The Malaysian Election Commission occasionally come out to defend itself-but the systemic weaknesses disallow it to go out of the way to fulfil its role to run election freely and fairly. We provide some point-by-point rebuttal to the statement made by the EC chief purportedly to `come clean’ below:
EC comes clean
(Wed, 26 Jan 2011)
The Election Commission is criticised each time there is an election. EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof tells HUSNA YUSOP of the intricacies involved in ensuring voter identity and the need for citizens to do their part.
How long does it take for the Election Commission to update the electoral roll?
Before 2002, under the law then, the registration of voters was limited to between 21 and 42 days a year but now after amendments, citizens can register throughout the year.
Comment: to register and get registered are 2 different things. You can register all through the year-but you can’t get registered all through the year!
But for the purpose of checking, we have to verify with the NRD (National Registration Department). So, for the purpose of checking and for the purpose of display, any amendments to the existing voters roll and any information on new voters must be checked first whether the information is correct or not. We have to verify with the registration department. That takes time. That’s number one.
Comment: Non sense-NRD records are now on-line. It is only a click on the mouse to check any individual’s details. Technically it does take `time’ as claimed -since 1-2 min is also time!
Number two, after everything is verified, corrected and so on, we display the rolls for one week. The purpose is to allow voters in that area to object. They can say this person does not live there. I have not seen him in the area. This is not his house. They can object and pay RM10 to the state director within a week. Anyone, be it police personnel or soldiers, they are subject to objection from local residents.
The list is displayed in public places including post offices and multipurpose halls. So if you are serious about registration of voters, you check. Complain. Object. But you have to pay RM10 because we don’t want you to simply object.
Comment: the intention to allow for public scrutiny is somehow not reflected by EC’s move to remove the display from its web site-thus denying on-line checking! Why are they scared of such checking?
After the objection period we will call for an inquiry headed by the state election director. We will call and ask why you object. We will call both the voters and the ones who objected. Then we will discuss the matter. If there is proof you have a house there or you do come back there from time to time, it will be approved. Otherwise, your name will be rejected. This is how transparent it is. That takes time.
Comment: the EC is misleading the public here-a voter can only be legally registered according to the address on the IC-whether he/she stays there or not. This is the legal requirement. Objection of non-residence cannot over-ride the IC addrress in registering a voter.
We can register as voters throughout the year but for purposes of administration, checking, and display, we divide it into quarters. Every three months. But for example, if we take from January to March, we take about a month after that to verify, say in the first week of April. Then it is displayed in April. By May we can gazette it. Next, one is confirmed a voter. But the longest it takes is five months, if not four months. We cannot think if we register today we can vote tomorrow. We have to check,we have to give others a chance to object or agree.
Comment: 2 big problems here not mentioned by the EC chief:1. Many countries can allow all year round registration-including being registered on a year round basis. In at least 5 states in the US -which practice the same system of voluntary voter registration in oppose to automatic registration, allow same day registration and voting! Many countries take much less time to register a voter-Malaysia’s EC probably is the champion in taking 4-5 months to register a voter! That does not take into consideration of voters forms which are left unattended after they are being submitted by the Assistant Registrars-as found out by interior voters in Sarawak recently!
2. When election come the EC do speed up voter registration without announcement! Eg In Batu Sapi by-election the voters roll was updated to Oct 9th and sold to public on Oct 22nd(and polling was nov 4th)-thus some voters there were registered on a super-fast track basis! Did they do all the EC chief mentioned to check, exhibit, allow objections etc according to their announcement? How could the electoral roll be gazetted according to normal procedures if the time was so short-a mere 13 days?
Checking is not easy, sometimes the address is wrong. Changes are not only made to names, sometimes they change addresses, gender or locality. All these are allowed. And this information will be keyed into the commission’s database. This database and that of NRD must be identical.
Isn’t four months a long time?
Four months is not that long. If we do it in haste, banyak silap (many mistakes). This is much better than before. We want to shorten it perhaps to two months or even one month.
In Malaysia, once we have registered as a voter nobody can delete our name from the electoral roll.
Comment: at least 2 names have been found to be deleted due to the NRD mistakenly changed their status to being dead! There are numerous other cases found in every election. The EC should update their roll or go for automatic registration that depend on the more professional NRD staff!
