Govt should listen to message of electoral reform

MEO-Net, an election observation group, call upon the Federal and Sarawak state government to take seriously the main message of electoral reform to be brought up by the Walk for Democracy, organized by the Movement for Change (Sarawak) on August 13 at Kuching’s Museum Garden.

The election administration of Sarawak and the country need a complete overhaul to maintain the legitimacy of the governments elected from the elections. From our observation of the Sibu by-election on May 16 2010, and the 10th Sarawak state elections on April 16th 2011 there are ample indisputable evidences of electoral frauds and mal-administration which caused the election conduct to deviate far from the requirement of the election laws as well as regional norms. The legitimacy issue is exacerbated by the lowest voter registration in Sarawak, especially its interior, among all states in the country, which lower the base of representation for the polling conducted.

The evidences we have collected on the election mal-administration and frauds are as follow: Firstly while the Returning Officers have been briefed by the Election Commission Chairman Abdul Aziz on March 23rd, to stay away from the candidates and campaigning politicians we found most RO’s had clearly violated the rule of neutrality in this regard. To cite as an example, SAO Jeffrey Jalong, an appointed RO for Telang Usan, was often seen to accompany the PBB chief in campaign functions in Ulu Baram during the state elections.

Secondly despite the reported warning from the State Secretary Mohamad Morshidi bin Abdul Ghani, reported on May 5th 2011, that he will penalize civil servants who were involved in political campaigns, most State and Federal civil servants were reportedly mobilized at the constituencies involved to provide services, give away gifts and provide programs and platforms for political campaign activities. The worst case of such abuse of civil servants is the threat by politicians to the government paid community leaders that the community risk losing development if they don’t vote for the ruling party. Example, most recently this was done by Michael Manyin Jawong, reportedly on Aug 30th, to Bidayuh community leaders. All elections should be a competition between political parties, where the government departments should stay away from party campaigns, and all governments should provide developments to all communities based on need and merit rather than who they voted.

Thirdly there is no enforcement against offences identified by the Election Offenses Act 1954, chiefly on vote buying. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission had through its spokespersons on numerous occasions, disclaim their responsibility to enforce the Election Offenses Act 1954. Instead they claim that they are only mandated to enforce the Anti-Corruption Act 1997. This was confirmed in an interview by MEO-Net with Kuching MACC office on April 11th 2011. There cannot be a fair competition of any kind should there be no referee to enforce the regulations on all participants. Without enforcement of commonly agreed regulations to ensure integrity of the competition, the results will be open to disputes.

Fourthly, the level of vote buying, partly arising from the lack of enforcement as mentioned above had been rampant in the elections. Numerous incidents confirmed the pervasiveness of vote buying. Immediately after the Sibu by-election, 100 Ibans congregated in front of a SUPP party office in Sibu to claim their unpaid payment for voting BN. In Selangau, the chief of Kuching Long House admitted that he received Rm10,000 from the campaigners of the BN candidate from Tamin. On both occasions the politicians admitted that payments were made, but tried to justify them as payment for campaigning work, contrary to the admission of the voters involved. Based on the level of payment to the individual voters concerned, the payment, if reflected in their mandatory campaigning expenses account, would have exceeded the legally allowed campaigning expenses. It should be noted that such dubious payments to voters are no where allowed in our regional neighbours, as they are deemed to be evidence enough to disqualify the candidates caught committing such offense.

Fifthly, the inaccessibility of the tax-payer supported media to all candidates make it practically impossible for the voters to make fully-informed decisions, an essential requirement for free and fair elections. This monopoly and abuse of tax-payers supported public media is particularly damaging to the election administration as a free election demand that the information about all candidates and parties be accessible to all the voters. Compromising this mean that the process is unfairly herding voters towards making a choice based on restricted information of the choices available. This is unacceptable in all electoral democracies.

Sixthly, the level of enfranchisement of the Sarawakians are appallingly low, in fact at the lowest among all states in Malaysia. In many interior areas surveyed by MEO-Net, the registration of eligible citizens as voters is less than half. Exmaple, of the 22 000 residents of Batang Ai, only 7000 are registered. Yet the voting rates have been low due to big sections of the voters being denied their Constitutionally guaranteed voting right. This include the big number of voters, estimated at between 100 000-200 000 (10-20% of Sarawak’s electorate), who are not able to come home from West Malaysia to cast their votes. Worse,they are not allowed to cast their vote by postal vote, despite the fact that the EC do possess the discretionary power to allow this under sub-regulation (3)(1)(f) in the Elections (Postal Voting) Regulation

There are more evidences and documentation of mal-administration of elections in the 10th Sarawak state elections which will be released through the soon-to-be published final report of the election observation mission of MEO-Net to the Sarawak state elections.

On account of these evidences of mal-administration which jar with regional standards and get away due to non-enforcement of local election laws, MEO-Net calls upon the Federal and State government of Sarawak to take actions within its power to make amend on all the issues brought up by the Walk for Democracy and all other election watch groups. Further to this we call upon the police to provide full cooperation to the organizer of the Walk for Democracy so that they can exercise their freedom of assembly and freedom of speech on Aug 13th. The police should learn from their poor handling of the Bersih rally which tarnished the police and the country’s image locally and internationally.

ONG BK – Malaysian Election Observers Network

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