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4 mai 2013

Will Elections in Malaysia be Free or Fair?

Ambiga Sreenevasan

On May 5, Malaysians will vote in one of the most contentious general elections in the country's history. Unfortunately, Malaysia's electoral system is plagued by irregularities and unfairness at a time when a strong, independent electoral process is most needed.

Since its inception, Bersih 2.0 - a group pushing for electoral reforms, of which I am a co-chair - has argued for eight key reforms in its campaign for clean and fair elections. Over the past four years, Bersih 2.0 has made inroads in raising public awareness on the necessity for these reforms. The resulting public pressure has forced the federal government and the election commission to take a position on these issues and to make some overtures - albeit not entirely satisfactory - towards electoral reform.

Despite government posturing, however, the only reform that has been implemented for the upcoming general election is the introduction of the use of indelible ink. However, we have expressed our concern that the plan to apply the ink before the vote is cast may result in the smudging of the ballot paper and delays in the voting process.

In view of the flawed electoral process, Bersih 2.0 has launched a project called "Pemantau" in which we are deploying Malaysian citizens to observe the elections across the country. Thus far, Bersih 2.0 has mobilised 2,000 observers in 55 parliamentary districts. The observers will monitor election violations including bribery and the misuse of government resources to benefit particular political parties.

With voting day fast approaching, there has already been a long stream of evidence of electoral irregularities and breach of election laws.

Reports of phantom voters, double registrations, unauthorised registrations and unauthorised changing of voting constituencies have haunted Malaysian elections for years. Despite widespread support for a comprehensive clean-up, the election commission has in our view failed to do so.

The latest report of the Malaysian Electoral Roll Analysis Project shows there are at least 28,593 "voters of foreign origin" on the electoral roll, most of them concentrated in Sabah and Selangor, both of which are considered to be important states in the elections.

The Selangor state government, helmed by the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition, has alleged that 28 percent of the 440,000 new voters in Selangor who have registered since the last elections cannot be identified. However, all attempts by the state government to have the election commissioninvestigate or even hear the complaints havefailed.

Incidents of violence

Over the last year, there have been many reported incidents of violence during political rallies, usually involving a group of people attempting to disrupt the events or to intimidate speakers and participants. The violence is largely targeted at the opposition.

On April 23, the violence reached new heights when a bomb was detonated during a Barisan Nasional political gathering in Penang, resulting in one person being injuredby flying debris. Two other incidents of bombing and the hurling of petrol bombs atBarisan Nasional campaign areas have been reported. Recently, two unknown men with their faces covered by ski masks entered the house of an opposition MP and set fire to his daughter’s car.

While the police have recently said they will crack down on any election-related violence, they must be careful that their actions match their words and that there is no disparity in how they deal with violence on either side of the political divide.

There are also many reported instances of fear being used to coerce civil servants and vulnerable or marginalised communities into voting for the ruling party. These tactics include threats that the voters may lose their jobs, pensions, scholarships and other benefits if they support the opposition.

Unsavoury smear campaigns have become a feature of the Malaysian political landscape: for instance, pornographic videos of opposition candidates are constantly surfacing and are widely shown.

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