BERSIH's report on 2007 Machap by-election


BERSIH’s report on the 2007 Machap by-election (17 April 2007)
The recently concluded Machap by-elections was a shameful event as practically all the rules of a clean and fair election were broken. Violence and intimidation, blatant abuse of state machinery and resources, bribery in the form of treating, and outright vote-buying at the end — voters were not able to informed and independent decisions as the playing field was certainly not level. To add insult to injury, the possibility of impersonation, multiple voting and coerced voting by security personnel remained open despite wide protests of the public for years. Therefore, the by-election was an insult and an embarrassment to all Malaysians who value fair play, integrity and democracy. History must not repeat itself in the Ijok by-election.

BERSIH urges the Election Commission (EC) to immediately carry out three immediate reforms demanded by civil society. There must be stricter enforcement of the Election Offences Act 1954 and a prohibition on vote-buying through public projects and misuse of state resources.
1. Violence and Intimidation
The by-election unfortunately kicked off with the violent assault of DAP supporters by MIC supporters. No arrest has been made despite a police report made complete with evidence. This has cast a dark shadow on the way elections are run and sent a message to voters that in fact, ‘certain parties’ are above the law. In the later part of campaign, election workers from KeADILan encountered intimidation when trying to access Malay villages.
Not spared were student activists from several public universities. Officers were dispatched by those universities to collect photographic evidence of university students involved in campaign work. Under Malaysia’s draconian University and University College Act (UUCA), university students are not allowed to take part in political activities without the written consent of the university authorities. In the past, this has been used to persecute opposition supporters in university campuses. By conducting surveillance work, the universities intend to strike fear into the hearts of student activists.
Even journalists trying to do their jobs were targeted. A journalist from Malaysian Nanban was bombarded with vulgar words when she tried to take photos of some MIC brigade members, while a photographer from Makkal Osai was grabbed by the neck by MIC Youth chief Vigneswaran.
2. Blatant Abuse of State Resources
A level playing field is a must for clean elections and voters must not be threatened or bribed into voting a certain way. The state must remain neutral and detached from the electioneering process. Abuse of state power to serve partisan ends is analogical to corruption and theft, and a criminal offence in many countries, but unfortunately not Malaysia. The perils of such deficiency in our election laws was clearly evident in the Machap by-election.
Both the Federal and Malacca State governments of BN have made a range of development offers and pledges to secure votes. According to Malaysiakini and other sources, the list included:

  1. Newly paved roads in all the villages
  2. Hundreds of new street lamps
  3. A RM1.2-million recreational area near the Durian Tunggal Dam
  4. 102 grants for housing lots for second-generation settler families at Felda Tun Ghafar Machap;
  5. RM3.7 million for Felda Machap, including the upgrading of water pipes (RM3 million), the construction of a multi-purpose hall (RM600,000) and refurbishment of the mosque (RM100,000)
  6. Application approved for 7,000 sq ft of land by 50 second-generation Chinese settlers with a 99-year lease and a low premium of RM12,500.
  7. Application approved for the 20-year-old demand of Machap Baru villagers to build 80 units of low- and medium-cost houses, to be sold at below RM60,000 each
  8. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government’s special allocation of RM650,000 to upgrade roads and drainage system and to build a new air-conditioned hall.
  9. RM 400,000 to relocate the Machap Umboo telecommunications tower, build a replacement tower and an unspecified amount to extend the land grant lease from 34 to 69 years, with reasonable land premiums.
  10. RM160,000 promised by the Health Ministry to upgrade clinics in Machap; and
  11. No less than RM50,000 promised by the Education Ministry to each of the three Chinese primary schools in the constituency.

Such pre-polling delivery of goodies violates the principles of democracy and good governance. As citizens and taxpayers, the Machap people deserve the full attention and support of the Federal and State Executive at all times, and not only after the demise of their representative. By holding back what they deserve and giving it in exchange for electoral support, the voters were ‘held to ransom’.
BERSIH denounces the use of patronage politics by the BN, where voters at Machap Umboo were reportedly told that their land titles would not be renewed if support for BN fell substantially. This might explain why support for DAP dropped slightly in Machap Umboo whereas its votes shot up by 15% points in another Chinese-majority polling district Machap Baru.
BERSIH is also shocked that BN would be so pathetic and desperate as to use newly-crowned All-England champs Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong to spice up its campaign, at the expense of the pair’s valuable training time. Coincidentally but perhaps unsurprisingly, the duo subsequently lost the Asian Badminton Championship which was held just after the by-election.
Equally troubling was the widespread misuse of state machinery and resources for electioneering purposes. Federal ministries, state agencies and the police force were drafted in to serve the ruling coalition’s interest. The state government’s organ, Berita Melaka, published two whole issues purely to attack the opposition DAP and tarnish its image amongst civil servants.

