Bersih records 19 offences in Sandakan by-election

Sabah Bersih vice-chairman Beverly Joeman (right) speaking at a press conference today.

KOTA KINABALU: Electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 says it recorded 19 election offences during the recent by-election in Sandakan, most of which were committed by DAP/Pakatan Harapan (PH).

Speaking to the media today, Sabah Bersih vice-chairman Beverly Joeman said the offences included treating voters (two cases), misuse of government property (two cases), inciting hatred (two cases), campaigning on polling day (eight cases), undue influence by the government (one case) and others (four cases).

“We are happy to note that the number of offences committed by candidates and their supporters was lower compared to previous by-elections in Rantau and Cameron Highlands,” she added.

“For example, treating voters to dinners or lunches happened only twice in Sandakan compared to four cases in Cameron Highlands and seven in Rantau.

“The first offence was committed by DAP on April 25 before nomination day and the second was committed by a third party on May 3 during a programme ‘Kenduri Sekampung Bersama Ketua Menteri’.”

She said the drop in similar offences could be due to the fasting season, which coincided with the campaign period for the by-election.

The two cases in which government assets were used for political purposes included the use of police boats to transport DAP campaigners to Pulau Berhala, videos of which were uploaded to Instagram by the chief minister’s political secretary, Jo-Anna Henley Rampas.

The other instance was the acceptance of a memorandum from the Tawau Chinese Chamber of Commerce by Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok with DAP candidate Vivian Wong in attendance.

According to Bersih, the highest number of offences took place on polling day itself.

“Our observers reported that various parties were heckling for votes while some buses and cars were seen picking up and dropping off voters, especially in SK Sri Tanjung Papat and SK Sungai Anib 1,” Joeman said.

She urged the Election Commission (EC) to be stricter in stopping such offences, noting that they contravene Sections 20(3) and (4) of the Election Offences Act 1954.

She also called for firmer action in closing down stalls set up by the supporters of candidates, saying such acts are in direct violation of Section 26(c) of the Election Offences Act 1954.

“Although there were a number of problems, particularly with the enforcement of the law by the EC, in general the by-election was carried out well,” she said.

“The commission also improved polling facilities such as building ramps for wheelchair-bound voters and using buggy-cars to ease the movement of the elderly.

“We are also happy to note that the campaigns by all five candidates were clean and did not resort to extreme racist sentiments.”

Nonetheless, she said Bersih remained unsatisfied with the high number of offences committed on polling day.

She said the EC should work with enforcement personnel to brief candidates on election rules and regulations, to raise awareness about the do’s and don’ts under the Election Offences Act.

The police, meanwhile, should also play a role in ensuring that no individuals or groups are allowed to heckle or appeal for votes outside of polling centres.

“We also propose that the police do something about the problem of issuing permits to candidates who want to hold events.

“We received complaints from the three independent candidates and the PBS candidate that they had to wait a long time before getting their permits whereas the DAP candidate, being in the government, received theirs a lot faster,” she said.

Joeman said it was unfair not to afford all candidates the same treatment especially as the campaigning period is short.

The Sandakan by-election which concluded on May 11 saw DAP candidate Vivian defeating her closest challenger, PBS’ Linda Tsen, by 11,521 votes.

It was called following the death of its MP, Stephen Wong, who was also Vivian’s father. Stephen died in March this year.