Sarawak state assemblyman disqualified over Aussie citizenship

Ting-Tiong-Choon-sarawakPETALING JAYA: Sarawak’s Pujut constituency will see a by-election within 60 days, after its assemblyman Dr Ting Tiong Choon was today disqualified from the state legislative assembly over allegations that he is an Australian citizen.

A total of 70 members voted in favour of the ministerial motion to disqualify Dr Ting, raised by International Trade and E-Commerce Minister Wong Soon Koh.

Only 10 members voted against the motion.

In his ruling, speaker Mohd Asfia Awang Nassar said Dr Ting is disqualified under Article 17(1)(g) of the state constitution.

Dr Ting has been accused multiple times of holding dual Malaysian-Australian citizenship.

In June last year, Barisan Nasional’s direct candidate for Pujut, Hii King Chiong, filed an election petition at the High Court in Miri to declare Dr Ting’s candidacy as null and void on grounds that he was an Australian citizen at the time Sarawak’s 11th state election was concluded.

Ting, from DAP, was declared winner of the election for the Pujut seat after garnering 8,899 votes against 7,140 votes obtained by Hii. Jofri Jaraiee of PAS obtained 513 votes and independent Fong Pau Teck received 375 votes.

Hii said he had discovered that Dr Ting was still a registered voter with the Australian Election Commission.

However, Dr Ting hit back at the allegation, insisting that he does not hold any citizenship other than Malaysian.

Today, Wong claimed he had concrete evidence that Dr Ting had accepted Australian citizenship on Jan 20, 2010.

He said Dr Ting had declared his allegiance to Australia at the time of acquiring citizenship and had exercised his rights as a citizen by registering as a voter with the Australian Electoral Commission.

He added that Dr Ting had been declared a bankrupt twice in Australia.

He said information on the alleged bankruptcy was obtained from the Australian Financial Security Authority, and referred to a letter by the federal police in that country regarding Dr Ting’s purported renunciation of his Australian citizenship on April 4, 2016.

No copies of the documents were presented to the House or recorded in the Hansard.

“The member of Pujut is completely unqualified, unfit and (is an) untrustworthy individual to be nominated and elected to represent the people of Sarawak,” Wong said before his motion was seconded by Assistant Transportation Minister Jerip Susil.

Today’s move is unprecedented in Malaysia and has sparked outrage among opposition lawmakers in the assembly.

Dr Ting and state DAP leader Chong Chieng Jen were given 20 minutes to speak, during which Chong called for the matter to be settled in court.

He said the evidence presented was “weak”, and that the interpretation of the law should be left to the courts and not the state assembly.

Dr Ting meanwhile denied that he had been declared a bankrupt, saying Wong had cited the wrong information.

“The allegation is by this letter only. Where is the source evidence? Because of my name here, I am bankrupt twice in three months. How is that possible?” he said.

Chong added that to disqualify a member of the House is “a very serious matter” which should be decided by the courts.

“If you are so sure that he has contravened the provision of the constitution, take the matter to court and let a more independent body decide to make a decision to adjudicate on the matter, whether he has breached the constitutional provision and is thereby disqualified as a member of this House.

“We should have an independent arbiter to decide this matter, and not by a brute majority to bulldoze the whole motion over.”

Asfia countered that any renunciation must be registered in Malaysia, citing Article 24 (1) of the Federal Constitution which states that if any citizen acquires citizenship outside the country, the federal government may deprive that person of citizenship.

“You cannot have dual citizenship in Malaysia. Australia, yes,” Asfia said.

Asfia added that under Article 23, any renunciation must be registered in Malaysia and cannot be unilaterally renounced from abroad.

Asfia also brought up a document from the Financial Security Authority saying Ting was declared “insolvent” several years ago, which Asfia equated to being bankrupt.

However, DAP leaders said being insolvent is not the same as being declared a bankrupt.