I recently attended a briefing by Pemantau. It was my first event of this kind beyond Bersih, and I went because I wanted to do something more besides casting my vote.
I wanted a neutral platform where I can take a more active part in the election process. Here is a brief summary of what I have learnt in this short session:
On election day, there are three separate roles that can be taken up by civilians - Pacaba, Pemerhati and Pemantau.
Short for polling agent, counting agent and barung agent. These are people working inside the classroom itself cross-checking identities, checking votes, counting votes, etc.
You will be representing a candidate hence you will have to take a side. Nonetheless you will have the most direct power to intervene in any infractions or misdemeanors during the voting process.
The one apolitical group that provides the platform in training and facilitating the process in becoming a Pacaba is Tindak Malaysia.
These are members of civil society that are not affiliated to any political parties. They are registered with the SPR and have legit passes to be inside the polling station (school), but not the polling classroom.
They are observers of the election process, recording and reporting any infractions or misdemeanors of election laws. They have no legal powers to police or intervene, but their presence could serve as a deterrent.
Only selected civil society groups are accredited by SPR to send representatives to serve as Pemerhati. Any registered voter can sign up with these civil society groups to become a Pemerhati. Some of these groups include Merdeka Centre, Ideas, etc.
They do very similar things as Pemerhati, ie as observers of the election process. The caveat with Pemantau is that they are not allowed within 50m of a polling station (school), they are not accredited by SPR, and they don't have any legit passes to enter polling stations (as Pemantau).
However a lot can be done and observed even outside polling stations, such as illegal campaigning, bribery, treating, etc etc. And the role of Pemantau starts from the campaigning period up to election day.
Their job is to record and report any infringements of election laws in any form or way, for example illegal posting of banners, violence during ceramahs; even providing free food/snacks during the campaign period is considered illegal.
Pemantau has set up a very systematic reporting process, and part of it involves reporting matters to the police.
But the ultimate goal of Pemantau is to record in writing any infringements being conducted at anytime by any party, in the hopes of a future where these can be used as evidence to take any kind of legal action against a certain party.
Essentially, anybody with a smartphone or camera can competently function as a Pemantau. Again I stress that as an observer you are not obligated to confront or police any offenders. The role of an observer is always neutral.
Quoting the presenter during the briefing, during the recent general elections in the Phillipines, there were a total of 100,000 election observers on the ground.
In the country of Georgia, with a population of 5-6 million, there are 50,000 election observers.
Pemantau's recruitment target for this GE - 10,000.
Voter education and awareness is very low in Malaysia. I was definitely enlightened and educated during this briefing. Fact is - these groups are formed to maximise powers accorded to us as participants of a democratic system.
They are a necessary part to ensure the integrity, fairness and legality of the process. And they sorely need the publicity, and the support from the general public. And most definitely they need the numbers to exude a significant influence.
Here is what's very obvious to all of us - this is going to be one of the most important elections in Malaysia's history. It is also going to be a very dirty election.
We've all heard of the tactics and tricks that have been used, or still being used, by certain parties to gain the upper hand.
There were some examples that I thought were unbelievable or just hearsay. But after attending the Pemantau briefing, I am convinced they happened.
Here are also some facts that are right in our faces - our country is facing serious problems.
I am sure that in conversation with any groups of Malaysians, it will eventually lead to a lament, or complain, or venting of all the various issues that we face, many of which we encounter every single day.
And I target this to the peers of my generation - some of us are still in school, most of us are working.
By and large, we are doing okay in our jobs. We have some cash to spare for the weekends to have a good time, and occasionally upgrade our smartphones. Perhaps some of us too are working well enough to finance a new car.
And now (fortunately or unfortunately, your choice) we've reached the age of marriage and family planning. How are we to afford a home to call our own?
Are our earnings justified to the hours and expectations being imposed on us in our jobs? Is this the quality of life that we desire, and is there all there is to it?
The problems - of the economy, of education, of transport, of minimum wages, of taxes and governance, of illegal immigrants and cheap labour, of the wanton destruction of our natural resources; they are all interconnected, and any changes will need to be systemic and holistic.
An overhaul is going to be very very messy, and it is going to take a very long time.
We have reached the point of needing to think and prepare for our next generation. So if we do not start these changes now, then when? Another five years?
No I am not into politics. However, I pay taxes; I drive on public roads; I attended government schools; I use electricity, water and petrol - I have to be political.
Ultimately, I can only speak for myself. I am not campaigning for any sides or any party. I have my own personal ruminations which I will express in this single vote that I am entitled to.
I do, however, support Bersih, because I believe we are entitled to a free and fair election. I attended Bersih in Hong Kong in April 2012 because I could.
And lo behold those of you who know of my nomadic lifestyle will understand this, but I so happen to be here for this coming elections, and I am going to vote.
But then as I have vented this point already to a few of you, the strength of my vote is only 1 in 50,000, and I feel somewhat discouraged and deflated by this fact. I felt that surely there is more that I can do.
I have worn yellow t-shirts, changed my Facebook profiles, and even joined a rally. But I want to do something more substantial to affect real change.
And so I have signed up to become a Pemantau, because I have the ability to do so. I have a smartphone, I like taking pictures and I see things that annoy me every day.
During election day, I will go and vote, and I will probably have nothing much else to do for the day except to watch the results.
So I might as well use that day and work as a Pemantau, and do my part in preventing as much shenanigans as I can. (Actually I have signed up to train as a Pacaba, and I intend to volunteer as a Pacaba once I have done so. But this is not a definite fact yet)
Please, I am not at all trying to sell myself as a martyr or hero of any kind. But I am relating all this to you because I think people of our generation need to do all that we can to affect change.
At a rough glance, the room was full at the Pemantau briefing, but less than half of the crowd was my age or younger. And yet we have the most at stake during this election.
It is really not at all about bravado or foolhardiness. It is just a matter of exercising our full rights as citizens of this country.
You might have commitments, you might have reservations, you might have limitations, I am not here to judge you. Or maybe you are already doing more; so then I salute you.
But I guess I just want to ask - can you do more, and will you do more? If you do, click on any of those links above to find out more.
I really think any one of us is capable to be a Pemantau. If you're game for more, try Pemerhati or Pacaba.
And if nothing appeals to you, then I hope this little write-up has served as a little bit of voter education for you.
The next Pemantau briefing is Wednesday Feb 27 (today) at 7pm at the Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall. I encourage you to go check it out. If you're lucky they might serve free dinner again, but please-lah put some money in the donation box afterwards.
All facts mentioned in this passage are not properly referenced or researched. Do not take my word for it and do your own fact checks on these groups. This is written purely based on my own opinion and beliefs.