By Murib Morpi
ELECTION BRIEFING: Abdul Aziz (right) shakes hands with an election officer after the briefing.
KOTA KINABALU 13/03/2013: Voters in Lahad Datu, where an armed group from Sulu had landed and clashed with the country’s security forces since mid last month, will be casting their votes on the same polling day as the rest of the country.
Election Commission (EC) chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, yesterday dashed speculations that elections may have to be postponed in Lahad Datu due to the ongoing security issue, asserting that polling will be held simultaneously across the country.
“I hope there will be no more speculations. Voters in the red zones, such as the Tungku and Lahad Datu constituencies need not worry because it is now safe. I am confident that the situation will further improve and return to normal by the time parliament is dissolved,”
he said at a press conference in conjunction with an EC Briefing for Election Officers here.
Earlier this month, the EC said, election in the affected areas may be held later if security threats were significant enough, but a state of emergency must first be declared.
This sparked speculations that voters, including in opposition-held Tawau, may have to wait much longer to elect their representatives as remnants of the armed intruders were still holed up in Lahad Datu and continue to defy calls to lay down their arms.
The authorities have, since repelling the armed intrusion on Feb 12, assured that the situation was under control and the security and safety of the people in Lahad Datu and surrounding districts were secured.
The police and military have launched an offensive attack dubbed Ops Daulat to neutralize the over 200-strong armed group a week ago after at least 19 intruders and eight policemen were killed in two separate clashes.
On Monday, the death count on the intruders stood at 53.
Yesterday, Sabah Police Commissioner, Datuk Hamza Taib, disclosed that 15 more decomposed bodies were discovered during the sweeping and mopping up operations in Kampung Tanduo, bringing the total of intruders killed to 68 so far.
Abdul Aziz stressed that security and public safety will be the utmost priority of the authorities and the people should not be afraid to go out and exercise their rights to vote come the elections.
He said the police will keep a close watch and the military will be deployed to assist if needed.
“I am confident that when the time to vote comes, the situation will be peaceful. The people do not need to be afraid or listen to rumours. What is important is for every voters to fulfil their obligation. I believe all polling centres and roads to these centres will be closely guarded by the security agencies,” he said.
On a different note, Abdul Aziz said, the EC will continue to clean up the electoral rolls until Parliament has been dissolved, to cross out names of individuals who have died or got the their citizenship revoked.
As of December, he said, there were 982,644 registered voters in Sabah and 24,497 in Labuan and the figure had been gazetted on Feb 22.
There are 706 polling centres in 688 different voting districts in Sabah, while Labuan has 15 voting districts with 17 polling centres, he added.
He noted that 17,615 election workers will be dispatched across Sabah, where RM50 million has been allocated for conducting the election.
Abdul Aziz also reminded competing parties to be responsible and adopt good ethics while at the same time avoid from playing on issues that could hurt the sensitivities of the local communities when campaigning for the election.