(AFP) updated version The High Court today ordered former Sabah chief minister Yong Teck Lee to vacate his state assembly seat, ruling that he won it in 1999 with the help of 'phantom voters' [See correction] .
The landmark ruling by the high court in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the eastern state of Sabah, paves the way for a by-election.
Judge Muhammad Kamil Awang also said he had been pressured to reject the complaints filed by two defeated candidates but did not say by whom.
The judge ruled that the electoral roll for the Likas constituency in the Sabah state assembly was illegal, saying he was convinced of the existence of phantom voters in the constituency.
"The instances of non-citizens and phantom voters in the electoral roll as disclosed at the trial may well be the tip of the iceberg," he was quoted as saying by Bernama news agency in a 29-page judgment.
"It cannot be denied that the registration of voters in the Likas electoral roll was in contravention of the law. No one, including government departments or institutions, is above the law."
Petitions contesting the result were filed by two opposition candidates against Yong, who won the seat in the March 1999 state elections with a large majority of 4,962 votes.
Yong is a member of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's ruling Barisan Nasional, which won control of the state assembly in the polls.
Without fear or favour
"In my view, it is an insult to one's intelligence to be given a directive over the phone that these petitions should be struck off without a hearing..." Muhammad Kamil said, concluding his judgment.
"God has given me the strength and fortitude, as a lesser mortal, to act without fear or favour, for fear of a breach of oath of office and (the) sacrifice (of) justice, and above all to truly act as a judge and not a 'yes man'".
The opposition Sabah United Party at the time accused the coalition of using "dirty tactics" to win. It complained to police that it had proof 30,000 immigrants were issued Malaysian identity cards to allow them to vote.
Sabah's population of some three million includes an estimated 500,000 immigrants, mainly from neighbouring Indonesia and the Philippines.
"This is a victory for the people of Sabah, especially on the issue of phantom voters," said Chong Eng Leong, the defeated Sabah United Party candidate.
In Kuala Lumpur, Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said BN accepted the court's decision and would abide by it.
"The court has made its decision and we accept it. There are no two ways about it," he said.
The High Court ruled that the 1998 electoral roll for the Likas constituency was illegal and accordingly declared the election for the Likas constituency null and void. It did not find that former Sabah chief minister Yong Teck Lee won the seat in 1999 with the help of "phantom voters".