Malaysia drops vote fraud safeguard

Al-Jazeera: MARCH 05, 2008
Malaysia’s electoral body has scrapped plans to use indelible ink to prevent vote fraud just days before national elections, prompting a warning from an electoral reform group that this could be the “dirtiest elections ever”.
The move, which has drawn condemnation from rights groups and the opposition, comes as the government faces one of its biggest political tests amid accusations of racial discrimination and rampant corruption.
The Election Commission said the decision to drop the plan was made after police investigations revealed that some “irresponsible people” had smuggled in their own ink to deceive voters in Saturday’s election.
“Following legal advice and looking at the issue of public order and security, the commission decided not to proceed with its proposal to introduce the use of indelible ink,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.
The cancellation just days before the March 8 vote has raised fears of electoral fraud and fuelled opposition anger.
The commission had widely advertised the planned use of the special ink – to be applied to a voter’s fingernail after casting his ballot – as its response to long-standing allegations of vote-rigging.
Phantom voters
Bersih, a loose coalition of 70 civil society organisations and political parties campaigning for electoral reform, criticised the commission’s reversal saying it would affect the outcome of marginal seats.
“The cancellation of the use of the indelible ink makes the deployment of phantom voters operationally easier and cheaper,” the group said in a statement.
“The decision shows very clearly that the commission has neither the intention nor the commitment to carry out electoral reform.”
Impersonators of fraudulently-registered and genuine voters are commonly known as phantom voters.
“The democratic rights of Malaysians may have already been stolen from them before they can be exercised!” it added.
Bersih urged the public to support its proposal to set up an electoral reform panel and to collect evidence of “all instances of fraud, irregularities and misconduct”.
The group staged a protest of tens of thousands of people early last November to press for clean, free and fair elections, including the cleaning up of the electoral rolls and the use of the ink.
On Wednesday Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, the commission chairman, was quoted in local media as saying that police received reports of a plan to sabotage the election process in several northern states.
“These voters may be regarded as having voted when they come to cast their votes on the polling day,” he said.
“This may cause chaos at polling stations which, if widespread, may be difficult to control.”
The decision comes as police reinforcements were deployed nationwide to prepare for the parliamentary and state level elections.
Some 222 parliamentary and 505 state seats are up for grabs on Saturday.
Unfair vote
Analysts are predicting a win for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition but with a reduced majority in parliament.
The BN won only 60 per cent of the popular vote in 2004 but secured 91 per cent of the seats in parliament.
The opposition has accused the Election Commission of working with the ruling coalition.
Lim Guan Eng, chief of the opposition Democratic Action party, told Reuters he was shocked at the development.
“It shows that the Election Commission is working hand in hand with the Barisan Nasional to cheat in the elections.”
US-based Human Rights Watch said Malaysians would be denied a fair vote because of the uneven playing field that favoured the ruling coalition, and urged the authorities to remove the bias from the process.
‘Blatant manipulation’
Speaking to Al Jazeera, HRW’s Sam Zarifi said the group was very concerned to see the blatant manipulation of the electoral process.
“We are very concerned that the government is not playing a fair game in the preparation for the general elections,” he said.
“Already we can see very clear manipulation of the electoral process with the commission supporting the coalition government.”
Zarifi said recent developments in Malaysia revealed “a real yearning” among the people for change.
“The ruling coalition obviously likes the status quo and is doing everything possible to retain that,” he said.
“But when see basic technicalities of an election being manipulated, we are very concerned … that a country as developed as Malaysia is not giving its own people the right to participate in a process that decides their future.”
In a statement released earlier, HRW also urged the government to ensure equal state media access for all parties, saying television and radio stations gave no air time to opposition candidates while newspapers had to report on the opposition “at their own risk”.