By Jacqueline Ann Surin
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians for Free and Fair Elections (Mafrel) chairman Abd Malek Hussin and several other coordinators have withdrawn as Election Commission (EC)-accredited polls observers, to protest the EC’s sudden decision to scrap the use of indelible ink in the March 8 polls.
“In order to defend the principle of a free and fair elections, and to protect Mafrel’s integrity and credibility, I am withdrawing as an accredited observer for so long as the EC’s decision is not reviewed,” he told a press conference at the Jamaah Islah Malaysia headquarters here on March 5.
His announcement came a day after EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman said indelible ink will not be used in the 12th general election after all. According to the New Straits Times (NST), he cited two reasons: possible security breach following police investigations into reports that some people have smuggled in indelible ink; and election laws like the Election Offences Act 1954 will have to be amended before the ink can be used without its legality being challenged by voters.
Citing several examples of voters with the same name and year of birth being registered as voters in numerous locations, especially in hotly-contested states, Abd Malek said there was cause for concern that multiple voting by the same individual could happen even if the evidence was not conclusive.
“Based on our monitoring, this 12th general election will be exposed to voter impersonation and multiple voting by one individual that can only be checked and prevented, in the short term, through the use of indelible ink,” he said.
Noting that indelible ink was used in other countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Afghanistan to mark the voter’s finger, Abd Malek said the measure was internationally acknowledged as an effective and cheap way to prevent voter impersonation and multiple voting, which is a crime under Section 7 of the Election Offences Act 1954.
Mafrel coordinator for the northern region Ong Boon Keong claimed that double voting was likely to happen in the elections but the EC was not replacing the indelible ink measure with another solution, nor had it conducted popular consultation before deciding to scrap the measure just four days before the polls.
“Free and fair elections are at stake,” he said. He added that the EC’s reasons for scrapping the use of indelible ink were unconvincing and led Mafrel to believe that the EC was under external pressure.
Malaysiakini.com reported Kamaruzaman as saying: “It’s very unfortunate. We had all intended to use the ink until this matter (police report) came up.”
He said the EC was convinced the alleged sabotage was an issue but only the police could provide more information.
In the NST report, Kamaruzaman said the EC would dispose of the indelible ink (which cost RM2.4 million) through barter trade but did not say what it would be traded for.
Rashid had described the use of indelible ink as an “archaic” measure before, when the use of indelible ink was being considered last year (2007). Despite this, the EC eventually did decide in mid-2007 to introduce the translucent ballot box and indelible ink in this general election, in an effort to appease critics who are worried there could be irregularities in the electoral process.
Mafrel: No reason to scrap ink completely
Abd Malek said just because police investigations revealed that the same kind of ink had been smuggled into the country, purportedly to “sabotage” the electoral process in Perlis, Kedah and Kelantan, this should not prevent the EC from using the ink.
“Indelible ink can be bought by anyone in the world. Even in Afghanistan, Indonesia and Pakistan, people can import the ink. But that doesn’t stop their election commissions from using indelible ink in their polls,” he argued.
He said those who wanted to cause mischief could use any ink and not just indelible ink to do so.
“If counterfeit money is found in the market,” he added, “does this mean then that the government has to withdraw Malaysian notes? Or if we have a minister who is corrupt or a murderer, does it then mean we have to dissolve the government?”
Abd Malek, who was called to meet Rashid on March 5 morning to hear firsthand the EC’s explanation, said the more serious reason given by the EC over its decision was that it was a citizen’s constitutional right to vote.
During the press conference to announce the decision to scrap the use of indelible ink, Rashid said the measure has not been gazetted and can have legal implications, citing Article 119 of the Federal Constitution, which is on the citizen’s right to vote. “This means he cannot be denied the right to vote unless he is disqualified to vote under the law. This means a person whose fingernail has been marked with the ink or a person who refuses to have his fingernail marked cannot be denied the right to be issued with a ballot paper,” he was quoted as saying in the NST. He added that this could lead to confusion at the polling stations.
However, Abd Malek said the demand for the use of indelible ink was made a long time ago and the government had chosen not to address these legal requirements.
While other Mafrel regional coordinators at the press conference also indicated their withdrawal as accredited observers, Abd Malek said it was up to the other observers to decide if they would pull out or not.
“Mafrel cannot impose its decision on its volunteers, so it’s up to them,” he said. The EC accredited 333 out of 591 names that were submitted by Mafrel to monitor the electoral process at polling stations.
However, Mafrel deputy chairman Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh said Mafrel would continue to conduct monitoring outside the polling stations. “We have a civic duty to be there to observe the [electoral] process, but we had to make a decision to withdraw from observing at the polling stations [in response to the EC’s decision],” he explained.
Bersih calls for Royal Commission
At an earlier press conference, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) said the cancellation of indelible ink makes deployment of phantom voters “operationally easier and cheaper”.
“Battleground seats in Kelantan, Penang, Selangor and Perak may therefore be determined by phantoms,” it said.
It added that while only a thorough clean-up of the electoral roll would eliminate fraudulently-registered or impersonators of genuine voters, indelible ink could at least make them “un-recyclable”.
The EC has always maintained that there are no phantom voters.
Bersih, against the backdrop of other emerging irregularities such as transfer of voters and questionable registrations, has urged Malaysians to support a nationwide signature campaign for a Royal Commission on Electoral Reform (RCER) to be set up after the elections.
“The EC could have submitted the amendment to the relevant by-law, the Elections (Conduct of Elections) Regulations 1981, to Parliament during its session from August to December (2007), clearing all legal and security concerns,” the Bersih statement also said.
“The EC’s decision shows the body has no intention to carry out electoral reform. None of Bersih’s five basic demands of electoral reform have been fulfilled,” it added.
The five demands were a clean-up of the electoral roll, the use of indelible ink, the abolition of postal voting for security personnel, free and fair media access, and a campaign period of 21 days.