Sarawak election: Follow caretaker government convention

Voters should monitor the conduct of the caretaker chief minister and reject the abuse of any state resources in the state election campaign

The Election Commission should take charge - SARAWAK.GOV.MY

Bersih Sarawak welcomes the Sarawak chief minister’s statement acknowledging that the Gabungan Parti Sarawak state government is now a caretaker government.

However, it is a concern that his response to a journalist at a press conference on Thursday was that “we just run the state as it is”.

Bersih Sarawak wishes to remind the GPS caretaker government that more than “it cannot make any major decisions”, there are other practices or conventions that must be followed in the run-up to the state election and until the incoming state government is formed after the election.

While neither Malaysia nor the state of Sarawak has had a written caretaker convention as in other Commonwealth countries like Australia, Canada and the UK, there are conventions that must be followed to uphold public accountability and ensure a level playing field. 

The rationale for such a convention or unwritten law is that when the House of Representatives (in our case the state legislative assembly) has been dissolved, the government or executive is effectively governing without parliamentary oversight and thus cannot be held accountable for its decisions in the ordinary manner. Also, every election carries with it the possibility of a change of government.

We call on the GPS caretaker state government to abide by the standard conventions for any caretaker government, which include:

  • Avoid major policy decisions likely to commit an incoming government
  • Defer any significant appointments
  • Avoid entering major contracts and undertakings
  • Avoid or defer entering into international contracts or commitments
  • Avoid using public services and resources in election activities or political activities
  • Avoid using government premises
  • Avoid using government websites, emails, social media and other IT services for political purposes

While the ordinary business of government continues, the GPS caretaker government, its ministers, agencies and ministries are reminded to avoid practices of the same nature as listed above.

Major policy decisions, appointments, allocations and projects should be left for the new government to be elected to make instead of the caretaker government. 

Public resources and assets should not be used to ensure a level playing field for all candidates and parties. For example, state civil service and public facilities or resources and privileges provided to ministers when in government should not be used for campaigning. Assets or resources such as 4WD vehicles, helicopters and boats should be privately hired with party resources.

We call on all political parties contesting in the coming Sarawak state election to commit to adopting caretaker guidelines in their election manifesto should they come into power.

We also urge all voters to monitor the conduct of the caretaker chief minister and reject the abuse of any state resources in election campaigns. – Bersih Sarawak

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