fact that it is ranked by international IT/multimedia companies as the fifth 'critical issue' which could affect the success of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC).
The Government should take a bold giant step in the fight against corruption by setting the objective to be among the first ten cleanest and least corrupt nations in the world.
To make a success of the MSC, the government has enacted the Computer Crimes Bill with the most severe penalties in the world for the same computer crime offences. For instance, the new offence of unauthorised access to computer material under Section 3 of the Computer Crimes Bill, passed by the Dewan Rakyat after a three-day debate yesterday, is 12 times more severe than in the United Kingdom and two-and-half-times more severe than in Singapore for the same offence.
There is even a section providing for a statutory presumption that a person who has in his control or custody a computer program or data which he is unauthorised to have would be deemed to have committed the offence of unauthorised access, which entails the heavy penalties of RM50,000 fine, five years’ jail or both - unless he could prove he is innocent. This completely reverses the traditional legal principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty!
Let Malaysia send out a clear message to the world that the country is serious in wanting to allay concerns of international IT/multimedia companies who have rated corruption as the fifth 'critical issue' affecting their decisions whether to invest in Malaysia.
This can be done by amending the Prevention of Corruption Act to provide for a statutory presumption that a Minister, Deputy Minister, Chief Minister or Mentri Besar who has properties running into tens or even hundreds of millions of ringgit, whether in the form of properties in Australia or other countries, should be deemed to be guilty of corruption unless he could prove that his extraordinary wealth had been derived by lawful means.
Let the Barisan Nasional Government and the Opposition reach a consensus that the country should move vigorously forward to fight money politics and corruption in high political places, just as the Barisan Nasional Government and the Opposition have reached a consensus on the importance of Malaysia taking the quantum leap into the information age.