EC's appeal on Sarawak seat delineation: Decision deferred
Jonathan Chia, firstname.lastname@example.org
Court of Appeal to deliberate further on EC’s appeal, expects to reconvene one to two weeks after Hari Raya
(From left) Bersih’s Maria Chin Abdullah, Das, See, Ambiga and Kho during the Court of Appeal hearing yesterday.
Amarjeet (third left), Azizan (second left) Fong (second right) and others at the Court of Appeal hearing yesterday.
KUCHING: Senior lawyer Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan told the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya yesterday that the Election Commission’s (EC) notice of its recommendations for the proposed redelineation of electoral boundaries in Sarawak is misleading and may result in voters thinking that they are not affected and eventually decide not to make objection to the redelineation.
Ambiga is one of the counsels representing respondents See Chee How and Pauls Baya in the EC’s appeal against Kuching High Court decision on May 15 to declare that the commission’s notice of its recommendations for the proposed redelineation exercise lacked details and to order the EC to republish the notice.
On May 25, Kuching High Court judge Datuk Yew Jen Kie made an additional order and declared the EC’s notice of redelineation null and void after ruling that the notice was not in accordance with the 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution.
She ordered the EC to republish the notice of its recommendations for the proposed redelineation exercise “in full compliance with the provisions contained in the 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution”. In her submission Ambiga added that the EC shirked its responsibility to provide the information on the redelineation exercise by shifting the entire responsibility to the voters to find out the proposed recommendations.
In the redelineation, she said the EC also altered the parliamentary boundaries in the state without the knowledge of the affected voters, which made the whole notice not truthful and therefore should be considered null and void.
“The voters have no knowledge that they are moved to other parliamentary constituency which was the case when Batu Lintang state constituency was moved into Bandar Kuching Parliamentary constituency which is also equivalent to changing parliamentary boundary,” Ambiga said in the EC’s appeal against Kuching High Court’s ruling.
The panel of Court of Appeal judges for the case comprises Dato Mohd Zawawi Salleh, Tan Sri Idrus Harun and Dato Abdul Rahman Sebli. The respondents lead counsel Datuk Dr Cyrus Das argued that voters must be given detailed information as to where they were being placed and how they would be affected by the redelineation.
“Without detailed particulars in the notice and the draft constituency plans, it would be extremely difficult for the public to exercise their fundamental constitutional right to make representations and to be heard in a local inquiry.” Das said with the redelineation, 11 new constituencies were created from the existing 71 constituencies.
Meanwhile, the Attorney-General’s (AG) Chambers Senior Federal Counsel Amarjeet Singh said the EC’s notice is valid.
He said the notice was merely a means to notify the public of the effect of the EC’s proposed recommendations to the review of the delineation exercise and the voters’ rights to make representations were based on the copy of the EC’s proposed recommendations and not the notice.
Amarjeet said the proposed recommendations provided more detailed information while the notice merely stated the effect of the proposed recommendations.
He stated that Section 4 of the 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution required the EC to publish a notice in a newspaper to state the effect of the commission’s proposed recommendations and that a copy of the recommendations was open for inspection at a specified place within the constituency.
Amarjeet said the High Court judge’s interpretation in treating the notice as the basis to make the representation was superfluous, adding that the judge went beyond what Section 4 intended.
“The section only requires the effect of the proposed recommendations to be stated. The judge, however, interpreted that the section required the EC to disclosed detailed particulars that would enable members of the public to know whether they are adversely affected and have the necessary locus standi to make representations.”
Amarjeet said the matter was not a public interest litigation and the respondents did not have the locus standi (legal standing) to bring the action in a representative capacity for all others voters in Sarawak.
He said the objections to the alterations of the constituencies were made by voters of the respective constituencies, adding that there were 64 representations made to object the redelineation of the constituencies.
State legal counsel Datuk JC Fong, who was given leave to argue in supporting the EC’s appeal said there was no evidence that the respondents had made a complaint within their respective constituencies on the redelineation.
The Court had deferred their decision to a date to be fixed, with Mohd Zawawi saying the court needed time to deliberate and perhaps would give the decision in one or two weeks’ time after Hari Raya, and the parties would be notified.
Meanwhile, See said his side was happy that the judges had allowed all parties to submit and deliberate on their submission at length, recognising that the outcome of the case would be a landmark decision, whichever way they decided.
Besides Amarjeet, the AG’s Chambers was also represented by Shamsul Bolhassan, Azizan Md Arshad and Nik Azrene, while James Au, Desmond Kho and Jamilah Baharuddin also represented both See and Pauls..
Lawyers representing Bar Council were Mekanda Singh Sandhu and Andrew Khoo Chin Hock; Leonard Shim for Advocates Association of Sarawak; Bersih and RJ Noel for Adil Network Sdn Bhd were also present as watching briefs.