PUTRAJAYA, Dec 14 — Lawyer Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan today asked why the Election Commission (EC) must rush for local enquiries in Selangor when it still has months to do so, arguing it need not complete its redelineation before the general election.
The EC must then show the need for an urgent court hearing for its bid for permission to carry out local enquiries in the state amid an ongoing lawsuit against its redelineation exercise, Ambiga added.
“What is the urgency, because they have until September 2018 to complete the redelineation exercise.
“What is the reason for this haste that they cannot wait until January? It’s December now, what local enquiries are held when others are on holiday? They can wait until January,” she told the Court of Appeal today.
Ambiga, who was representing the Selangor government, said the EC has not given “concrete reasons” for the apparent urgency.
While she acknowledged the “elephant in the room” that was the general election due no later than August 2018, she insisted that the EC was not beholden to any outside desire for the procedure to be ready in time for the polls.
“They (the EC) cannot be dictated or influenced by when the government wants to call the general elections,” she said.
The EC has a two-year timeframe under the Federal Constitution to complete a redelineation exercise, which would include local enquiries to hear objections to its proposals such as the redrawing of voting boundaries and shifting of voters.
The EC started its redelineation exercise of peninsular Malaysia on September 2016.
The 14th general election’s date has yet to be announced, but it must be conducted in August 2018 if one is not called ahead of Parliament’s automatic dissolution in June.
Ambiga asked the Court of Appeal to defer the scheduled hearing today of the EC’s application to set aside a stay order that temporarily prevents it from holding local enquiries in Selangor, as the EC application was only served to the Selangor government two days ago.
She said the state government should be given a chance to file an affidavit in reply to the EC’s application, as the commission did not give the seven days’ notice stipulated for court hearings.
“They may be in a rush, but the court must not give the impression that they are also condoning the rush, for which no basis has been given,” she said.
Senior federal counsel Datuk Amarjeet Singh Serjit Singh, who represented the EC, argued that this was an “exceptional case” and that the courts could allow the hearing date to be expedited.
He argued that 110 others in Selangor were still waiting for local enquiries to be held to voice their objections to the EC.
“I also filed for a certificate of urgency because it involves the greater interest concerning the democratic process, not only the rights of respondents — in this case Selangor — but the rights of 110 other parties that are entitled to be heard in a local enquiry, the rights of other states in States of Malaya and electors to file objections and have their local enquiries heard.
“And most importantly the provisions of the Federal Constitution, where the EC is not under discretion to hold local enquiries, but are mandated to hold local enquiries,” he said.
Selangor is the only state in peninsular Malaysia where the EC has yet to held its local enquiries, effectively stalling the entire redelineation exercise for peninsular Malaysia.
Amarjeet said the Selangor government would also not be prejudiced if the hearing was to be held urgently, noting that the EC’s court papers that were filed had stated the reasons and legal points that it would raise in the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal panel chaired by Tan Sri Idrus Harun and comprising Datuk Yaacob Md Sam and Datuk Rhodzariah Bujang then adjourned the hearing to next Monday, to allow the Selangor government time to file in a written court response to the EC.
Idrus also declined today to recuse himself, following the Selangor government’s application today for his recusal over an alleged “real danger of bias”.
The EC last week filed an application to set aside the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s December 7 stay order, which froze the holding of local enquiries by the EC in the entire state of Selangor.
The Selangor state government had on December 7 obtained the stay order, which will last until the end of their appeal against the High Court’s dismissal of their legal challenge of the EC’s redelineation exercise.