The UK government “discussed” the importance of free and fair elections with its Malaysian counterparts recently, according to a series of parliamentary replies given in the UK House of Commons.
The UK Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field said he is also concerned by the recent passage of the Anti-Fake News Act 2018, which was gazetted last week.
Field said these in response to three separate questions from Cynon Valley MP Ann Clwyd, who asked the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the political situation in Malaysia in view of the May 9 election, and the impact of the recently completed redelineation exercise and the Anti-Fake News Act.
His responses, dated April 17, are available on the UK Parliament’s website.
“We continue to follow the political situation in Malaysia closely. During my visit to Kuala Lumpur last week, I heard about the recent changes to constituency boundaries and the passing of the Anti-Fake News Bill.
“I recognise that there are concerns related to both issues. The UK continues to stress the importance of free and fair elections and open and vibrant political debate.
“We have also encouraged Malaysia to invite external election observers, in advance of the 9 May election,” Field said in one reply.
'UK monitoring impact of redelineation'
In the other two replies, he said the UK is monitoring the impact of the redelineation exercise as well as the Anti-Fake News Act, and have discussed the importance of free and fair elections with “highest levels” of the Malaysian government.
He said he is concerned about Anti-Fake News Act’s potential impact on the freedom of expression, and that it was passed without meaningful public consultation and debate.
We are monitoring developments closely, working with EU and other foreign partners and stand ready to make any necessary representations,” he said.
The controversial redelineation report was gazetted on March 29 and comes into effect on the coming election. Nomination day is set for April 28, while polling day falls on May 9.
This is despite complaints that new boundaries would exacerbate existing gerrymandering and malapportionment, as well as creating ethnic “ghettos” by dividing communities along racial lines.
The Election Commission (EC) has rejected these complaints, saying that the new boundaries are not meant to help any party win elections.
In an interview with New Straits Times published on March 29, EC chairperson Mohd Hashim Abdullah also argued that the commission has to take ethnicity into consideration.
“We cannot simply divide an ethnic group in any particular area. We take these matters into account when we redraw boundaries. Some question why we ‘take’ this area. These people see it only from a location aspect, but we have to consider the ethnic breakdown.
“We cannot put half of the community in one constituency and the other half in another. As best as we can, we try to keep them together. Redelination is made in voters’ interest,” Hashim is reported as saying.
He has also announced that 14 countries had been invited to observe the coming general election, although only seven had agreed as of the date of the announcement on April 10. Only one - Timor Leste - stands higher than Malaysia on democracy rankings.