10 January 2011 -Released in Sarawak
Malaysian Election Observers Network (MEO-Net) – Sarawak State Election Observation Mission
Sarawak Central Region Friendship Association
We, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections 2.0 (BERSIH 2.0) and the undersigned civil society organisations (CSOs) in Sarawak, call upon the Election Commission, the Federal and State Governments and other relevant parties to implement the following reforms.
1. Increased Outreach of National Registration Department (NRD) and Election Commission (EC) – Disenfranchisement is a major issue in Sarawak as substantial percentage of Sarawakians are not registered as voters and even citizens because of insufficient documentation. The Federal agencies like National Registration Department (NRD) and Election Commission (EC) should expand and enhance their outreach to ensure maximum registration of citizens and voters. In particular, we call for:
a. The NRD to have at least one mobile unit for each of Sarawak’s 11 divisions.
b. all rural settlements are visited by them at least once a year.
c. Besides the Kuching state headquarters, the EC to set up an office in every of Sarawak’s 11 divisions.
d. The Sarawak divisions of both NRD and EC to be led by Sarawakians and maximise employment of Sarawakians to provide more locally-informed and friendly service.
2. Automatic Registration and related reforms. Democratic elections must be based on universal suffrage. That 4.2 million eligible citizens are still unregistered is a failure of democracy. The current voter registration drives are hampered by insufficient number of assistant registrars of voters and slow and non-transparent processing of new applications.
To make the matters worse, the existing electoral rolls contain many deceased voters, fraudulent registrations and other errors, which may be largely solved if the Election Commission (EC) and the National Registration Department (NRD) can synchronise their data bases. In particular, we call for:
a. As a temporary measure, appointment of more assistant registrars of voters from amongst non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and local government nominees, not just representatives of political parties.
b. As a temporary measure, an online tracking system that allows new applicants to check the progress of their application of voter registrations.
c. Automatic registration that allows all eligible citizens to vote as per their status on NRD database.
d. The lowering of voting age from 21 to 18 in line with the global and regional trend.
3. Absentee Voting Reform. The existing arrangement of postal voting is flawed in three ways. Firstly, it is imposed on military voters and in practice also police voters, who vote in a setting that may compromise their freewill and confidentiality and who are in practice treated as BN’s “fixed deposit” to tip off the balance in BN’s marginal constituencies. Secondly, it is available as an option to only: (a) civil servants and spouse overseas; (b) tertiary students and spouses overseas; (c) election workers; and not others away from home temporary, including East Malaysians visiting West Malaysia. Thirdly, while voters on ordinary voter list can apply to vote on postal ballot, those on postal voter list – like students or diplomats returning to Malaysia for holidays – cannot vote in ordinary polling stations and will be disenfranchised. We call for the following reforms:
a. In principle, absentee voting is an option available to all but mandatory to none.
b. There is only a single voting list, where everyone with a reasonable ground may apply to vote on postal ballot three weeks before polling day; so that no absentee voters can be identified before election and transferred across constituencies.
c. To ease administration of absentee voting, polling should be held at least three weeks after nomination is closed.
4. Increased access and protection for rural voters. Many native Sarawakians do not vote because of the distance from the polling stations. Meanwhile, transportation of ballot boxes to counting centre by helicopters triggers concern whether the ballots may be tampered. To increase access and protection for rural voters, we call for
a. presiding officers, to be accompanied by political parties’ polling agents, to bring ballot boxes to far remote villages.
b. ballots to be counted in all polling stations before ballot boxes being transferred to the counting centres to avoid any possible rigging in the process of transportation.
5. Removal of Fraudulently-Naturalised Foreigners. A Royal Commission of Inquiry should be set up to investigate and rectify fraudulent naturalisation of foreigners in Sarawak and Sabah.
6. Nomination Reform. The requirement and process of nomination should be simplified to encourage contestation. In particular, we call for
a. Reduction of deposit for both federal and state elections
b. A nomination period of one week.
7. Media Freedom. We call for thorough reform of all media-related laws to produce a pluralistic and competitive media environment in the long run. In the short run, we call for
a. Free access to state-owned media for all contesting parties, which may take the form of televised debates and radio/television advertisement.
b. Non-discriminatory access to private media for all contesting parties.
c. Rights of reply for all candidates and party officials who are reported negatively.
8. Political finance. Contemporary democratic elections are expensive but this should not leave elections a game of the rich, either as candidates or their financial backers. The current regulation has failed to promote transparency and inclusion. We call for the following reforms:
a. Mandatory disclosure of all contributions in cash, in kind and in labour, and severe penalty for both the recipients and donors.
b. Party to be made a unit of accounting alongside the candidate in election expense accounting,
c. Public provision of campaign materials from collective leaflets to collective billboard for all contestants, making it more viable for resource-poor candidates to campaign.
9. Promotion of Administrative Neutrality and Criminalisation of Discriminatory Practices. Elections are meaningless without level playing fields. State agencies, individual citizens, groups and corporations must not be allowed to discriminate against any contestants and undermine free and fair elections. The Election Offences Act should be amended or replaced by a new act to
a. Prohibit the caretaker government at both federal and state levels to announce any major policy decisions, in the exception of emergencies, from dissolution of legislature to the swearing-in of the new government.
b. Criminalise all federal and state officials who intentionally abuse government resources and power to promote or undermine certain candidates or parties in an election.
c. Criminalise discriminatory practices by individual citizens, groups, business entities that aim to undermine level playing fields in elections, such as refusal to sell fuel and other goods and services to certain political parties and candidates.
10. Election Observation – Election monitoring is vital to deter election rigging and enhance the legitimacy of elected governments. Unfortunately there have not been international election observation missions in Malaysia since 1990 while domestic election watchdogs like MAFREL are subject to restrictions and obstructions. Specifically, we propose and call for:
a. The Election Commission (EC) to accredit international and domestic election observation missions liberally and professionally for all future elections including the upcoming Sarawak state election.
b. The international community to request Malaysia and Sarawak governments to observe the upcoming Sarawak state election and the federal election.
c. The EC to propose the establishment of the legal right of election monitoring.
d. ASEAN to establish a regional level election monitoring mechanism.
11. Community and local elections. Elections should be expanded beyond the existing federal and state elections to enhance representation. At the community level this will minimise the incidences of these community leaders being utilised as tools by the government of the day to secure votes for the ruling coalition. In Sarawak, many state-government-appointed tuai rumah have split small rural communities as these leaders are not the ones recognised by the villagers in general.
In particular, we demand:
a. That the community leaders from tuai rumah, penghulu, pemancar to temenggung to be directly elected by their community in accordance with their cultural traditions and not selected by the state government.
b. That there be a third-tier elected government, modelling cabinet governments at federal and state levels, for cities/municipalities and divisions (excluding urban centres).
12. Fair and reasonable constituency redelineation. Elections must be based on the one-person-one-vote principle and aim to optimise representation and aggregation of community interests. The Election Commission (EC) must commit to maximally equal representation and minimisation of gerrymandering. In particular, we demand the following principles be adopted to the following principles in the constituency redelineation exercise for Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah which may begin this March and the one for Sarawak in two years’ time the earliest:
c. That the largest state constituency in a state must not be larger than half of the smallest parliamentary constituency in the same state.
d. That electoral constituencies must cross the boundaries of local authorities and divisions.
e. That the demarcation of a local authority area or division into parliamentary and state constituencies must group communities of similar interests together.
f. That local neighbourhoods must not be arbitrarily partitioned by electoral boundaries.