3 Treating and Outright Vote-Buying

While Election Offences Act 1954 categorically criminalizes corrupt practices including treating and bribery, such unscrupulous acts were carried out, and in some cases, unashamedly in the open. The Enforcement Team set up by the Election Commissions did not do anything to stop such corrupt practices, effectively making themselves accomplices to the crime.
Teas, lunches and banquets were organized everywhere throughout the campaign by UMNO, MCA and other BN parties. For example, to woo the Hakka-Chinese voters, banquet serving ‘lei-cha’ were held every night in the Chinese area.
One of the feasts, organized by BN Youth, was even photographed and reported in the press. Oriental Daily (2007/04/10, page A7) carried a photo showing the BN candidate Lai Meng Chong along with three senior BN leaders Hishamuddin Hussein Onn (Education Minister), Khairy Jamaluddin and Lai Tiong Lai (Deputy Youth and Sports Minister) offering food to villagers. The event was held in Melaka Pindah in the early afternoon of 9 April. Dr Xavier Jeyakumar, representing BERSIH, lodged a police report on 11 April the same evening but no action has been taken so far even though treating is technically a sizeable offence.
As if treating was not sufficient to swing votes, outright vote-buying was committed on polling day itself. According to a Malaysiakini report, many people were seen queuing up outside a vacant house in Tebong (next to the one occupied by Johore UMNO members) and allegedly paid up to RM200 each for their votes. When the DAP election workers went to investigate, they were told to leave and the crowd quickly dispersed. Malaysiakini journalists, who arrived later, were denied entry into the empty house, which was being cleared of any incriminating evidence. DAP election workers then lodged a police report but no action has been taken so far.
4 Polling Irregularities
Despite BERSIH’s demands, the EC has yet to undertake any of the three measures so fundamental to ensuring integrity in polling: a clean-up and update of the electoral roll; the use of indelible ink to prevent multiple voting; and the repeal of domestic postal voting which is vulnerable to coercion and rigging.
In certain areas of Machap, For example, in Saluran 1 at Tebong polling district, the roll contained the names of 11 voters born in 1900, which means they would all be 107 years old today (See Saluran 1 – Tebong). In addition, two polling districts registered high turnout even by Malaysian standard, Solok Menggong with 85.48% and Kemuning with 84.50%.

BERSIH’s demands

BERSIH reiterates again its immediate demands for fairer and cleaner elections, particularly during polling:

  1. a thorough review and clean-up of the electoral roll;
  2. the use of indelible ink; and
  3. the abolition of postal votes

The EC must not delay any longer in adhering to the Malaysian public’s demand for cleaner and fairer elections. On this matter, BERSIH demands that the police investigate the many incidents of treating and vote-buying in Machap. The EC must also explain its inaction and assure the public that it is not an accomplice of the BN by keeping one eye closed.
BERSIH calls for amendments to the federal and state constitutions as well as the Election Offences Act 1954 to ensure administrative neutrality (the issue of caretaker government in general elections) and criminalize the abuse of public office for partisan interests. The shameful violation of democracy through violence and intimidation, abuse of state power and resources, vote-buying and treating, the potential of polling irregularities must end with Machap.
BERSIH urges the EC to live up to its Constitutional mission and the public to apply pressure on the BN and EC so that all these would not happen again in Ijok. Elections must reflect the wishes of the electorate, not the EC or the ruling coalition.
Photographic evidence of electoral abuses


A RM1.2-million recreational area that literally sprung up overnight



Barisan Nasional election merchandise inside a police vehicle


Free bicycles for schoolchildren




Newly paved roads in all of Machap’s villages




Road-paving works continued into the early morning hours of polling day.



Voters are captured on camera leaving a vote-buying centre in Machap with amounts ranging from RM100 to RM150.