AGC to appear for EC, returning officers in election disputes

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PUTRAJAYA: The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) will appear for the Election Commission (EC) and returning officers in challenges to results in the recent Sabah polls, a practice that was abandoned after the Pakatan Harapan government came to power in 2018, a source said.

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“The EC, as a client, has approached the AGC to appear for them in seven petitions filed after the recently concluded state election,” the source told FMT.

The source said lawyers at the AGC’s civil division have started preparations, including plans to raise preliminary objections, when the cases come before election judges in Kota Kinabalu and Tawau.

FMT has contacted Attorney-General Idrus Harun and EC chairman Abdul Ghani Salleh and is waiting for their responses.

Previously, the EC had engaged private firms to represent it in petitions that arose soon after the 2018 general election.

Idrus’s predecessor, Tommy Thomas, had on June 22, 2018 said government lawyers would no longer represent the EC and returning officers in election disputes because of potential conflict of interest.

He said this decision had been taken by the AGC as justice must also be seen to be done.

“As the neutral arbiter in the conduct of elections, the EC should not be represented by the AGC members because of potential conflict of interest,” he had said.

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Thomas said members of the government were invariably parties to such election petitions and it was invidious for the AGC to also act for the EC.

As such, he said, the EC must appoint lawyers of its choice to represent it in legal proceedings.

Thomas had also said the primary duty of the AGC was to act as the legal adviser to the government, led by the prime minister, and to represent it in civil and criminal proceedings.

He said the EC was established at the time of Merdeka to be an independent and impartial agency to conduct elections freely and fairly.

He said it was intended to be neutral when it came to political parties competing with each other for the right to be chosen by voters to govern them for a maximum period of five years.

Seven aggrieved parties, including former Dewan Rakyat speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia, have filed petitions.

The disputed results are for the seats of Pintasan, Karambunai, Darau, Sindumin, Petagas and Kukusan.

There are two petitions filed for the Sindumin seat, one by a candidate who was disqualified on grounds he was a bankrupt, and another by a candidate who lost in the six-cornered fight.

All election challenges must be completed within six months after a petition is filed. – FMT

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