Carolyn Hong – Straits Times
Kuala Lumpur. More than 100 voters have been registered as living in a single house. Others registered as having been born as far back as 1853 — which would make them 159 years old. And some men are registered as women and vice versa.
These are some of the obvious irregularities that have been on Malaysia’s electoral rolls for years, and which result in complaints every time an election comes around. And with another one just around the corner, the opposition and civil society groups in Malaysia are again demanding that the Election Commission clean up its act.
The Bersih group, a loose coalition that led thousands onto the streets twice in the last four years to demand electoral reforms, said it would hold a third rally if the government ignored these discrepancies.
The 2007 Bersih rally, which drew thousands, helped swing enough votes to give the opposition unprecedented gains in the general election held a few months later.
Last year, thousands more flooded Kuala Lumpur’s streets to again demand changes. The government cracked down using tear gas, but later agreed to set up a bipartisan parliamentary committee to look into electoral reforms.
Bersih chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan said it would decide whether to hold a third rally next week after assessing the government’s response to this committee’s report to be tabled in Parliament on Monday. The committee comprises MPs from the opposition and ruling coalitions.
According to one of its members, opposition MP Anthony Loke, the report will contain 22 recommendations.
“Most of them were decided by consensus, while some were by majority vote,” he said.
But while he declined to disclose the contents, Loke expressed doubt that the Election Commission would adopt the recommendations quickly, given that it had dragged its feet on the first set contained in an interim report.
“There has been no follow-up on many things,” he said.
Ambiga said only one of Bersih’s eight demands — marking the fingers of voters with indelible ink to prevent them from voting twice — has been implemented while its concerns on postal voting had been partially addressed. The rest of its demands, including free access to media during campaigning, had not been addressed, she said.
“And why not?” she asked.
She said Bersih now also wants the Election Commission to do a full audit of the electoral rolls because of the growing number of complaints of discrepancies.
As of December last year, Malaysia has 12.6 million registered voters: 52.4 per cent of them are Malay, 30.3 per cent Chinese, 7.2 per cent Indian, 4.7 per cent Sabah natives, 4 per cent Sarawak natives, 0.5 per cent Orang Asli and 0.8 per cent classified as Others.
The roll has grown by more than 1.5 million voters since 2008 as more eligible voters made the effort to register.
The opposition, however, complained that there have been sudden spikes in the number of voters in certain marginal seats, including semi-rural ones like Hulu Selangor, where population growth is low.
It is also suspicious of the realignment of boundaries in certain constituencies, which has altered the demographics and produced an influx of postal voters, who are traditionally BN supporters.
Political analyst Ong Kian Ming, who is analyzing the new electoral roll, said there is legitimate cause for concern because of the many strange cases being uncovered.
These include voters who appeared twice on the list — once as ordinary voters with identity cards, and once again with military cards.
He said there were spouses of police officers registered as postal voters although they were not eligible, voters registered to non-existent addresses, and an increase of police localities that raised the number of postal votes.
Several civil society groups, which carried out an independent audit, yesterday revealed that they had found 8 per cent of the voters’ addresses to be invalid. Most of these are in urban areas.
The audit was carried out by several non-governmental organizations — the National Institute for Democracy and Electoral Integrity, the Centre for Independent Journalism and pollster Merdeka Centre.
Ambiga said the authorities had not been helpful when the opposition tried to verify the identities of dubious voters, and had stopped workers of opposition MP Nurul Izzah Anwar recently when they went on door-to-door checks.
Like the first Bersih rally, a third one could do a lot of damage to Prime Minister Najib Razak if it became a lightning rod for other simmering dissatisfaction, from the economy to corruption.
“If Bersih can show that the government is still not serious enough about electoral reform, it could be a momentum-stopper for Najib,” Ong said.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times