Mafrel workers 'withdraw' as election observers

Fauwaz Abdul Aziz | Mar 5, 08

Several leaders of independent polls watchdog Mafrel thumbed their noses today at the Election Commission (EC) over its decision to scrap the usage of indelible ink by partially handing back their status as observers for the March 8 polls.
Led by their chairperson Abdul Malek Hussin, they announced their withdrawal as EC-accredited observers as a mark of protest against the commission’s perceived failure to implement the usage of indelible ink to prevent multiple voting, fraud and voter impersonation.
EC’s accreditation – granted earlier this year to about 333 Mafrel volunteers – means they are allowed to be present and observe the voting process in polling stations in order to deter or record any incidence of irregularities or violations..
Abdul Malek said as the decision to withdraw as observer is his own and not that of Mafrel as an organisation, no one else in Mafrel who has been approved by EC to observe the voting process in the polling stations are obliged to follow suit.
Following Abdul Malek, Mafrel deputy chairperson Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh and four other Mafrel members today also handed in their EC-issued observer tags.
Abdul Malek said his decision was on the basis that he does not want to be seen as legitimising EC’s decision not to use indelible ink, which goes against Mafrel’s own recommendations that have been submitted to the commission on the matter.
He described his move as being based “on the principle of defending (the need to) conduct a free and fair election and for the sake of protecting Mafrel’s integrity.”
Goes against Mafrel’s recommendations
“As long as the decision to scrap the usage of indelible ink on voters’ fingers is not reviewed, I take the decision to withdraw my status as observer,” he told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur this afternoon.
“Mafrel strongly protests the decision (by EC) and stresses that Mafrel will not legitimise a decision that clearly goes against (its own) recommendations … pertaining to the use of indelible ink,” he added.
Explaining their ‘partial withdrawal’, Abdul Malek said they would be carrying out all their other duties as observers except for being present in the polling stations.
The EC said yesterday it would not introduce indelible ink as planned because it had uncovered a plot to sabotage the polls by using smuggled ink to mark unsuspecting voters before they cast their ballot, which would cause confusion.
Deriding this today, Abdul Malek said such logic would mean all currencies within the country would have to be taken out due to the presence of counterfeit currencies.
He also said many countries such as Afghanistan and the Philippines practice the use of indelible ink without any problems of so-called counterfeit ink disrupting the elections there.
Abdul Malek further said that EC’s argument that current laws do not provide for making the constitutional right to vote conditional upon voters’ having their fingers marked with indelible ink does not hold water.
Recounting the ‘speedy’ amendment earlier this year to the Federal Constitution to extend the retirement age of EC members to allow its chairperson Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman to oversee this year’s general election, Abdul Malek said provisions for the usage of indelible ink could have been put in place if EC was serious about it in the first place, he said.
Disappointed with EC chief
Citing a meeting held earlier today with Abdul Rashid, Abdul Malek also expressed disappointment that the EC chairperson had resorted to arguing on the basis of citizens’ constitutional right to vote as a basis to reject the usage of indelible ink.
“There’s a big question about the (government’s protection of citizens’) right to assemble, the right to association and the right to express one’s views as guaranteed in the Constitution.
“But when it comes to the implementation of indelible ink, they come to the trivial argument of the Federal Constitution, and constitutional rights and guarantees. Where are all the other fundamental rights which are part and parcel of democracy?” asked Abdul Malek.
He also described the representation to EC made by the Attorney-General and the Inspector-General of Police to scrap the plan to use indelible ink as amounting to interference in a matter that is within the power of EC to decide.