Time to reform poll process, says int'l watchdog

Athi Veeranggan | Aug 27, 08 (Malaysiakini)
Attaching latest photographs of voters on the electoral roll, recording their thumb-prints and signatures on the voting list, and inking their index finger during balloting are among steps that should be introduced to reform the country’s election process.
These measures can drastically reduce the chances of ‘dubious’ votes, such as multiple, phantom and impersonate voting, suggested international election watchdog the Asian Network for Free Elections (Anfrel) to the Election Commission.
Anfrel’s recommendations to the EC, said its executive director Somsri Hananuntasuk, would ensure correct identification of a voter, uphold the principle of ‘one man – one vote’ and provide a smooth and free avenue for electorates to exercise their ballot rights without fear or favour.
Working in collaboration with a local election watchdog, National Institute for Electoral Integrity (NIEI), Anfrel sent a team consisting representatives from Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand to observe and monitor Permatang Pauh by-election in Penang.
“The proposals are imperative, to ensure the right voter casts the right ballot in a free and fair electoral process,” Somsri told Malaysiakini when deliberating on the Anfrel – NIEI preliminary report on the by-election.
PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim won the contest with a landslide 15,671 majority over his nearest rival Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate Ariff Shah Omar Shah.
Anwar drew 31,195 votes against Ariff 15,524, while relatively unknown Hanafi Hamat from Angkatan Keadilan Insan Malaysia (Akim) lost his RM15,000 deposit with mere 92 votes.
‘Confrontational-like’ campaign
Meanwhile, Somsri also criticised the campaign done by party supporters during Tuesday’s poll, describing Malaysia as the only country to practice it in a democratic world.
She raised concern that such confrontational-like campaign during polls, particularly when rival supporters were in close proximity near polling stations and narrow lanes, would create an atmosphere of intimidation, fear and possible violence.
Although the supporters were in jovial mood and involved in friendly jibes against each other, she warned that one could not predict the outcome if “someone carries the joke too far.”
“Voters must be allowed to vote on free mind and will on polling day,” she stressed.
Following its 10-day observation, the observers strongly recommended for the setting up of a strong legal mechanism to uphold the integrity, credibility and independence of the EC, its chief and members, to ensure that the election’s main stakeholders were not submissive to any party.
In its 10-day findings, the observers noticed the rampant use of children, government machineries and public officers in campaigns, vote-buying, black campaign emphasing on character assassination, such as ‘Altantuya’ and ‘sodomy’ and racism.
Anfrel – NIEI suggested a stern and firm ban on all these in future elections.
Their by-election mission director Ichal Supriadi pointedly noted that election enforcement authorities, such as the EC, police and Anti-Corruption Agency have failed to carry out follow-up investigations into electoral complaints.
Despite many complaints of vote-buying, misuse of government machineries, unethical campaigns, banners and posters, and missing names from electoral list, he said the authorities response were shockingly lukewarm.
“If immediate steps are not taken to rectify and verify these problems, the Malaysian election process is in danger of being ridiculed by international community,” he said.
The observers also took a swipe at biasness and one-sided reporting of traditional mainstream media, saying that such partisanship does not augur well for the nation’s future.
“The future generation would not tolerate it and the media would eventually meet a natural death,” said Somsri, who wants the EC to give due recognition to local and international election watch groups in future.