Friday 12 August 2011

Legitimacy issue hangs over Sarawak, says NGO

An NGO has claimed that there has been too much fraud and maladministration during the recent Sarawak state election for the state and federal governments to disregard calls for electoral reform which will be raised by tomorrow's Walk for Democracy.

The Malaysian Election Observation Network (MEO-Net) said they have documented numerous cases that support the aim of the event, which will be hosted by the Movement for Change Sarawak at Kuching's Waterfront area.

azlanMEO-Net alleged that they have “ample and indisputable” proof to show that the BN had used state government machinery in their campaign activities, while enforcement agencies such as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) turned a blind eye on alleged vote buying by the incumbent party.

The NGO stressed that this situation has caused the “election conduct to deviate far from the requirement(s) of the election laws as well as regional norms”, bringing into question the legitimacy of the present state government.

“The legitimacy issue is exacerbated by the lowest voter registration in Sarawak - especially its interior - among all states in the country, which lower the base of representation for the polling conducted,” MEO-Net said in a statement.

The election observation group highlighted six key issues that plagued the state polls last April, not least being the clear partisanship practised by appointed returning officers (RO) in accompanying BN candidates during campaign rounds.

The group cited one example of the RO for the Telang Usan constituency, whom they claimed had spent most of his time by the side of a PBB leader during campaign functions in the Ulu Baram area.

They also alleged that many state and federal civil servants working in the state were mobilised at campaign venues to provide services, give away gifts and set up programmes and platforms for political campaigns.

No action on vote-buying

MEO-Net stressed that vote-buying was rampant, claiming to have documented at least one case where a longhouse chief in Selangau was paid RM10,000 to deliver BN votes from his area. The group claimed that this practice went unchecked as the MACC allegedly took the position that it had no mandate to act on offences under the Election Offences Act 1954.

NONE“Based on the level of payment to the individual voters concerned, the payment, if reflected in their mandatory campaigning expenses account, would have exceeded the legally allowed campaigning expenses.

“It should be noted that such dubious payments to voters are nowhere allowed in our regional neighbours, as they are deemed to be evidence enough to disqualify the candidates caught committing such an offence,” the group said.

MEO-Net said the BN's monopoly and abuse extended to their use of “tax-payer supported media” - in reference to the mainstream media - which was made inaccessible to non-BN candidates and in turn depriving voters from being able to make fully-informed decisions before casting their ballots.

The level of disenfranchisement of Sarawakians in the polls was also appalling, with less than half of eligible citizens registered as voters in many interior areas such as in Batang Ai where only 7,000 out of 22,000 residents are on the rolls, based on a survey by the group.

MEO-Net said all the evidence of maladministration and abuse puts the country below regional standards, making it necessary for both the state and federal governments to act on the issues that will be raised by tomorrow's Walk for Democracy and other election watchdogs.

“Further to this, we call upon the police to provide full cooperation to the organiser of the Walk for Democracy so that they can exercise their freedom of assembly and freedom of speech on Aug 13. The police should learn from their poor handling of the Bersih (2.0) rally which tarnished the police('s) and the country's image locally and internationally.”

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