In or out, there's little thanks for EC

NST: 16 March, 2008
THE 12th Malaysian general election is over and the phones are ringing non-stop. However, their owners are either closeted in post-mortem meetings or occupied in celebratory engagements with their euphoric supporters. But, winner or loser, observer or candidate, almost everyone has a complaint or two about the Election Commission (EC).
Pas information chief Mahfuz Omar said the EC played its role most unsatisfactorily this election and its actions might have angered voters and contributed to the losses that BN suffered.
“The way it acted seemed to be to the benefit of the ruling coalition and this could have turned voters against BN.”
Batu MP Tian Chua said: “I’m still sore over the indelible ink issue. The EC gave very lame excuses about someone importing the ink to subvert the electoral process.”
BN’s United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun and Murut Organisation secretary-general Datuk Wilfred Madius Tangau said the decision not to use the ink “gave credence to the negative perception that the EC was giving way to the demand of some invisible hand to allow for alleged multiple voting”.
Said MIC information chief Datuk V. Saravanan: “It didn’t give a good explanation why it was called off at the last minute. This made voters very confused and concerned.”
Mahfuz said the cancellation of the ink was “completely unfair” and it had cast doubt on the EC’s promise that the elections would be transparent.
“It made voters suspicious,” he added.
Chua said the EC failed to check the misuse of government facilities and resources by BN candidates during campaigning.
He said the rampant abuse seemed to have helped the opposition’s campaign because it made the public angry with BN.
Complaints came in from all corners of the country that many elderly and disabled had to climb up to the second or third floor of polling stations to vote.
It was reported on the Monday after the election that some disabled voters at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Taman Yarl polling station were asked to walk up to the third floor to cast their vote.
“It was already the 12th general election. It’s unfortunate that the EC didn’t seem too concerned about the disabled,” said Tian Chua.
At least five police reports were lodged in Buntung by voters who couldn’t exercise their right to vote because someone had already voted in their name, claimed Ipoh Barat MP M. Kulasegaran.
The DAP vice-chairman said this showed the EC still hadn’t dealt with the issue of twin voters or phantom voters, despite it being raised by various quarters. And, he asked, why were the doors and windows of polling stations closed for the counting of votes.
“Why can’t people see inside when they are counting? The boxes are already transparent so what is there to hide. Why close the windows?”
Kulasegaran claimed this happened in one of the polling stations in his constituency and said that “it made the EC officers look highly suspicious”.
Mahfuz is disappointed that postal voters were still made to attach declaration of identity forms to their ballot papers.
The form, which was meant to verify that a voter had received his ballot paper, could easily identify the voter because it was submitted with the ballot paper.
“This makes people feel someone is checking on them. They can’t vote freely,” Mahfuz said. “I brought this up with the EC chairman before the election and he had agreed the forms were not relevant, but they were still used.”
Pas filed a complaint with the EC over the inclusion of more than 1,000 postal voters in the electoral roll of the Belantek state seat in Kedah.
Mahfuz said when the party checked the roll on display several months before the election, those voters weren’t listed.
MCA’s Datuk Paduka Chew Mei Fun said she received many complaints that Malaysians studying overseas had a tough time registering as postal voters.
“This cost me many votes because many of them were my supporters yet they couldn’t vote for me.”
Pas is upset with the EC’s last minute requirement for stamp duty to be paid on statutory declaration forms that were submitted with a candidate’s nomination form.
“We were informed of this requirement at the last minute, just before office closed on a Thursday,” said Mahfuz. “Friday is a weekend in many northern states but it failed to inform us that the stamp duty office would remain open. So candidates in states like Kedah travelled to Perlis or Penang to settle the stamp duty.”
But a few days after enforcing the rule, the EC made an about-turn and did away with the requirement.
“It made things very chaotic. It didn’t give the impression of it being a first-class election,” he added.
Despite their complaints, both Tian Chua and Kulasegaran felt the EC’s performance this time had shown much improvement.
“Everything was quite smooth and I think it was fairer in its dealings with opposition candidates,” said Tian Chua.
Kulasegaran was all praise when he talked about his returning officer.
“He was fair in all respects and really listened to our complaints. It’s not utopia yet but things have really improved.”
Sabah’s Liberal Democratic Party secretary-general, Teo Chee Kang, said the nomination and polling process in Kudat went smoothly and that “the EC should take credit for it”.
Chew, however, said many residents who were to vote in her constituency had “suddenly (been) shifted to other places”.
Chew, the two-term incumbent MP for the Petaling Jaya Utara parliamentary seat who lost to Tony Pua, said she has received many complaints about this sudden shift discovered on polling day.
“Some who had registered their new address with the EC and had voted for me in the previous election, suddenly found that their address on the electoral roll had reverted back to their old one, some in another constituency, like Taiping.”
Chew said this had caused a lot of confusion among her voters, and probably caused her some votes.
Incidents of missing names also occurred in Sabah but Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah deputy president Datuk Ellron Alfred Angin said “the number was minimal”.
Sabah DAP liaison committee chairman Dr Hiew King Chiew claimed she had received reports that there were still phantom voters around.
There were also claims that dead people’s names still turned up on the electoral roll despite the EC saying they had been weeded out, said Chua.
“Why can’t the electoral roll be cleaned up? It’s only because of the magnitude of people who voted for the opposition that many of us won.
“But, unfortunately, in very marginal seats, this still gives a problem and there have been many complaints,” he said.
Sarawak BN component parties gave the thumbs up to the EC.
Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party deputy secretary-general Paul Igai said the close co-operation between the EC and the police ensured that the election was conducted very well.
“The EC and police trained their personnel well and made sure that the election was conducted smoothly and without any trouble,” said Igai.
Party Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) secretary-general Wilfred Nissom said the EC was justly strict “otherwise, there would have been trouble during the heated campaign period”.
However, Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu secretary-general Dr Stephen Rundie said there were some concerns about the EC’s strict enforcement of election regulations.
He said party supporters were barred from sporting party badges at polling centres but noted that there were many old and illiterate voters in rural areas and it was “necessary to guide them to vote”.
Sarawak PKR leader Dominique Ng Kim Ho claimed a marked ballot paper for the Batang Lupar constituency was found in one of the polling stations in the nearby Sri Aman seat.
“The ballot was already marked with a cross and was meant for Batang Lupar. How did it end up in Sri Aman during the counting?”
Ng also alleged that 51 double-printed ballot papers with the same serial number were detected in Sri Aman.
PKR did not contest in Sri Aman but was supporting Independent candidate Cobbold John Lusoi, who lost to Masir Kujat of BN-PRS.
Ng, who is also the state assemblyman for Padungan, said PKR, which fielded 12 candidates who were all not successful, was compiling a report.