mafrel Not Allowed to Escort Ballot Box Together with SPR Officials from Polling Centre to Counting Centre

We have writen letter of protest to the Returning Officer N29 Batang Ai and SPR director and seeking permission to follow the ballot box from the polling centre to the counting centre but was told by the returning officer for Batang Ai, Mr. Nelson Mujah that we have to seek permission from SPR headquaters in Putrajaya. When ask about any contesting party, will be escorting the ballot box together with official, he said no, only SPR officials will be doing the transporting of the ballot box. Mafrel and political parties agents can only follow separately with their own transportations.

When asked for the reasons why SPR choose to shift the ballot boxes from voting stations for them to be counted at the ‘dewan pengiraan’ (counting centre) and when did they change this policy of not counting the votes at the polling station, as is done in the rest of the country. According to the Retaining Officer, he said,” This has been done in the past elections where the ballot boxes are transferred to the counting centre in Lubok Antu. Mafrel observers are also denied to witness the important counting process.
According to Mafrel Batang Ai Coordinator Peter John Jaban :As an independent observer, we have to ensure this election is conducted in a fair and transparent manner because our report will be submitted to, among others, the international monitoring body. How then do we monitor the election if we are not allowed to accompany the ballot box while it’s being transferred and also not given any access to the counting centre?
MAFREL is registered with the SPR as independent observers of the Batang Ai By-election. One of our tasks is to ensure that the elections are conducted in a fair and transparent manner. We have observed from the SPR guidelines that 14 polling centers will have their ballot boxes shifted to the Sports Centre in Lubok Antu. If neutral independent bodies like MAFREL are not allowed to escort the ballot box to the counting centre and given access to monitor the counting, then who else besides SPR officials, can be there to ensure the integrity of the ballots handling operations?
Mafrel objection to SPR, the counting should be done first at the polling station itself where the votes are being cast before being transferred to the `dewan pengiraan undi’(counting centre). In any case the small number of ballots in those areas where ballots are currently being transferred away for counting –some about 100, means that voting could have finished by mid day, and the on site counting could not take much time that it could delay the announcement of the overall results.
We have received complaints in the past about switching of ballot boxes. To avoid such allegations in future, we strongly recommend that the SPR institute measures that will ensure the security of the ballot boxes to the satisfaction of all the parties contesting in this by-election. The simplest thing to do is to conduct the counting at the polling station and we strongly recommend that SPR do adopt this policy.
`I don’t find any reason why MAFREL as an independent observer are denied to monitor the counting process.’ Said Peter John Jaban.
Mafrel’s recommendations
In view of the serious security concern of the ballot boses Mafrel therefore recommend that
1. It is the normal practice that ballot boxes are opened in the polling centre and the ballots counted there. We are very concerned that the SPR is deviating from standard good practice and wish to enquire why this is done. We strongly recommend that the SPR revert to the usual practice of counting ballots in the polling centre.
2. If the SPR for whatever reasons insist on transporting the ballot boxes to the Sports Centre in Lubok Antu, then we wish to know what safeguard the SPR is offering to ensure the security of the ballot boxes. For a start, we will expect that the SPR allow space for MAFREL and the agents of both BN and PKR to accompany the boxes during the transporting process.
Peter ak Jaban
MAFREL  Chief Coordinator N29 Batang Ai.