Is the EC attempting to diminish our elections?

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COMMENT | This year marks the tenth anniversary of the first Bersih rally held in 2007. For over a decade, Malaysians have been demanding for clean and fair elections in the country.

This is not a frivolous nor unsubstantiated demand. It has even been acknowledged by the government with the setting up of the Special Select Committee on Electoral Reforms in Parliament in 2012 by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak himself. The committee made 22 substantive recommendations, but only two were implemented in the general election soon after.

In 2013, a people’s tribunal on the thirteenth general election (GE13) was established amidst public outcry over electoral fraud in that election. The tribunal categorically concluded that “there were multiple failings in the way GE13 was conducted, and that virtually every tenet of a fair election was violated at one place and at some time”.

So what has the Election Commission (EC) and the government done since then to meet the tenets of a fair election? Well, they have not only failed miserably to improve the quality of our elections but instead undertook actions to make it worse.

Failure to register new voters

Voters are the main stakeholders in elections. By the EC’s own admission, there are more than four million unregistered voters in Malaysia. This is simply unacceptable as these disenfranchised Malaysians constitute more than 20 percent of total voters!

Such a high amount of unregistered voters did not happen by happenstance. And the reason stems from the EC’s own actions.

Since 2013, the EC has withdrawn the appointment of assistant registrar officers (AROs) from political parties. This means that political parties, who are an important stakeholder in elections, could no longer register new voters.

New registrations are processed once every three months. But before the registrant can be confirmed as a voter, the EC takes a further three to six months to inspect the registrations and publish those approved in the supplementary electoral roll that is then gazetted.

The combination of a severe lack of AROs and the lengthy registration process can result in the people being denied their constitutional right to vote if they are not able to register in time.

The solution is simple. Since 2009, Bersih 2.0 has been advocating for automatic registration of voters upon reaching the age of 21 years. This can easily be done by synchronising the electoral roll with the National Registration Department’s database, which the EC is already doing to remove deceased voters and those who are no longer citizens from the roll. Yet when it comes to using the database to easily identify and automatically eliminate problematic registrations such as those with inadequate voter details, the EC stops short.

Failure to clean up the electoral roll and prevent phantom voters

Upon receiving new voter registrations, the EC has an obligation to ensure that they are from genuine voters. The EC has the power to conduct investigations into suspicious registrations and expunge the names from the draft electoral roll if proven to be invalid.

Here, too, the EC has failed.

Bersih 2.0 recently exposed that 32 persons were found to have changed their voting constituency to one same address in Malacca and 87 persons were using addresses without house numbers. Similar cases were also exposed in Selangor and Johor by the state assembly representatives there.

These voters are in violation of Article 119 of the Federal Constitution, which clearly states that voters must, among others, be registered according to the constituency in which they are residing.

Such anomalies are just the tip of the iceberg as the phenomenon is widespread across the country. It is done in a deliberate and coordinated manner to sway electoral results in marginal constituencies. The timing of such happenings could not be more conspicuous: We all know that GE14 is around the corner.

Such manipulation and transferring of phantom voters is not new. Bersih 2.0 and groups working on electoral reform as well as political parties have been highlighting them for the past 10 years. There were more severe cases too: the 2001 Likas by-election petition and Royal Commission of Inquiry on Immigrants in Sabah in 2014 both exposed the existence of non-citizens who were registered as voters.

Existing laws and regulations are more than sufficient for the EC to perform its duties and enforce the laws. Article 113(5) of the Federal Constitution empowers the EC to make rules for the purposes of its functions.

But instead of doing its job and cleaning up the draft electoral rolls, the EC prefers to let them be and rely on the unconstitutional Section 9A of the Elections Act to prevent people from challenging the legitimacy of the electoral roll once gazetted...

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