KUCHING: A Sarawak government bill to amend the state’s constitution to lower the voting age and define who is a resident of Sarawak has been deferred following strong protests from opposition backbenchers.
State assembly speaker Mohd Asfia Awang Nassar deferred the bill after seven assemblymen, including those from the opposition, had debated it.
The Constitution of the State of Sarawak (Amendment) Bill 2020 was earlier tabled by state Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Abdul Karim Hamzah.
The bill seeks to amend Article 16 of the state constitution to lower the age at which a person can contest in a state election from 21 to 18.
It also seeks to define the term “resident in the state” in the Sarawak constitution so that it is consistent with the state’s powers to determine who is entitled to enter and reside in Sarawak.
Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) president Wong Soon Koh agreed with lowering the age to contest elections but objected to defining “resident in the state” according to Section 71 of the Immigration Act.
This, Wong said, would allow West Malaysians to be treated as Sarawakians if they had been permanent residents in the state for two years.
“This will open up the state assembly to non-Sarawakians to become a member of this august house. Hence, PSB and DAP are strongly against the bill,” he told reporters later.
“We must keep this (state assembly) solely and exclusively for Sarawakians and this is why we have been fighting for Sarawak rights,” he said.
The bill had been deferred to another date. Wong said unless it was withdrawn, it could always be tabled again.
He described the deferment as a “people’s victory” and showed the importance of opposition parties and representatives in the state.