The elections of 8 March 2008 represented an important step towards democratisation in Malaysia. BERSIH 2.0 (The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections) is concerned that this process of democratisation in Malaysia will be reversed without genuine electoral reform.
BERSIH 2.0 lists seven urgent electoral reforms that should be addressed before the next general elections. The 16 by-elections since 2008 have seen a blatant misuse of state apparatus and other unfair tactics some of which violate the Elections Offences Act. Regrettably, the Election Commission (EC) has failed to act impartially and proactively to promote free, fair and clean elections.
BERSIH 2.0, therefore, urges the public to be ready to step up pressure for serious reform as they did in 2007 if the Federal Government and the EC continue to ignore reasonable and legitimate demands for real electoral reform. If EC continues without bringing reforms, the Sarawak State Elections will serve as a guide for mass support for democracy.
Power abuse, vote buying and other misconduct in By-Elections
If the 16 by-elections since 2008 are an indicator of what is to come, the coming Sarawak State elections and the next general elections will be seriously marred by blatant abuse of State power, vote-buying, transfer of voters, phantom voters, imbalanced media coverage and intimidation.
The most disturbing trend is the unashamed abuse of governing power by the Federal Government to pressure the voters to exchange votes for development something that the citizen is entitled to as of right.
The infamous line, “You help me, I help you” uttered by the Prime Minister first in the Sibu by-elections is now repeated by the Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister to entice the voters to vote for them in the coming State elections. The Election Commission has unfortunately refused to act, giving the impression to the public that they are helpless to check offences under the very legislation they should ensure compliance of. The EC could have lodged a police report against the politicians under Section 10 (Bribery) of the Election Offences Act 1954, which will serve as a moral sanction. They choose instead to leave it to the other agencies like the MACC and the police, which we know is a pointless exercise.
Equally worrying is the vote-buying through dinners and lucky draws by the suspicious 1Malaysia group in Galas, Tenang, Merlimau and Kerdau. The EC ought to have lodged police reports to have the group investigated under Section 8 (Treating), Election Offences Act 1954 since these dinners and lucky draws were only organised in by-elections and attended by politicians from the BN party.
More importantly and of great concern is that politicians show no respect or regard for the law of this country that they of all people, are duty-bound to uphold.
The partiality of EC is also demonstrated in the choice of the by-election dates. Six out of eight PR-held seats had their polling on a weekday, making it difficult for out-of-town voters to return to vote. In sharp contrast, six out of eight BN-held seats had their polling on a weekend and the remaining two (Batang Ai and Batu Sapi) were held simultaneously with one or more PR-held seats, on a weekday.
BERSIH 2.0 disputes EC’s claim that they are powerless.
Whenever faced with blatant abuse in the electoral process, the EC reacts by saying they are powerless to act. For reform of electoral laws, the EC also claim that they need to follow the decisions of the Cabinet which instructs the Attorney-General Chambers. This is an insult to the wide powers they are given under the Federal Constitution and the Election Offences Act and to the public interest that they hold in trust. At the very least, the EC must make reports on blatant election offences and propose to the public the necessary reforms they see fit regardless of the Cabinet’s preferences.
BERSIH 2.0’s Demands for Seven Major Reforms
To ensure the legitimacy of the new governments and political stability, we urge the EC and the BN Federal Government to initiate the following seven major reforms:
1. Automatic voter registration – As it stands, more than four million eligible citizens are still not registered as voters. This includes many who have submitted their registration forms but which have yet to be processed by the EC. Automatic voter registration, by synchronising the EC database and the National Registration Department database, can easily resolve this issue. It can also remove multiple registrations and deceased voters. No credible argument against automatic voter registration has been advanced to date.
2. Postal voting reform – the recent increase of postal voters is highly suspicious. The EC’s claim that many spouses of police personnel have opted for postal voting is in fact unlawful as the by-laws – Elections (Registration of Electors) Registrations and Elections (Postal Voting) Registrations have no provision at all for the spouses of police personnel to be registered as voters. The present arrangement with a separate roll of postal voters is rigid, open to abuse and completely unnecessary. Postal voting (or absentee voting in general) should be compulsory to none but available to all voters with valid grounds for being away from the constituency on the polling day. With a longer campaign period, the current practice which allows the election workers to apply to vote with postal ballots on an ad hoc basis can be extended to the entire electorate. This will not only help all overseas Malaysians but also East Malaysians who work in West Malaysia. Absentee voting must only apply where the voter is physically unable to be present.
3. Indelible ink – Indelible ink is the most straight forward way to prevent multiple voting. This was agreed by the Election Commission itself in 2007 before making a u-turn a few days before polling day in 2008, wasting RM 2.4 billion in tax-payers money. For the next general elections, indelible ink must be implemented to put to rest any allegations of multiple voting.
4. A minimum campaign period of 21 days – The 16 by-elections show a trend in a reduced campaign period from 10 days in Permatang Pauh to 8 days in Merlimau and Kerdau. This raises questions whether the campaign period for the next general elections may be as short as in 2004, 8 days. To allow voters to make an informed choice and to reduce intensity of campaigning activities, BERSIH 2.0 wants the campaign period to be set at a minimum 21 days, which is only half of what was granted by the British Government for Malaya’s first general election in 1955. There is all the more reason to extend the campaign period to cater for overseas voters.
5. Free and fair media access – All contesting parties and candidates should have free access to all state media and fair access to private media. BERSIH 2.0 demands that the Election Commission request the Radio and Television Malaysia and Bernama provide airtime for all parties and organise televised debates for the party leaders. This is completely within the power of the EC as Article 115(2) of the Federal Constitution stipulates that “all public authorities shall on the request of the Commission give the Commission such assistance in the discharge of its duties as may be practicable”.
6. Prohibition of vote buying through development offer and treating – The Election Commission (EC) must put a stop to the de facto vote-buying practices through development pledges ala “you help me, I help you” and treating by the suspicious “NGO” 1Malaysia group. The EC should move immediately to issue directives to all incumbent federal, state and local governments NOT to link any pledges and delivery of development and public works to voters’ choice in the elections. The EC must also press for the investigation of the PM, the Deputy CM of Sarawak and the 1Malaysia group and all other parties carrying out similar activities, under Section 10 (Bribery) and Section 8 (Treating) of the Election Offences Act 1954. In the long run, the EC should propose a legislation or amendments to the existing laws to promote administrative neutrality and level playing fields.
7. Impartial Constituency Redelineation – As the previous constituency redelineation exercises have been marred by blatant gerrymandering and malapportionment, BERSIH 2.0 urges the EC to be transparent and professional in the next exercise which may begin in March 2011. Specifically, BERSIH 2.0 requests the EC to subscribe to the following criteria:
a. No boundary of parliamentary or state constituency should cross the boundary of local authorities or administrative districts.
b. Within the boundary of local authorities or administrative districts, constituencies should consist of areas with similar socio-economic or cultural interests.
c. No neighbourhood should be partitioned arbitrarily into different constituencies.
d. Within the same state, in terms of electorate size, the largest state constituency must not be larger than half of the smallest parliamentary constituency.