KUCHING – The Sarawak Legislative Assembly has disqualified DAP’s Pujut assemblyman Dr Ting Tiong Choon ) from being a member as he had previously acquired Australian citizenship.
A motion by International Trade and E-Commerce Minister Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh to disqualify Dr Ting was passed with a 70 to 10 vote on Friday, leading to Dr Ting ceasing to be a state assemblyman with immediate effect.
Wong said he was informed by Bukit Aman in a letter that Dr Ting acquired Australian citizenship on Jan 20, 2010 but renounced it on April 4, 2016.
In addition, he said Dr Ting had exercised the rights of an Australian citizen by registering as a voter with the Australian Election Commission.
He also claimed that Dr Ting had made a declaration of allegiance to Australia at the time he acquired citizenship.
As such, Wong said Dr Ting had breached Article 17(1)(g) of the state constitution, which provides that a person is disqualified from being a member of the state assembly if he has voluntarily acquired citizenship or exercised rights of citizenship in any other country.
“He has shown his love for and allegiance to Australia. He is not fit or qualified to identify himself as a Sarawakian or Malaysian or to represent the people of Sarawak as a legislative member.
“He has definitely breached the state constitution and ought not to be a member of this House,” he said.
In his defence, Dr Ting called the allegations “slanderous and malicious” and the evidence provided by Wong as merely hearsay.
“Where is the evidence that I made a pledge to the Australian government? That is only a printout from the Internet.
“Your evidence that I am an Australian voter is also contradictory. The letter from the police says that I renounced Australian citizenship in April 2016 but the evidence that I am a registered voter is dated July 10, 2016. That is more than three months after my renunciation of citizenship,” he told the state assembly.
Chong Chieng Jen (DAP-Kota Sentosa), who also spoke in Dr Ting’s defence, said any decision to disqualify a state assemblyman should be made in court rather than by a vote in the House as it was a serious matter.
“If we are so sure that he has contravened the constitution, take the matter to court and let an independent body adjudicate on it.
“To disqualify (Dr Ting) by just a show of hands in this House without resorting to a court of law is a travesty of justice and an act against the voters of Pujut, the majority of whom voted for him to represent them,” he said, adding that the motion was supported by insufficient evidence which would not stand up in court.
Chong also said an earlier attempt to disqualify Dr Ting in court had failed when an election petition brought by the defeated Barisan Nasional candidate Datuk Hii King Chiong was dismissed.
The Election Court struck out the petition on Oct 14 last year on technical grounds.
Dr Ting refused to answer when Wong asked him in the House whether he had acquired Australian citizenship.
However, he told reporters later that he did obtain Australian citizenship but renounced it as he wanted to come back to serve in Malaysia.
He also said he never gave up his Malaysian citizenship and received a notice from the Australian government on April 4 last year that his application to renounce his citizenship was accepted after a process that took nearly a year.
Chong said the state DAP would now look into the legal aspects of whether the state assembly’s decision to disqualify Dr Ting could be challenged in court.
“This has never happened before, when Parliament or a state assembly disqualifies a member through a motion,” he said.
Meanwhile Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said Speaker Datuk Amar Mohd Asfia Awang Nassar would now have to inform the Election Commission of the vacant Pujut seat.
“It will then be for the EC to decide on the date of a by-election. Before that, it’s up to DAP to bring the matter to court.
“As it is, a majority decision has already been made (on the disqualification),” he told reporters.