What about voters who have died?
Even when a voter has died, the commission cannot delete the voter’s name unless it gets evidence which is the death certificate from NRD.
Comment: a court of law can accept the burial certificate from the police, death certificate from hospital and doctors and other credible evidences for a person’s death. Why do the EC insist on only the NRD’s death certificate?
How can one register as a voter?
There are many places you can register at. It is easiest at the post office. It just takes three minutes. Bring your IC or an official document with your picture.
Comment: these places are very far away in the most part of Sarawak’s interior-so they are not accessible to the average citizen there. As a result over half of the interior citizens are denied their vote! Eg Batang Ai-resident: 22 000; registered voters; 8000. The EC seems to be ignoring the plight of these bumiputra and violation of their citizens’ voting rights.
Three months is not long but don’t wait until the last minute. If the election is in February next year, don’t wait until January to register.
Citizens can also register through political parties, NGOs and at government offices.
Comment: Only very select NGOs are appointed as Assistant Registrars-those who are willing and able to do so are not appointed, while those who never show interests are appointed. Why?
How do you tackle the misperception that the delay in updating the roll is politically motivated?
There is nothing political. The prime minister doesn’t call me and say, Aziz, do this, do that. Never – these are just perceptions created by the political parties – when it does not fit them, then they say EC plays politics, if not, they say EC is very good.
Comment: there were 680 000 new applicants who applied for 9 months ahead of the 1998 general elections, who were not registered because the BN thought that they would not vote BN-being mostly young citizens. This is clearly politically motivated-so is the long term unwillingness to register more than half of the Sarawakians staying in the interior.
Why three months to confirm registered voters?
This is to ensure accuracy and transparency – nothing political. Not that BN asked us to – no. The only ones who can order me around are members of the panel – but everyone can give me suggestions.
Comment: there are many countries which register voters much faster than Malaysia-and they have very updated and accurate electoral roll in terms of registration rate and deleting dead voters. Only inefficient and politically motivated bureaucracy cannot manage to register voters efficiently. There is such a thing called `voter suppression’ practiced by less than democratic minded regime to keep their unpopular power-especially with the youth.
Postal voting… party agents often raise
Who is on the panel?
The EC panel is made up of seven people, including myself – there is no BN or PM or the DPM. The problem is a perception has been created so that people do not believe the EC.
Comment: the EC’s commissioners are not a panel with credibility as they are mainly retiring civil servants with little background in administering democratic elections. Eg the current EC chief cannot even cope with the `cumbersome’ postal votes designed by his predecessors! In other countries legal experts, neutral retired judges, academics etc are tapped to be Election Commissioners to ensure free and fair elections. The current commissioners have all thier life serve under the ruling politicians -how to expect them to rule against their superiors?
Why do updated electoral rolls still include the names of dead voters?
Once a citizen registers as a voter, it cannot be erased by anyone. Once a voter dies, the next of kin must inform NRD and EC. But most of the time, when someone dies, no one comes forward to inform us.
Before any by-election, we do as much as we can to ensure that the voters on the roll are alive. I once told the director of NRD, if there are voters who are more than 120, 140 or 150 years old, then they should be considered dead. But under the law we cannot do that.
Comment: the EC should be more pro-active to clean up the roll especially of the dead voters. The dead voters can allow others to impersonate them to vote fraudulently. The EC should just adopt more flexible but no less accurate approach to ascertain a voters’ death.
What about verifying the identity of the voter?
According to my experience, voters who are 80 and above normally do not turn up to vote. But nobody can use their IC as we check.
Sometimes their faces are alike, so I decided to check the thumbprint – I have used it for immigration, for police – we want to verify the documents. Once we have verified the MyKad, we have to verify the bearer’s thumbprint.
But if they bring someone else’s card, then the bearer must verify.
There have been no reports made of people using other people’s ICs – these are just malicious accusations.
Comment: if there were cases of impersonation there is no way to check them, which explain why there were no cases identified. In an average polling station there is no facilities to check a voters’ thumbprint, though the EC chief’s reply seems to imply that there is. Our voter identification procedure is too relax and narrowly based on the Mykad. in Philippines there are photos of the voter to allow facial check on the spot.
