Opposition slams EC’s ‘cosmetic’ reforms

By Neville Spykerman (Malaysian Insider)
KUALA LUPMUR, Dec 30 – The Election Commission’s (EC) proposed reforms – a 24-hour cooling off period prior to polling day and three-day nomination period – got mixed reviews from politicians today.
Both recommendations are aimed at preventing violence and chaos during elections.
EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd, who was quoted in today’s Utusan Malaysia, said the proposals are being studied carefully before they are tabled in Parliament next year.
MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said the party must study the recommendations in greater detail but in his opinion, they are unnecessary.
“The present rules are all running well. If a small minority wants to create trouble, a cooling period won’t work anyway.”
Currently the cooling off period starts from midnight of polling day while nominations have a two-hour objection period.
According to the EC this has led to clashes, during nine previous by-elections, when supporters from both parties arrive in droves in a show of force.
Chua, however, said he was not convinced that there was a need for a three-day nomination period adding that the current rules were just fine.
Umno’s Datuk Seri Dr Khir Toyo said he fully supported the EC recommendations.
The Selangor Opposition leader said he made the same suggestions in his blog over a year ago.
“I believe too much time and resources are being spent on crowd control during nominations.”
Besides the police, personnel from the Federal Reserve Unit and District Office have to be on standby, said Khir.
He said there would be less chaos and cost if parties were allowed to nominate their candidates on separate days before the EC declares who is eligible.
DAP’s Tony Pua said it’s impractical for EC staff to wait three days for nominations but points out the process could be divided between the morning and afternoon to keep supporters from both sides from meeting.
“As for the extended cooling off period, I don’t believe it can work.”
The PJ Utara MP points out that currently campaigning is still being carried out over the Internet or via short text messaging (SMS).
“News never stops and you cannot prevent people from campaigning via mobile phones, Youtube or e-mail.”
He also thinks the reforms are not necessary and added the EC should concentrate on cleaning up the electoral roll, ensuring fair and balanced coverage for both the government and Opposition in the mainstream media.
PKR’s election director Saifuddin Nasution said the proposals were not new.
The Machang MP said Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders who met the EC prior to the Penanti by-election had already raised both proposals.
“These are not real reforms, but cosmetic changes.”
Like Pua, he said the EC should clean up the electoral roll because issues, such as dead voters or voters who are registered in two different constituencies, keep cropping up.
“As for postal voters, the EC currently waits for the military to inform them when a soldiers retires, which takes as long as a year before names are removed from the electoral roll.”
More importantly, the EC should ensure fair reporting for all parties in the press he said.
“Our neighbours such as Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines are ahead of us because their newspapers give fair coverage to all parties but over here the EC says it’s not their responsibility.”
Saifudin adds the EC should also use permanent ink to stop individuals from voting twice.
The system was nearly implemented in the last general election but was called off four days before polling day.
Saifudin said the Inspector-General of Police, Attorney-General and Election Commissioner, in a joint press conference, said three men were arrested for trying to sabotage the system.
“However, subsequently in Parliament then-Home Minister Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar denied anyone was arrested while the ink, purchased at a cost of RM2 million, was destroyed.”
He adds the EC should strive to be independent and ensure incumbent politicians do not use government machinery for campaigning.