By-elections cost RM3m

The Malay Mail
THE Election Commission (EC) has spent about RM3.02 million to accommodate the seven by-elections that had taken place so far this year.
This was figure revealed to Malay Mail by EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof .

Topping the charts is the Manek Urai by-election in Kelantan on July 14 with a total expense of RM548,003, followed by Penanti in Penang on May 31 with RM514,600.
The third most expensive by-election this year was Penang’s Permatang Pasir on Aug 25, with a total of RM461,367. This was closely followed by the Bukit Gantang by-election in Perak, one of the three by-elections held simultaneously on April 7, with RM460,971. The third and fourth placing had a difference of a mere RM396.
The by-election in Batang Ai, Sarawak on April 7 cost the EC a total of RM391,700, making it the fifth most expensive. This was followed by the Kuala Terengganu by-election on Jan 17 which amounted to RM325,416.
The least expensive by-election held this year is Bukit Selambau in Kedah also on April 7, at a cost of RM318,000.
Abdul Aziz said that for State elections, the average amount spent by the EC averages about RM450,000 or RM500,000 at most.
Parliamentary elections would usually cost no more than RM600,000.
“The way I see it, there is good and bad in every situation, with the bad obviously being the cost factor.
“People are calling out for by-elections everywhere in the country so easily these days, but not many realise that you need to spend a lot of time, money and effort to prepare and coordinate things, especially with so many government departments being involved at the same time.”
It would also cost political parties a lot of expenditure as well, with money being spent on campaigning and deposits.
“If a by-election is organised because someone died and the seat became vacant, it’s fine. But like in the case of Bukit Selambau and Penanti, the representatives resigned. That actually makes the situation a lot harder,” said Abdul Aziz.
He said people need to understand that holding a by-election is no easy task. It takes a lot of manpower, time and money — resources that Malaysians consider to be quite limited right now.
“Politicians need to understand that they can’t just simply resign from their posts for the smallest of reasons. Although it is not against the law, it is morally wrong to do so.
“People elect you for a reason, because they believe in you, or at least they believe that you are capable enough to fight for their cause. So, it is morally wrong for you to resign from your post so easily because not only are you letting a lot of people down but it adds stress to the government as well.”
It was reported that the bulk of government expenses is used to deploy police personnel to maintain peace during the elections.
On this, Abdul Aziz said this could also be due to the changing trends of party supporters in showing their support on nomination and polling day.
“Ever since Pak Lah (Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) took over as Prime Minister in 2003, he introduced an ‘open concept’, promoting transparency.
“When people start to know more about their rights, they become more vocal in their grouses. This could also be the reason people these days tend to get into fights more easily.”
While all that is said and done, what would be the good thing about the many by-elections this year?
“I get a super fast-track training in my first term as EC chairman,” quipped Abdul Aziz.
New head hopes to improve things in EC
AFTER experiencing seven by-elections within a period of nine months this year, first term Election Commission chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof may have got the best practical training in election-coordinating anyone could ask for.
“It’s like that Chinese proverb – ‘tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand’.
“After going through seven by-elections this year, believe me, I understand,” he told Malay Mail, when met at his office in Putrajaya recently.
With a background in finance, security, training and education, Abdul Aziz seems to take his new job in his stride.
“I’m used to working under pressure. Having worked in many different government agencies, I’m used to dealing  with a wide ‘clientele’ of politicians, sultans, VIPs and public figures.
“Now that I’m in the EC, I’ve got a new set of clientele – political parties. To do this work well, you need to know how political parties work. What they strive for is to create perceptions,” he said.
With his last position being the secretary-general of the Home Ministry, this easygoing 56-year-old father-of-four from Sabak Bernam said he never expected that he would one day assume the post of EC chairman.
“I really didn’t see this coming. I was shocked when I got the call saying that I was to replace Rashid (former chairman Tan Sri Rashid Abdul Rahman) after his contract expired on Dec 30 last year.
“My own contract with the Home Ministry was expiring on Jan 24, but as I got the call before that, I had to terminate my contract with the ministry early after serving them for almost five years.”
In his career, Abdul Aziz had also served the Internal Security Ministry as secretary-general, Selangor State Secretary and as Malacca State Secretary. He had also been attached to the Public Service Department, the National Public Administration Department, the Department of Statistics as well as the Finance Ministry.
However, Abdul Aziz knows being chairman of the EC is no walk in the park.
“I hope to improve several things in the EC while I’m here, such as the postal voting concept. The current procedure for postal voting is so rigid. I have a plan to change the system to ‘advance voting’ concept, but some rules have to be amended before I can do so.”
Abdul Aziz is also considering the use of biometrics instead of indelible ink. Biometrics would see people  voting using their fingerprints via electronic scanners, a surefire way to prevent duplicate votes.
“I’m also looking into changing the current nomination day concept, so that fewer people need to come on nomination day. Maybe we’ll have different political parties to come on different days.
“One of the changing trends is that today’s party supporters would come in droves, aiming to use intimidation tactics on both the nomination and polling days.
“Not only would this inconvenience voters as they don’t have a clear path to walk, the police are also spending  so much money just to safeguard the supporters.”
On top of that, Abdul Aziz is also toying with the idea of online voter registration, particularly to cater to the younger generation.
“This can be considered as a youth outreach programme. Currently, there are 4.5 million eligible voters still unregistered. This is certainly too substantial an amount to neglect.”
Abdul Aziz said although he would try to do the best he can as EC chairman, he was resigned to the fact that there would always be some who won’t agree with him or his ways.
“I pride myself in being a fair and just person. But I know that whatever decision I make in the EC, there will always be people who’d challenge me, with the most frequently asked question starting with ‘why’.
“That is just part and parcel of the job, I guess.”