Election Offences Act amendments – BN attempt to steal GE 13

Last Thursday, the BN government and their cohorts the SPR clearly demonstrated in unequivocal terms their intent to steal GE 13. They presented a bill to amend the Election Offences Act 1954 to further restrict scrutiny of the voting process by representatives of political parties and make the system more amenable to manipulation.
The original changes proposed included the following:
a. removing the right of political parties to set up booths to assist voters establish their names on the electoral roll and saluran numbers identity of voters before going into polling stations ( called “pondok panas” ) [ section (26)(1)(e) ]
b. removing the right of political parties to have representatives observing the process in the SPR booths inside polling stations ( Barung SPR ) where voters check their names and get their saluran numbers etc [section 26A]
c. amending section 14 (1A) so that the SPR would dictate the time of arrival and departure of polling and counting agents of candidates at polling stations. The current law provided for polling and counting agents to arrive at the time decided by the political parties as long as they stayed at the polling stations for at least 2 hours.
The net effect of these changes would have been to greatly reduce the current scrutiny of the voting process.
Pakatan Rakyat MPs put up strenuous objections to the amendments. Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim warned the BN in the closing words of his speech on Thursday morning that these new provisions would be defied by the opposition even if passed by the BN. He said that Pakatan Rakyat would not give up the established rights under the law which aided transparency in the process.
The BN in the afternoon of Thursday then presented fresh amendments to the Bill backing down on (a) and (c) above restoring the status quo.  However they used their brute majority in the House to ram through the amendment removing party representatives observing the process in the SPR Barung.
Opposition MPs argued to no avail that the SPR Barung was initiated by the BN by amendments in 2003 to assist voters to get their electoral and saluran numbers and had been implemented in the 2004 and 2008 elections without any issues. The lame justification put forward by the BN and the SPR was that “this causes difficulties to the election workers”. When asked for reports of such “difficulties” none were cited.
Another controversial amendment pushed through was the removal of section 11(1)(c) requiring all printed material during campaign to bear the name of the publisher and printer. Removal of the onerous requirement of naming the printer all the time would have improved the provision as was argued by PR MPs.  However removing it all together has opened the door to a dirtier election where all sorts of defamatory or inflammatory material could be put out without anyone taking responsibility for them.
What was apparent was that the BN and SPR were not interested in presenting the necessary amendments to the law to implement KEY recommendations by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform. Nothing had been done for example on key issues such as access to the media and the question of how a caretaker government. Even the regulations to implement “early voting” which was to replace the so-called postal voting system for army personnel, their spouses and police personnel were not presented to Parliament by the last day of the sitting leaving open the question of whether the BN and SPR were going to implement this key change for GE 13.
These legislative moves by the BN and SPR on Thursday made it clear that their real intent was to make the electoral process less transparent and easier to manipulate. It is clear that BERSIH 3.0 is needed even more than before. BERSIH’s demand that the key recommendations of the PSC report must be implemented before GE 13 is central to a free and fair election.
The Election Commission must resign for the legislative fiasco they caused in Parliament on Thursday and for their intransigence in implementing the PSC report and BERSIH demands.
Sivarasa Rasiah
Ahli Parlimen Subang
Majlis Pimpinan Pusat dan Biro Politik Parti Keadilan Rakyat
22hb April 2012