Clear this murky issue

Along The Watchtower (By M. Veera Pandiyan)
22 May 2008
A thorough probe is needed to identify and punish those responsible for the cancellation of the use of indelible ink for the March 8 polls.
THE octopus is a master of deception. Because of its lack of a backbone, the cephalopod can squeeze into any tight spot when cornered. It can assume any position it wants, thanks to all the suckers.
It can also change its shape or colour at will, but the octopus’ most prominent trick is its amazing ability to squirt clouds of concentrated ink to obscure the scene when faced with danger.
It may be the effect of watching too many National Geographic documentaries, but since the issue of the indelible ink re-surfaced, images of the evasive cephalopod flash in the mind whenever the Election Commission (EC) is mentioned.
Of course, the comparison is a bizarre stretch of the imagination and one that is grossly unfair to the wily marine creature, which has my utmost respect.
After all, the commission, in contrast with the octopus, only appears to have evolved rather rapidly since recently by growing something resembling a spine.
Last Saturday, its chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman made a shocking disclosure about the reversal of the decision to use indelible ink for the March 8 general election.
After opening the National Seminar on Elections 2008: Democracy at Work, he divulged that the Cabinet decided the volte-face on Feb 13, the day Parliament was dissolved and that he was told to take the rap for it.
Two rather nebulous reasons were given for the about turn, the first being security and the second, Article 119 of the Federal Constitution, which covers the right of a citizen to vote.
The Cabinet, he said, had apparently been told about a plan by PAS to sabotage the polls by smuggling in similar indelible ink from Thailand. It seems Umno members who found out about it had also brought in the ink. Rashid claimed that the police gave all the details to him in writing.
Before that story could go to print, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah clarified that the Cabinet had only suggested the cancellation of the use of indelible ink. He said it was up to Rashid to agree or proceed with the original plan.
A quick check on the powers of the EC: Under the Federal Constitution, the EC is vested with responsibility to conduct elections. As an independent authority, the commission is not in anyway subject to direction as to how elections ought to be conducted.
But in this case, it is obvious that the EC was led too easily by the Cabinet’s “suggestion.” As such, can election monitoring groups like Malaysians for Free and Fair Elections (Mafrel) and Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih), be blamed for condemning the commission of being under the thumb of the ruling party?
Rashid only officially announced the plan to erase the ink 20 days later, on March 4, two days before polling day. And he did it with an air of authority, with the country’s top lawmen – Attorney-General Gani Patail and IGP Musa Hassan – flanking him at the media conference.
The Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar has since debunked the smuggled ink story. This was his reply to Batu Gajah MP Fong Poh Kuan in Parliament on May 6:
“After police reports were studied and interviews with complainants and witnesses conducted, there was no evidence to show that (indelible) ink had been smuggled in from Thailand.
“No witness saw the ink. From the statements, no individual, syndicate or any party was identified as having been involved. The complainants and witness’ statements were only based on hearsay.”
In any case, Rashid does deserve some credit for finally coming clean on the real reason for the change of decision, but the cloud of obfuscation over the issue is a long way from being dissipated.
It looks like yet another episode of Malice in Blunderland. Whatever their motives, some people had been lying through their teeth. If their actions had influenced the Cabinet decision to change a major decision, wouldn’t it be an arrant injustice to let them go unpunished?
By right, they should be arrested and charged with making false reports and, more so, for undermining democracy, surely a crime more heinous than being part of an illegal assembly, marching peacefully for a just cause, or lighting candles at Dataran Merdeka.
Perhaps, like the tactics employed by the crafty octopus and cuttlefish, the complainants and rumour mongers were just using the ploy to deceive and camouflage. It could have well been a red herring to obscure more sinister plans.
It’s my imagination working overtime again, but couldn’t the ruse have been targeted for cheating through multi-voting elsewhere with less public scrutiny, like in Sabah, which suffers from a long-standing problem of illegal immigrants?
It is no secret that the locals in the Land Below the Wind had been kvetching about being outnumbered by foreigners, many of whom hold MyKads. Without the indelible ink, wouldn’t it have been a breeze for these people, to vote in the polls?
The IGP and the AG must initiate a thorough probe, especially when they were at hand at the EC press conference justifying the need to scrap the indelible ink. To file the case away under “No further action” is a real bummer.
The general election may be over and done with (ok, there’s still the possibility of a snap polls being called) but let’s clear up this murky matter before moving on to yet unresolved bigger issues.
In case the folks in the EC have forgotten, there needs to be a thorough clean-up of the electoral rolls. Malaysians need to be convinced that there would be no more phantom voters, multiple registrations and transfer of voters from one constituency to another.
While we are at it, how about working on redrawing the boundaries to undo the blatant disproportionate population to seat ratio and to ensure that there is no more gerrymandering of constituencies based on race?
That should keep the EC chairman busy for the next few months until he retires.
The only octopus that M. Veera Pandiyan, Deputy Editor, New Media, has truly felt sorry for is Squidward Johannsen Tentacles, the cashier at Krusty Krab Restaurant in SpongeBob SquarePants.