Unfair early voting is as bad as unfair ordinary voting!
Press release (21-5-2011)
It is not enough to have early but could be unfair elections!
MEO-Net (Malaysian Election Observers Network) welcome long overdue changes to the Malaysian postal voting system which has been criticized for being seriously incompatible with free and fair elections. MEO-Net call upon the Election Commission (SPR) to conduct an open hearing on the new changes which will convert most of the postal voting to early voting and limit the current postal voting practice to military personnel who are posted to hard-to-reach borders and those serving overseas- together with other civil servants working out of the country.
MEO-Net’s call for an open hearing is based on a number of serious concerns about the current practice of postal voting and if the new changes can be optimized to nullify any negative perceptions about the new system. The first issue is about the context of this changes mooted by the EC chief Tan Sri Abdul Aziz, where there were high number –close to 200 each , of unreturned and spoilt votes which persisted in the 2 by-elections in East Malaysia ie Sibu and Batu Sapi. It had been observed that the unreturned and spoilt votes in the Sibu by-election combined equal to the winning margin of the DAP candidate. EC at that time blamed that the comparatively much more complicated way to cast postal votes also open the ways for these postal ballots to be challenged.
Postal voting involve the filling of 2 forms –one for identification and another the ballot paper itself, each to be sealed in separate envelop after the vote is marked. The 2 envelops will then be sealed again in another bigger envelop before it is put inside a postal bag used for collecting all the envelopes. Left unexplored in the media is: postal ballots can be taken out of the polling station in the police and military base and cast a few days later–unlike ordinary voting where casting of ballot need to be done at the same polling station at the same time that the ballot is issued. This latter difference is what gives rise to perceptions of possible frauds where the postal ballots can be collected by non-voters where the actual voters had been ordered to go on duty outside the police or military camp. Alternatively the postal ballots which were taken out can be traded to some party agents for a fee.
In the above speculated but possible scenarios the ballots and identification forms will be filled in, marked and signed by person other than the actual voter-in total violation of the fundamental principle that voting can only be a voter’s own choice made with his/her hand(except in the case of writing-challenged voter). Whether this had been done or not there is no way to monitor it since the police and military run postal voting stations are not subjected to the same level of scrutiny as the ordinary EC-run polling stations are.
What can happen may well have happened, especially in public perception. This, together with the 1-sided voting pattern from postal voters, is what gave a bad, fraud-prone impression to postal voting. The perception is also reinforced by the hundreds of objected postal ballots and identification forms where the signatures of the voters and witnesses seems to be mass-produced by a few hands!
If these voters-or the bulk of them, are made to vote under an early voting system –with all else following the normal management of SPR run polling station-including transferring the management to EC staff, a big part of the problems can be solved. But not all.
What are solved are: the voters need to, and seen to take the ballot and vote individually and on the spot, without having to fill in a 2nd form for identification. The rooms for objections on account of dodgy signatures of the `voter’ and witnesses are eliminated-to the satisfaction of the EC.
What are not solved: the police and military personnel are still kept away from campaigning by all candidates except the incumbent parties who can and do take advantage of their ministerial positions to enter the police and military camps for campaigning purposes. Worse, as public servants, they are also indoctrinated by Biro Tata Negara as well as politicians that civil servants should support the government of the day-which is taken to mean that they must support the ruling-or more exactly, the incumbent parties. This arguably caused the police and military dominated postal voters to overwhelmingly vote for the incumbent parties, in clear deviation from the voting pattern of the rest of the voting public. This, argue the critics, have been intended to unfairly make these postal voters the `fixed deposits’ of the ruling parties.
To address this problem and to avoid compromising the security of the police and military quarters there could be EC sponsored debates among the candidates in a certain constituency where all police and military personnel are obligated to attend and to raise their issues as voters to the candidates. The attendance need to be mandatory since otherwise the partisan police or military superiors may order their subordinates to stay away from the debate! Similarly the campaign material of all candidates should be able to reach all voters inside the police and military camps/bases.
If these proposed changes appear to deliver freer and fairer elections for these early voters than the ordinary voters ie they make the elections focused on policy and capability competition- as elections should be, then the EC should probably consider institutionalizing candidates debates as a general upgrade of Malaysian election operation.
In this way much of the complaint of the postal votes being unfair can be resolved to the satisfaction of all sides and competitive elections can be extended to all voters .
It should be noted that in the cases of real postal voters they are dispersed all over the world and the chances of them being kept to one side of the campaign or their ballots being collected in any central locations, are much less.
The effort by the EC to take back the management of the polling station for the postal voters-if confirmed, should be complimented as this is a courageous effort which return all the election management to the proper and sole authority mandated by the Federal Constitution to run elections, ie the EC itself. The previous arrangement where the police and the military run the postal voting station by themselves has been an aberration –but seldom challenged.
When the postal votes are restored to its actual position to serve voters who are away from their home/registered constituency then those who had been denied the service thus far ie the public who are working overseas or even out of town within the country, should be allowed to enjoy the postal voting service so that these huge voting community-which include tens of thousands of East Malaysians, can exercise their Constitutionally guaranteed right to vote for the first time in history. Currently only full time students studying overseas and civl servants/diplomats serving overseas, and a small group of Malaysians allowed by EC’s discretionary power (spouses of the military and police, EC’s polling clerks), and are allowed postal voting service.
MEO-Net was started in 2009 to link up civil society organizations involved in election observation and voter education. Currently it has 6 network members. MEo-Net members are experienced in local and international election observation.
Enq. 013-5900339 (Ong BK, spokeperson, MEO-Net)