Changes paved the way for the dirtiest election yet, says Bersih co-chairman S Ambiga.
KUALA LUMPUR: Election watchdog Bersih condemned the amendments to the Election Offences Act 1954, which it said paved the way for the dirtiest general election yet.
Chief among its concern, are four changes the to Act, which Bersih says will inevitably make the voting process less transparent.
One of the changes, to Section 26 1(e), effectively rules out candidates or their staff from verifying IC numbers of voters which is vital to detect phantom or multiple voters.
“Part of Section 26 1(e) which allowed for the checking of identities of anyone entering the polling centre has been removed altogether.
“This means that candidates and their staff are not allowed to verify the identities of voters or even to check if they are at the correct polling stations,” said Bersih co-chairperson S Ambiga.
She added that the current 50-metre exclusion zone from the polling centres has now been extended to 100 metres or any distance that the EC may deem fit.
“This makes it impossible for election monitors to spot illegal going-ons and it also makes it impossible to see if voters are marked with indelible ink after they have cast their votes.
“What’s the point of the indelible ink? Who is to know if these voters are voting for the second time under the new amendments?” asked Ambiga.
Wong Piang Yow, founder of Tindak Malaysia, who has been training independent polling agents for the past year, said the amendments have made all the training redundant.
Changes have also been made to the sitting arrangement of polling or counting agents at polling centres. The changes were gazetted on Feb 14 along with the use of indelible ink.
Agents now are only allowed to sit about 10 metres away from where polling takes place. Wong argued that this distance made it close to impossible to identify if the voter was a valid one.
The other changes
Other changes to the Election Offences Act 1954 which could cause a hindrance to election observers are:
To Section 14 1 (A) which now allows the Election Commission to allocate time slots to determine when a candidate’s polling agents or counting agents may be present.
Candidates no longer fix a time when an agent is allowed into the polling station. The EC is free to remove the agents from polling stations.
Both Bersih and Tindak argued that polling agents are providing their services on a voluntary basis and may not be available for the time slots which the EC dictates.
To Section 26 A (sub-sections 2 and 3 are deleted) which now means that there will be no more “Barong Observers”.
Barong Observers are the only outsiders besides EC staff allowed to vet the IC numbers. It serves as a “preliminary screening” to weed out phantom voters.
This amendment, says Bersih, is a “major blow” to plans to weed out phantom voters as only EC personnel are now allowed to check ICs.
Section 11, which requires all printed materials to have names and addresses of the printers and publishers, is removed.
Ambiga said that anyone now can put up “anonymous, defamatory, racist or sexist posters” (during campaigning) without identifying the publisher or the printer.
“These amendments, introduced at this late stage and bulldozed through Parliament, makes a mockery of our electoral process.
“It also makes a mockery of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) as these amendments were hidden from them,” said Ambiga, referring to the committee’s findings and recommendations to the government earlier this month.
Ambiga said that she had no doubt that these changes will be enforced before the upcoming polls due to the “unholy haste” in which the bill was passed yesterday in the Dewan Rakyat.
“Let (the government) come out and say otherwise. Let them say that this bill will not affect the process of the coming election,” she said.
Bersih, said Ambiga, reiterates its call for the EC office-bearers to resign immediately as they have failed to uphold the people’s demands for free and fair elections.
“In fact, it is unashamedly doing the opposite,” she said. “If anyone had any doubts that Bersih 3.0 is necessary, that doubt is now dispelled with this latest move.”
“These amendments confirm our worst fears that the 13th general election will be the dirtiest yet,” she added.