Election Commission should stop being an  ostrich hiding its head in the sand and own up courageously to its fundamental  flaws to seek the co-operation of all  political parties to do a better job of its constitutional mandate to conduct free, fair and clean elections

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(PenangWednesday):  The Election Commission should stop being an ostrich hiding its head in the sand and own up courageously to its fundamental flaws and seek the co-operation of all political parties to do a better job of its constitutional mandate to conduct free, fair and clean elections.

Election Commission Chairman Datuk Wira Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman yesterday accused me of “keterlaluan” in making various allegations against the Election Commission without proof.  (Berita Harian)

I would like to ask Rashid what are the criticisms which I had levelled against the Election Commission for failing its constitutional mandate to conduct free, fair and clean elections which he requires proof, and I am prepared to compile a full dossier of such substantiation for him.

I had in the past few days called on the Election Commission to stop wasting time and resources  on less essential and even trivial matters like poster/banner monitoring squads and focus on its primary constitutional duties to conduct free, fair and clean elections, and I stand by my criticisms.

Election Commission secretary Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar said on Saturday that an  election monitoring squad will be set up for each of the parliamentary constituencies to monitor polling day and campaigns during elections. 

The squad,  equipped with two four-wheel-drive vehicles,  would include commission officials, candidates and representatives from the police and local authorities, to  move around the constituency during the campaigning period to ensure all candidates adhere to the stipulated legislation and by-laws.    The  squad would be empowered to stop   any activity which contravenes the law and take  action against the offenders.  It would be  assigned to immediately remove banners or posters displayed at unauthorised areas and stop campaigners who give political speeches after the stipulated time. 

I have described this as one of  the most ridiculous proposals to come out of the Election Commission, not just because no candidate in any  election would be so free as to be tied down in such a squad but because of the Election Commission’s total misconstruction of its constitutional mandate and what should be its primary responsibilities.

Something is very wrong about the Election Commission’s  sense of priorities and its understanding of its constitutional mandate and responsibilities when  it regards posters and  banners as more important than the scandal of three million “phantom voters”  who represent some 30 per cent of the total registered electorate,  two million eligible voters but who are not on the electoral register and could not exercise their constitutional right to vote in an election, electoral abuses such as money politics, corrupt misuse of public resources and  unfair media.

I had outlined eight areas which deserve higher priority and immediate attention of the Election Commission than minor or trivial concerns like poster/banner monitoring squads, viz:

  1. Draw up a clean electoral roll, by removing the some three million “phantom” voters on the electoral roll in a six-month clean-up operation involving the co-operation of all political parties.  The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir and his deputy, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had said  that they have proof of  at least 2.8 million “phantom” voters.  It is a blot on the independence, professionalism and integrity of the Election Commission that some 30 per cent of the electoral roll of some 10 million voters are “phantom voters” with no residential or  work relationships with the constituency he or she is registered to vote and it is not prepared to do anything about it.
  1. Ensure a comprehensive and inclusive electoral roll with the highest possible percentage of eligible voters on the electoral register. Wan Ahmad said there are 1.5 million Malaysians aged between 21 and 30 who had yet to register as voters.  Together with eligible voters above 30 years who have not registered as voters, there are easily some two million voters in the country  who have not registered themselves on the electoral roll. This is most outrageous.  The Election Commission should aim to register at least 90 per cent of the two  million unregistered voters in the next six months.  Furthermore, in the era of information technology, there is just no acceptable excuse why an eligible voter who registers at least one month before the polling day could not  cast his or her vote in the next general election – when in New Zealand a voter could vote in a general election after registration 24 hours before the polling day.
  1. Ensure fair, free and clean election, as providing for meaningful monitoring of the voting process with regard to postal ballots by interested  candidates and political parties in all police and defence establishments used as polling stations.
  1. Prohibit unfair, dishonest and one-sided media coverage, whether print , radio or television during the election campaigns, so that the “below-the-belt” and unethical cartoons, write-ups, broadcasts  and telecasts  and the “fear and scare” advertisements against the Opposition  in the 1999 general election would be things of the past.
  1. Prohibit money politics, not only by candidates but also by political parties, and their excessive election expenditures.
  1. Prohibit abuse of government resources and funds during election campaigns.
  1. A Code of Conduct spelling out the do’s and don’ts of a caretaker government after dissolution of Parliament.
  1. The execution of “Akujanji” by the Election Commission Chairman, members and officers to conduct free, fair and clean elections; uphold and protect the independence, professionalism and integrity of the Election Commission and ensure ethical conduct as restraining serving personnel from accepting national or state awards, titles or other conferments which could compromise their independence, credibility and legitimacy.

There is an important ninth item to ensure an independent and credible Election Commission but this is outside the powers and jurisdiction  of the Election Commission.  As warned by  University Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (Ikmas) after a two-year study,  the Malaysian  electoral system and the Election Commission are facing a grave crisis of credibility,  legitimacy and confidence, and topping the list of its urgent major reforms is the discontinuance of civil service appointees to the Election Commission with  the post of Chairman and commissioners filled by leading public figures from diverse backgrounds such as judiciary, academia, relevant professional bodies and former senior diplomats. 

Rashid can also refer to Election Watch reports on the previous general elections for more documentation on the failures of the Election Commission to carry out its primary constitutional responsibility to conduct free, fair and clean elections, for instance, the Interim Report of the 1999 Malaysian General Election by Malaysian Citizens’ Election Watch which cast grave doubts on the ability of the Election Commission to conduct free, fair and clean elections. 

The Election Commission should also stop playing favourites between ruling and opposition parties, when it should treat all political parties equally.   Why should the Election Commission be meeting the ruling parties today and Opposition parties tomorrow when it should be meeting all political parties, whether ruling or opposition, together in the same meeting to discuss its  three proposals to be tabled at the next parliamentary meeting, including its  “Akujanji” proposal for candidates and political parties?


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman