Flashback: Phantom voters in Sabah

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Well over a dozen years ago, Aliran Monthly had already highlighted the existence of phantom voters in the electoral rolls in Sabah.

In his analysis of the Sabah state elections of 1999 for Aliran Monthly, Francis Loh highlighted the existence of phantom voters way back then.

Even prior to the elections, the PBS had alerted the Election Commission to the existence of ‘phantom voters’ appearing in the electoral rolls. The Commission claimed that it had done its best to clean up the rolls. However, it also declared that it was beyond its means to identify and remove those who might have acquired identity cards through foul and fraudelent means, and then succeeded in registering themselves as voters.

The problem of ‘phantom voters’ in Sabah is serious. At a recent court case, an Indonesian illegal immigrant testified that he voted twice in the previous 1994 elections without any difficulty with fake papers. This was not an isolated case.

Indeed, tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have been issued with ICs illegally. Several syndicates selling ICs to illegal immigrants have been exposed. Many government officers were arrested, some under the Internal Security Act. It is clear that there have been lapses and fraudulent practices on the part of the Sabah National Registration Department. However, efforts to cancel ICs which had been issued illegally and to clean electoral rolls have been daunting.

On 10 March 1999, just two days before polling, the PBS lodged a police report that it had documentary proof that 49,270 names, suspected to be illegal immigrants, had been unlawfully issued with identity cards after merely submitting declaration certificates (surat akuan’s) that they were citizens.

The PBS had in its hands four volumes of names of suspected illegal immigrants who had been issued with ICs illegally. These official documents, the PBS explained, were received from a ‘Good Samaritan’ via the post.

Apparently, the first volume contained a list of names of 15,366 people issued with the new KPTs (Kad Pengenalan Bermutu Tinggi) while the three other volumes contained the names of 11,855 people, 10,925 people and 11,124 people respectively who had been issued with non-KPT blue ICs.

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The PBS’ own investigation revealed that indeed 31,885 people possessing suspected ICs (11,240 using the KPTs and 20,645 using the blue ICs) were now registered voters. The serial numbers of these ICs suspected to have been issued illegally were provided. These claims and details were publicised in the Sabah dailies on 11 March 1999.

Under the circumstances, the comments by the authorities that “the complaint is not new” and that they would “look into the matter” is most disheartening.

It was perhaps because of phantom voters that there occurred sharp increases in the number of registered voters in Moyog, Bingkor, Kuamut and Likas in the 1999 electoral rolls – increases which could not be explained by the redrawing of the boundaries per se.

The PBS therefore complained that the existence of these ‘phantom voters’ would undermine fair and free elections in 1999.

The following is an excerpt from a judgment delivered by Justice Datuk Hj Muhammad Kamil Awang on Election Petition no K11 of 1999. This was published in Aliran Monthly in 2001.

Phantom voters: Operation Gembeling

Radin Malleh (PW14), a Member of Parliament and the Secretary General of PBS, holds a LLB degree from Kent University, and had served the police force for 20 years, holding the rank of DSP when he left the force in 1990 to join politics. As the Secretary General of PBS he received a lot of information and material of public interest from members of the public, including documents of pengundi luar or phantom voters.

In early March 1999 he received via Pos Laju a box containing lists of names and dubious identity card numbers of 40,000 people and he had forwarded them to the police, vide report No. 1061/99 dated 10th March 1999 (Exhibit P60). 31,845 names were found in the 1998 electoral roll, of which 2,975 names were registered in the Likas electoral roll.

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He lodged a report with the police, re: pengundi luar three times but unfortunately no action was taken. In particular, 12 fake identity cards were sent to the police for investigation, vide report KK 1794/96 dated 18th January 1996, and 10 names appeared in the 1998 electoral roll of Likas Constituency, N13….

Between 1996-1998 several people were arrested under ISA for involvement in the issuing of fake identity cards: Mohd Agjan b Ariff, Jabar Khan, Bandi Pilo and Shamsul Alang – all from Sabah Umno; and Mohd Nasir Sunjit, Asbi b Abdul Karim, Jamah Ariffin, Asli bin Ariffin and Kee Dzulkifli b Kee Abdul Jalil – all were officers in JPN Sabah. They were involved in the Ops Gembeling.

This operation called Ops Gembeling whereby the JPN officers were asked to collect the names of the illegal immigrants, and with the aid of some political leaders, they were given the blue identity cards. PW14 had written to JPN in respect of these illegal immigrants who were given blue identity cards (Exhibit P54) and he also wrote to the Ketua Pengarah Pendaftaran Negara Malaysia on 15th December 1998 before the electoral rolls were certified by SPR on 31st December 1998. There was no response.

The target of this operation was the Malays of Bugis origin, and these people formed an association known as Persatuan Kebajikan Bugis Sabah. For example, Pirsing Siraji, 22 years old, was in possession of identity card No. H0481706, and his name was found in the 1998 electoral roll (but with the identity card No. H04817096) for Likas Constituency. It is noted that the Sabah identity card number has 7 digits, Pirsing had an identity card number with 8 digits, and he was convicted by the court on 28th September 1992.

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On 15th December 1998 when PW14 wrote to the JPN for verification of the identity cards, there was no response. On 7th October 1999 Hamid b Hassan wrote an open letter (Exhibit P66) to the Deputy Prime Minister – there was no response.

As a Member of Parliament, PW14 raised this issue in Parliament, in a letter addressed to Setiausaha Dewan Rakyat (Exhibit P65) and it was rejected under Rule 23(1)(f) as it was a secret matter which the government could not disclose….

PW14 referred to a letter (ID14) written by the Chief Information Officer Umno (Datuk Hj Karim bin Abd Ghani) PW17, which was sent to 31 State Constituencies …. PW17 in his testimony stated that he did not sign the letter (ID14) and he suggested that the signature was forged. This letter was distributed to all Umno branches in Sabah, and in the trial of three persons (Exhibit P62) in Tawau High Court the Judge had accepted the evidence of the accused that they were just following the directions of a superior as contained in ID14. If ID14 carries a forged signature, therefore it is a forged document.

This is a serious allegation, but why is it that PW17 did not publicly disown it as soon as he knew that ID14 had been sent and received by all Umno branches in Sabah? Why didn’t PW17 or Umno refute this at the trial in the High Court at Tawau? … But there is no evidence of this alleged forgery (ID14) and it was never reported to the police. Umno Chief Information Officer thought it fit to ignore and allow ID14 to be made use of extensively, including in court proceedings, without taking any action or step to deny or stop it. As a matter of fact, PW17 had made no mention of ID14 at all in his affidavit in Petition No. K 7/99. The veracity of PW17’s evidence here is highly questionable.

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