Preliminary Report on Bukit Gantang by-election observation mission:
Elections Results Acceptable Despite Flaws
About 50 Mafrel observers –including those accredited by SPR to observe from inside the restrictive zone of the polling centers, and the rests observing from outside and as mobile teams, took part in the election observation mission of the P059 Bukit Gantang by-election held simultaneously on Apr 7th, with 2 other by-elections in Malaysia. After studying the reports from the various observers Mafrel found that despite deep flaws in various areas of the operation of the by-elections the results of the largely peaceful and orderly by-election is acceptable as reflecting the choice of the people in Bukit Gantang, and call upon the election administrators –including the Election Commission(SPR), the police(PDRM), the Anti-Corruption Commission(SPRM) and all other government bodies involved, to undertake bold changes to move the election forward. Chief among the items to revamp are: the electoral rolls, rights to campaign as in freedom of assembly; accounting for campaign financing; security arrangement and also the timeline of the election.
Defective Electoral Roll
The electoral roll used for this by-election was updated to Sept 2008-in contrast to past practice by the SPR to update the electoral roll to be used, to closer to the polling date, and even not bothered with the gazzetting formality. The roll was found to have 4 classes of untraceable voters: voters living in plantation estates with no house number (26.1%), voters living in modern residential townships with house number but without the street name/or street number(involving 1420 voters spreaded across mainly 2 new housing estates-amount to some 1.5% of total voters number), dead voters (some 180 voters are above 90 years old and most likely to have died) and also unknown number of unknown voters sharing address with existing voters. For the last category typically the unknown voters are even not of the same ethnic background as the existing residents. Such a high rate of untraceable voters means that there are ample rooms for vote frauds eg phantom voters. The situation also will attract the public who would demand for greater transparency and clarity on the part of the SPR in making the voters accessible by the candidates.
To improve on the credibility of the election system the SPR charged by the Constitution to prepare a credible electoral roll, should either revamp the electoral roll immediately-or failing that it should drop its ineffective voters registration and adopt the more updated citizens registry from the National Registration Board. This option will save huge amount of energies and expenses involved in the notoriously inefficient voters registration exercises.
Freedom of campaigning
Next the issue of concern emerging from the observers’ reports is the freedom for campaigning for all candidates and parties. There had been a police restrictions against open air `ceramahs’ and also recent examples of how the police would reserve its harshest enforcement against so called `illegal’ gatherings-where it was the police themselves who decide who get a license to make the gatherings legal! Mafrel echo the country’s Human Rights Commission (Suhakam)’s call to the police and the government to respect the citizens’ rights to peaceful assemblies!
Unenforced election campaign financial limits
In addition the observation reports painted a picture of an unfair competition in the area of campaign financing, where it is not restrained even to account for the expenses involved. While there is a legal cap to campaign expenses of Rm200 000.00 for a Parliament election there has not been any auditing of the candidates’ expenses to keep them under check. This situation combined with wanton abuses by the incumbent parties to make public allocations to the constituencies with the hope to influence voters involved, make a mockery of both the legal cap on campaign expenses but also the election itself! The newly revamped anti-corruption agency (SPRM) should take this call from the public seriously before the credibility of Malaysian elections is totally debased!
Excessive police presence
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. Mafrel suggest that the nomination period be extended to facilitate more realistic scrutinies of the candidates! Similarly the police, as one of the parallel election administrators, should consider enforcing the moratorium on campaigning which starts from the eve of the polling day. As it stands Malaysia has the dubious distinction as one of the few remain countries which does not respect the voters’ rights to cast their votes free from any pressures on the polling day! Such blemishes in our election system will affect the quality of representatives created from such a process.
Time line not voters-friendly
Extending from the above concern Mafrel call upon the Election Commission to reconsider its policies on setting the time line for all future elections. There should be some semblance of transparency and fairness to all sides by the election administrators-or else the public credibility of the country’s administration is at stake!
In the spirit of the above Mafrel call upon the Election Commission to allow 1 week each for the nomination and objection period for each election, to be followed by at least 3 weeks of official and unhindered campaigning, as a way to improve the election operation and standing of the election operation in Malaysia. In fact the minimum 3 weeks’ campaign period is no more than returning to the practices under the first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman.
1.To improve on the credibility of the election system the SPR charged by the Constitution to prepare a credible electoral roll, should either revamp the electoral roll immediately-or failing that it should drop its ineffective voters registration and adopt the more updated citizens registry from the National Registration Board. This option will save huge amount of energies and expenses involved in the notoriously inefficient voters registration exercises.
2. Mafrel echo the country’s Human Rights Commission (Suhakam)’s call to the police and the government to respect the citizens’ rights to peaceful assemblies!
3.Enforce campaign expenses legal limits;
4. Police presence should be scaled down;
5. The election time line should be more voters-friendly;
Megat Shaffiruddin, Coordinator of Bkt Gantang By-election Observation Mission
Ong Boon Keong, Mafrel’s Northern Region Coordinator
Apr 20th 2009