22 APRIL 2009
MAFREL ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION OF
P.59 BUKIT GANTANG BY-ELECTION, N.25 BUKIT SELAMBAU BY-ELECTION AND N.29 BATANG AI BY-ELECTION
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you all and to thank you for your presence at this morning’s Press Conference.
MAFREL has called this Press Conference to share our preliminary findings from MAFREL’s observation mission in P.59 Bukit Gantang, N.25 Bukit Selambau and N.29 Batang Ai by-elections recently held simultaneously on April 7, 2009.
As was mentioned in our statement dated 13 Mac 2009, MAFREL conducted election observation of the entire election process beginning with nomination day (29 Mac 2009), campaign period, election day and post-election developments with close focus on the following:
1. Electoral roll
2. Corruption practices, treating of voters and vote buying
3. Abuse of public and government resources
4. Incidence of violent or dangerous acts during the election process
5. Level of security and presence of security forces, especially PDRM
6. Media coverage
MAFREL observed all the three by-elections with maximum coverage of polling centers with its trained observers totalling up to about 140 observers. A total of about 100 observers were accredited by the Elections Commission (SPR) to observe from inside the restrictive zone of the polling centers, and the rests observing from outside and as mobile teams.
As its preliminary report, MAFREL found the following main election issues among the three by-elections:
1. Electoral Roll flaws
2. High Level of security presence
3. Abuse of public expenditure for campaigning
4. Inconvenient election timeline
5. Freedom of campaign and assembly
1. Electoral Rolls Flaws
MAFREL found that SPR did not update the Electoral Rolls close to election date – at least the last quarter of 2008, as was being practiced before. The electoral roll used was as at September 2008. The Electoral Rolls continued to post challenge as the column for ‘Jalan’ (street) or ‘Lorong’ (lane) were deleted by SPR; hence making it difficult to trace electors. This is apart from the existing problem of ‘no house number’ (estate areas), deceased voters in the rolls and unknown electors sharing address with traceable electors. Evidences of these can be found in the separate report produced according to each by-election as per attachments.
2. High level of security presence – Pervasive Security
The pervasive presence of police – from the ordinary uniform police to riot control Federal Reserve Units, to the Special Branch, are a privileged group which has grown into a force on its own, with its own agenda. While the observers note the gratefulness of the voters to the security forces’ contribution to ensure the public’s safety during elections, the people are getting weary about the unjustifiable expansion of the police presence around elections. Sources from the mainstream media quoted the following costs incurred by the police force – Bukit Gantang (RM7Mil), Bukit Selambau (RM5Mil) and Batang Ai (RM5Mil) which comes to a total of RM17 Million!
3. Abuse of public expenditure and facilities for campaigning
The triple by-elections saw the coining of the term ‘instant noodle projects’ by the newly installed Prime Minister. Despite his vow to stop it, the ‘offense’ still continues unabated. The enforcement of the legal spending limits by the candidates is a cause of concern as well as the unfair advantages being conferred to candidate from the ruling party at the Federal level. In Batang Ai alone, BN promises more than RM175 million worth of projects. Details of this can be viewed in the Batang Ai preliminary report attached. Abuse of public facilities was also present in all the by-elections. These include the use of public facilities such as town halls, government vehicles and official functions for campaigning purposes. The mobilisation of national service program trainees during the nomination of Batang Ai by-election is regrettable.
4. Inconvenient Election Timeline
Polling day fell on a working day for the triple by-election while for Bukit Selambau, both nomination and polling day fell on a working day. This resulted in lower voter turn-out in Bukit Selambau from 73.7% during the 12th General Elections to 70.28% during the by-election. MAFREL failed to understand the merit of having polling day on a working day. The choice of election timeline – nomination day, polling day – must take into consideration voter’s convenience as the paramount consideration especially for voters who work outside the state or constituency. There should be some semblance of transparency and fairness to all sides.
5. Freedom of Campaign and Peaceful Assembly
There had been a police restriction against open air ‘ceramah’ (especially in Bukit Selambau) and distasteful partiality exercised with harsh enforcement to disperse illegal gathering for ‘ceramah’ that the police failed to issue permit.
There was also restriction on the use of the name ‘Altantuya’ and other sensitive issues as in the case in Bukit Gantang. However this restriction was somewhat ignored by the opposition. MAFREL echo SUHAKAM’s call to the police and government to respect the citizen’s rights to peaceful assemblies.
Further observation of the by-elections can be found in the attached reports.
MAFREL therefore calls for the following:
1. SPR to either revamp the electoral roll or adopt the roll produced more professionally by the National Registration Board. In so doing it can also help to cut costs from the inefficient voters registration exercise by the the Election Commission;
2. SPR to organize polling day on holidays to facilitate more people to vote;
3. Instant projects and allocations by governments made to advantage certain candidates, should be stopped as this represent abuse of power by the office-holder;
4. Police presence should be drastically slashed by extending nomination process to 1 week;
5. SPR and Police to enforce polling day campaign moratorium which has been violated regularly;
6. The police and government to respect the citizens’ rights to peaceful assemblies as called by Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), and
7. SPR to enforce campaign expenses legal limits.
The final report on the three by-elections will be completed within a month time and be made available to all relevant stakeholders. I wish to take this opportunity to also announce the completion of the MAFREL’s Final Report on 12th Malaysia General Election. The Report however will be released once it has been sent to SPR for first review.