Friday, December 2, 2011

PSC must adopt all Bersih’s demands

Bersih 2.0 welcomes certain reforms adopted by the interim report of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on Electoral Reform. However, based on news report, out of Bersih 2.0’s 8 demands, only one is fully adopted while two others are partially adopted but five other demands have yet to be included. The one demand fully adopted is the implementation of indelible ink.

A demand that is partially addressed is the cleaning up of the Electoral Rolls, whereby a thorough audit of the electoral rolls is proposed but without a long-term mechanism. While the removal of RM10 fee for objection of each new voter is adopted, other proposals by Bersih 2.0 are yet to be addressed. These other proposals are:

a. Automatic voter registration, without which 3.7 million eligible citizens will be disenfranchised.

b. A monthly revision of the supplementary electoral roll instead of the current duration of 3 months to ensure timely inclusion of new voters (with or without automatic voter registration).

c. Supplementary electoral roll should be displayed both online and on location in enable easy access for voters. While the PSC interim report recommends for the display time to be extended from 7 days to 14 days, Bersih 2.0 recommends that display time should be a minimum period of 30 days.

d. Certified principal and supplementary rolls must be open for challenge in court and subject to a transparent process of objection and claim.

e. Setting up of an independent auditing committee to maintain and enhance integrity and accuracy of electoral rolls, rather than leaving the regular power of cleaning up at the end of the Election Commission (EC)

f. Reducing the cost of purchasing electoral rolls to enhance public scrutiny.

The other demand partially adopted is reform of absentee voting. We welcome the extension of such right to all Malaysians living overseas and East Malaysians living in Peninsula Malaysia and vice versa. In relation to absentee voting, we would like the PSC final report to make these specific recommendations:

a. In principle, the current practice of separate ordinary voter and permanent postal voters in the electoral rolls, which makes manipulation and intimidation easy, must end. All voters should be on one roll with the right to apply for absentee voting. Hence, the size of absentee voters will depend on application.

b. The right to absentee voting should encompass all civilian voters who are at least 250 km away from their constituencies on polling day. It is unfair if, for instance, Sarawakians are expected to travel from Miri back to Kuching to vote.

c. Military and police voters should be allowed to register for their home constituencies rather than where they serve, as in the case of overseas voters. Forcing the service voters to vote in constituencies where they serve but have no permanent interests is unfair to both themselves and the locals. For instance, in the last Sarawak state elections, more than 18,000 or 2% strong of the electorate were postal voters. Majority of them were non-Sarawakian soldiers and police, who could be king-makers in marginal constituencies.

d. Postal voting must be abolished for all except overseas voters beyond the reach of our foreign missions. This is to terminate the flawed practice of allowing postal voters to bring home their ballots and return them some time later.

e. Distance voting centres must therefore be set up in all our foreign missions, major towns in every West Malaysian state, every division in Sarawak and every residency in Sabah.

f. We support the proposals of allowing military and police voters to vote in advance but the polling centres for them must be out of their barracks and police stations, and the voting process must be under full scrutiny of party agents.

g. To make absentee voting possible, the campaign period should be extended to a minimum of 21 days or more to ensure adequate time for voters to apply for absentee voting and subsequent logistic preparation.

We note that the PSC has also taken on board other recommendations made by Bersih 2.0 in our submission to the PSC on 12 November 2011 and in the past. These include:

1. Election Commission to be made independent and empowered to enforce election laws

2. Forming a Royal Commission of Inquiry to probe into allegations of citizenships being given out in exchange for votes at Sabah

3. Rearranging of desks in polling centres to enable better scrutiny

However, the PSC interim report has yet to respond to five other immediate demands of Bersih 2.0 which are:

1. Setting a minimum campaign period of 21 days

2. Free and Fair Access of Media:

a. Free airtime on state media

b. Televised debate between candidates for Prime Minister and key party leaders

c. Provision for right of reply

3. Strengthening Public Institutions

a. Regulate the conduct of the governments in general or by-elections to ensure impartiality and neutrality, including establishing a Code of Conduct

b. Adopt the practice of an impartial caretaker government

4. Stop Corruption

a. The EC should use its enforcement unit to actively deter corrupt practices and lodge police reports when allegations emerge

b. Vigilant monitoring mechanism for pre- and during elections should be established to detect and prevent corruption including a reporting system to allow for public to report evidences of vote buying

5. Stopping Dirty Politics

a. A Code of Conduct should be established to regulate behaviour of parties and candidates such as the Model Code of Conduct for the Guidance of Political Parties and Candidates used by the Election Commission of India.

We note that there has been no recommendation made to the issues plaguing the process of constituency re-delineation despite strong representations made by Bersih 2.0 and other citizens. Reforming the current manner of the drawing of boundaries is equally of grave importance in ensuring that each vote is accorded its due value.

Bersih 2.0 is also gravely concerned that the recommendation to remove serial number on ballot papers may create possibility of ballot stuffing. It would be wiser to give ballot papers to voter at random instead of following the serial numbers. This can be done by tearing a few ballot papers at once and letting the voter pick his or her own ballot paper. We call for this recommendation to be withdrawn.

Bersih 2.0 emphasises that the EC and any other relevant government agencies must implement the Bersih 2.0 8 demands and the recommendations made by the PSC without further delay while the PSC prepares its final report. The aspiration to improve democratic processes and to guarantee the basic right to free and fair elections of every Malaysian must be present in the national electoral management body and any other enforcement agencies with a role to play in the electoral process. We hope to hear of no more excuses from the EC, but more action taken towards improving the electoral system.

Bersih 2.0 also calls on the EC and other stakeholders to publish a monthly progress report on the implementation of the PSC recommendations and recommendations made by Bersih 2.0 and other groups.

Finally, Bersih 2.0 reminds the PSC, the EC and the Government that the 8 demands of Bersih 2.0 is the bare minimum to ensure that the 13th General Elections will be reasonably clean and fair. The public will not tolerate any attempts to use the PSC to divert pressure on electoral reform.

Salam Bersih 2.0!

Issued by the steering committee of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) comprising:

Ambiga Sreenevasan (Chairperson), Andrew Khoo, Arul Prakkash, Arumugam K., Farouk Musa, Liau Kok Fah, Maria Chin Abdullah, Richard Y W Yeoh, Subramaniam Pillay, Toh Kin Woon, Wong Chin Huat, Yeo Yang Poh and Zaid Kamaruddin.


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