The Sibu postal votes drama: Opposing views

Joseph Sipalan (Malaysiakini)
DAP won the Sibu by-election, but conspiracy theorists claim that what transpired in the few hours before the final tally was announced could have changed the results.
In the dying minutes of the final count, the DAP’s Wong Ho Leng was leading by 2,651 votes ahead of SUPP candidate Robert Lau (right), after all 110 ballot boxes were counted with only the postal votes remaining.
The drama surrounding the release of the postal votes result was worthy of its own television series as DAP leaders and Election Commission officers argued and pointed fingers, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at one another.
And just so the SUPP didn’t feel left out, some DAP leaders raised suspicions that the local party and the EC were working in cahoots to rig the votes.
DAP Youth chief Anthony Loke said they had a lot of reasons to be suspicious, claiming inconsistencies in the signature of witnesses for at least a few hundred postal votes.
Fuelling further suspicions, Lau and his polling agents had parked themselves at the postal vote counting centre at Wisma Sanyan – about three kilometres from the main tally centre in Dewan Suarah – even before counting had begun.
“He stayed until the end. As it was, the counting itself started late, at around 6pm and finished around 8.30pm,” said Loke.
“The votes were packed into their boxes and were ready to be moved to the polling centre, but the RO (returning officer) was holed up with SPR officials in a room for two hours.
“We were told they were tabulating the figures. They kept on delaying and we got nervous because we were worried that there might be an attempt to fix the postal votes,” he said when contacted.
Showdown at Sanyan
The drama came to a head at around 10pm when an EC official named Ismail told EC workers to start bringing down the ballot boxes without issuing the Form 15, which is a standard requirement in any election to prove the final tally for postal votes had been completed.
“We verbally told them not to touch the boxes. That was when I called a chief inspector to take over the security situation,” said Loke, commending the swift police action in sending several officers up to tape off the area where the boxes were kept.
At this juncture, Loke said an EC official finally came up to show them the form, which he claimed had not been signed by polling agents from either DAP or SUPP.
“But we saw the figures and found we would still get the majority, we decided to leave (albeit) in protest,” he said, pointing out that by then he had lost track of time.
Back at the counting centre at Dewan Suarah, the postal votes arrived at around 10.30pm, and after it was included in the overall final tally, returning officer Wong See Meng announced Wong Ho Leng the winner with a 398-vote majority.
Based on the final figures released by the EC that night, SUPP received 2,323 out of the 2,827 total postal votes, while DAP got 70 and independent candidate Narawi Haron got 30. 208 postal votes were rejected and 190 unreturned.
EC blames DAP
SUPP Sibu information chief Daniel Ngieng however called the DAP’s antics “hooliganism”, echoing his Sibu chief Wong Soon Koh’s view that the DAP led an “unruly mob”.
“We are very surprised with the attitude of the DAP. We have to leave it to the EC to do their job. Everyone has to follow procedures.
“We cannot harass the election workers. They (the DAP) should know that Sarawakians are very mild people. I’m not complaining, but from what I observed, they are trying to be very aggressive.
“I’m not saying if something is not right, leave it alone… you can claim whatever you want, but at the end, the voters should be given the opportunity to exercise their rights,” he said when contacted.
The EC, particularly its chief Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof (right) on Monday denied DAP’s claims that the EC were delaying the postal vote count, pointing the finger back at the DAP for being the ones stalling the announcement.
The DAP Youth chief rubbished the accusation, explaining that they had good reason to stop the boxes from being moved, but the delay they caused was nowhere as long as the two hours the EC took to do the math.
“The boxes can only move once the official papers are out. We probably stalled it for around 20 minutes. There are only 11 ballot boxes, and it would take at the most 30 minutes to tabulate (all of them), but they took nearly two hours,” he said.
Ngieng has shrugged off Loke’s claims as paranoia.
“The last time they said the boxes cannot be kept at the police station because they would get short-changed, but all the boxes are sealed. Why worry?
“Even I myself am not too happy with how they (the EC) are so sticky with minor things, but that’s just how it is done.
“If I were petty, I would raise many things that the DAP have done, but at the end of it all, we just have to accept the results,” he said.