Arguments break out at EC press conference

Beh Lih Yi (Malaysiakini)
25 Aug 2008

With just a day left for polling, confusion reigned over the electoral roll that is to be used for Permatang Pauh by-election with possibly at least 710 voters being unable to cast their votes tomorrow.
The problem came amid dispute over two sets of electoral rolls – one gazetted and one ‘updated’ – adopted by the Election Commissions (EC) for the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat.
A heated argument broke out between EC secretary Kamaruzaman Mohd Noor and a group of journalists as he attempted to clarify the matter at a 90-minute press conference in Penang today.
He was met by reporters during a meeting and final preparation works by the EC workers at the Tuanku Bainun Teachers’ Training College, which will be used as the counting centre tomorrow.
At the end of the press conference, he suggested to the media to take him to court if they are not happy with the explanations he provided to quell doubts raised by opposition PKR yesterday.
The heated argument however did not stop at the media session as it continued in a separate 40-minute meeting between Kamaruzaman and PKR leaders R Sivarasa and Fuziah Salleh later.
‘This is a lie’
The controversy began with claims from PKR yesterday that there are a total of 868 names which could not be found in the electoral roll which was ‘updated’ on July 31 – to be used tomorrow – as compared to the roll which was gazetted on June 19.
Usually, a gazetted electoral roll will be used as the official roll in the conduct of an election. The gazetted roll is final and cannot be questioned in court even if there is any dispute.
However, strangely, the EC has decided to use the ‘updated’ roll on July 31 – and yet to be gazetted – for the by-election tomorrow and led to questions over it.
Apart from that, PKR also claimed the electoral roll was tainted with over 400 doubtful postal voters and argued these defects could eventually affect about 2,000 votes in total for the party.
Explaining on the 868 names which went ‘missing’ in the ‘updated’ roll, Kamaruzaman clarified today that there were only 158 names which were removed in the latest roll.
The reasons why these names were removed among others include ‘wrong’ voters registration, deaths, those who aged above 100 and deemed fit by the EC to remove their names from the roll on the presumption that they have passed away.
Hitting out at the PKR’s claim, a visibly annoyed Kamaruzaman said: “This is a lie. This is done to tarnish the good name of the EC.”
There are a total of 58,459 eligible voters who can cast their vote tomorrow, an increase of 10 new voters compared to the March general election.
Temperature at the press conference ran high as journalists repeatedly attempted to clarify the discrepancy in the figures provided by the EC secretary, which could not be tallied.
Pressed on why a non-gazetted roll was being used in the by-election, he shot back and said: “Can you show me which provision of the law (which requires) me to gazette the roll?”
“Those names which I have deleted (from the roll) was done under the power given to me as a chief registrar, I don’t need to display (the new roll),” he argued.
The press conference ended after 90 minutes with the group of journalists leaving in an utterly confused state.
High turnout expected
At the separate 40-minute session with the two PKR leaders later, Kamaruzaman insisted that the EC has come clean and complied with laws in the election’s conduct including the electoral roll.
As the two parties insisted on their own stand, the meeting ended with the PKR agreed to submit the 868 names which they have found to be removed to EC this afternoon for verification.
Requests by the journalists to have another EC press conference this evening to clarify the matter was not entertained when Kamaruzaman repeatedly replied that he will check the matter first.
Nevertheless, upon the repeated requests by Fuziah and Sivarasa, Kamaruzaman retracted his earlier claim at the press conference that the PKR was lying.
Meanwhile, Kamaruzaman said he expected a high voters’ turnout at the polling tomorrow. In the March general election, it recorded a 81 percent voters’ turnout.
The polling result is expected to be announced between 9.30pm and 10.30pm.
PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim faces BN’s Arif Shah Omar Shah and Akim president Hanafi Hamat in the three-way fight.