(The Sun) 'Election boycott justified'

Jacqueline Ann Surin
PETALING JAYA (Jan 15, 2007): Election observers describe the decision by PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (Keadilan) to boycott the Jan 28 Batu Talam by-election in Pahang as “justified” and “understandable”.

They also say the boycott is a test for the Election Commission (EC), the government and democracy in Malaysia.
Wong Chin Huat, who is reading for a PhD at Essex University on the electoral system and its impact on the party system in West Malaysia from 1982 to 2004, said both the electoral system that involved constituency delineation, and the electoral process of nomination, campaigning, media coverage, campaign financing, the electoral roll and polling secrecy, were flawed.
“Such irregularities are well documented by the opposition parties, election watchdogs and academics, but the EC does almost next to nothing,” he said.
Wong told theSun the boycott was understandable when the EC evaded demands by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) to clean up the electoral roll, introduce indelible ink marks for those who had voted and abolish postal voting for security personnel.
“If the result of the English Premier League is fixed, can you complain if Arsenal or Liverpool refuses to take part?” he asked.
Wong said the boycott was significant, noting that he could not recall any other instance post-1969 when a major opposition party boycotted an election.
“That no-contest leads to an automatic walkover in Malaysia is indeed a disservice to voters, but the responsibility lies with the EC that has failed to rectify this inadequacy in the first place, and instead triggered a no-confidence action from the Opposition.”
He noted that in some countries, even when there was only one candidate, that candidate still needed to secure a majority vote to win a seat.
“Democratic parties boycotting elections will, in the long term, erode the legitimacy of the political system. Therefore, the EC must not take this boycott lightly.”
Bersih said there was no point in a party contesting in an election if the playing field was not level.
“What’s the point in nominating a candidate and spending money and energy contesting if there is no level playing field?” Bersih spokesman Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud asked.
He said it was also pointless to pretend there was democracy in Malaysia when elections were not free and fair.
Syed Shahir said the boycott was even more pertinent following EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman’s statement last week that the commission wanted a review of election laws in order to ensure fair and transparent elections.
“The boycott is a real test of whether the EC and the government will take these (complaints of flaws in the electoral system) seriously.”.
He said he hoped the public would view the boycott seriously because it was a test for the country’s democracy.
“The next step could be boycotting the general election.”
Aliran exco member, Anil Netto, said the boycott was justified in view of the numerous abuses and irregularities in the conduct of past elections.
“Perhaps in the coming general election, the opposition parties should get together and take a similar strong stand to make it clear that the public will not tolerate elections that are less than free and absolutely fair.”