There have been accusations that EC officers allowed people other than the bearer of the IC to vote?
No way anyone can vote using someone else’s IC. But if someone makes a report, then the police can arrest and charge him.
Will the biometric system be used?
It will take time and there are a lot of costs involved.
Will Malaysia do away with postal voting?
Postal voting is for absent voters – those on duty at the border or have to be somewhere else out of necessity. So we do it differently – we call it postal voting. Last time, it was done at post offices – but nowadays many post offices are not open on Sundays and public holidays. So we have to set up our own voting centres.
Comment: the EC Chief is misleading the public-the postal voters are mostly voters who are not posted to the borders. All police and military personnel and their spouse are forced to vote by postal vote-whether they are really posted away from their polling center or not. This seems intended to stop them frm being approached by the Opposition to spread their campaign material to these voters-who, partly due to this, are always strong supporters of the incumbent parties. While this make a mockery of postal voting as practiced all over the world the real Malaysians who work out station from their polling centre eg overseas, are denied the postal/absentee vote. There is a law allowing absentee vote-but no administrative mechanism to enable over 1 million citizens in such situation to exercise their vote! This is shameful and remind one of the notorious `voter suppression’ as practiced in some anti-democratic countries.
Why do postal vote results tend to be delayed?
The results of postal votes are normally delayed because the observers who complain about the votes which are attached wrongly – no cooking or cheating there.
When we count, the party agent is there – so we ask one by one when we count the votes. Then only we count the votes, then we fill in the form and we send to the centre. The ballot box content must match with the ballot papers allocated for it. No way we can add or minus (ballots).
Same goes for postal votes – the problem is that there are too many objections from party agents – they say that the votes are biased to the government – but as was shown in Negri Sembilan when Ruslan Karim stood for in a by-election, the postal votes were for the opposition candidate.
The postal voters vote just like other voters and only the postal voter’s spouse can vote by post if they are staying in the same place.
Comment: the EC side step the cause of the political bias of the postal votes-he give 1 exception to try to cover up the truth that postal votes overwhelmingly favour the ruling party. Why? The reason is simply that only BN can campaign in the police and military posts/camps. This is unfair. There are so many suspected frauds in postal voting -eg different signatures are used by the same person to witness for numerous postal voters -did the supposed witness even vote for them? Then the postal ballot can be brought back home before casting-opening opportunities of vote buying/selling. The EC is losing credibility each day they pretend not to see these blatant biases which are against international norms and local sensibility!
Why do official and unofficial results differ so much?
Not really. Every hour the media call and we give them the latest figures. Normally, the official and unofficial results are not very different.
As in Khairy Jamaluddin’s case, the postal votes came later. So that affected the results very much. In Hulu Selangor, the postal votes were also the determiner but as they had to go through networks and procedure, it took time to arrive.
But I have made it a point that the postal votes come early just like many other countries – advance voting as in Thailand and Iraq – so there would not be many technical mistakes.
I hope during the next general election, all postal votes can be made by advance voting.
EC cannot rush things –we have to do everything properly.
What about indelible ink?
Indelible ink cannot be used as we found that it can be erased.
Under the law, no one can be prevented from voting. But the law states that even those with ink on their hands cannot be stopped.
We have 11 million voters and we have the identification cards – no need for ink. In places like India and Bangladesh, many voters are without proper addresses.
Comment: many countries use indelible ink without too much hassles-why Malaysia has such problems? The countries involved have not found significant occurrence of voters who clean their ink and vote again. Another point where the EC mislead the public: over 1/3 of Malaysian voters’ address have no house number. This is no better than many other poorer countries. So indelible ink is needed going by this argument alone! If there are legal obstacle-the EC can always recommend for the laws to be changed to facilitate indelible ink, as done in other countries.
What about voters who stay in one place and vote in another?
We look at the address on the IC – our estimate is that 60% of the voters do not stay at the address stated on the ICs. Many just move without changing the address – the Home Ministry states that if you are staying at an address for more than three months, you should make that your address but many do not change.
We cannot force people to change their addresses – they are eligible voters even if they stay at another place. We can only advise people.
You can only change your voting place after you change the address on the IC. Before 2002 amendments to the constitution, the voting place was not according to the IC address but after 2002, we follow the IC address.