Bersih People’s Tribunal on GE13

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Bersih 2.0 gives us an insight into the proceedings of the historic tribunal examining the GE13 irregularities.

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Day One  – Concerns over advance voting

The Members of the Tribunal heard from seven witnesses, which included two GE13 candidates, two Pemantau volunteers, one election agent, one elections expert, and one person who appeared on the roll without her consent.

Professor Gurdial Nijar, Lead Counsel, opened by outlining the three categories of evidence which will be presented throughout the duration of the Tribunal:

  1. the manipulation of the legislative framework underpinning elections;
  2. the manipulation of the vote choice made by individual voters; and
  3. the manipulation of the administrative process whereby elections are carried out. The Tribunal will also have a special focus on the Election Commission.

The first witness, Charles Santiago, Member of Parliament for Klang, described his experiences with irregularities during GE13. He described receiving complaints from individuals who appeared on the electoral roll despite never having registered, discovering that 2,195 voters who had voted in Klang in 2008 had their voting constituencies changed for no apparent reason. He also found addresses with numerous phantom voters, including one address with 60 registered voters.

He told the Tribunal that he encountered ineligible voters on election day, election officials who allowed polling agents to record the serial numbers of voters who came to vote, and a disabled voter who had his vote tampered with by an election official.

The Tribunal also heard from Wong Piang Yow from Tindak Malaysia, who described the weaknesses of the electoral framework, including with regard to the integrity of the Election Commission, postal and advance voting, the wide discretion afforded to Election Commission officials, and other provisions of the law that make the elections susceptible to fraud.

Inungkiran binti Mongijal, who was the third witness to take the stand, described how she found her name registered to vote in Tawau, Sabah; she has lived in the Klang Valley for many years and had never registered to vote.

Next, Abu Husin, who was an election agent in Air Limau, Melaka gave his testimony. He recounted how he had escorted ballot boxes containing advance voting ballots to the Lubuk Cina police station, supposedly so the ballots would be kept secure in the sealed boxes before being counted on election day. When he arrived at the police station, he observed a pile of ballot papers on the floor, being counted by seven or eight people in Election Commission uniform.

Joseph Chandran who volunteered as an election observer with Pemantau testified that, on election day, 30-40 voters approached him showing him that the indelible ink, applied on their fingers to prevent double voting, had been easily removed.

Lye Yoong Seng, a Pemantau volunteer as well, also encountered voters who complained about the ineffectiveness of the indelible ink. He also saw voters being ferried in by vehicles with political party logos, a practice that is illegal.

Day 1’s final witness was Ginie Lim, who stood for election in Machap, Melaka. She described that, at around 3.00pm on election day, she was informed by a constituent that ballot boxes containing advance voting ballots had been transported to the counting centre. Because she was not made aware of the transportation of the boxes, her campaign team was unable to monitor the process.

Lim also described how one voter tried to vote at around 9.30am, but was told by Election Commission officials that according to their records, she had already voted. With Lim’s campaign lawyer’s help, the voter was able to cast a vote. But it is unclear why the voter was not allowed to vote in the first place.

Day Two, 19 September – Post-election payouts exposed

Day Two began with Professor Gurdial Nijar, the Head Counsel, reiterating that all affected parties, including the Election Commission and Barisan Nasional, had been invited to provide testimony at the Tribunal. The Tribunal heard from eight witnesses throughout the day.

The first witness of the day was Vasantha Kumar, who was a GE13 Parti Keadilan Rakyat candidate for the Tapah, Perak parliamentary seat. He described the many instances of violence he and his campaign faced throughout the elections, including receiving threats and attacks by supporters of his Barisan Nasional opponent. He said some of these attacks occurred in the presence of police officers, but no action was taken.

He also described the multiple election offences he observed including vote buying and treating, a Ketua Tempat Mengundi, who was also the Tapah MIC Wanita head, and not being allowed to be in the ballot counting centre to observe the final ballot tally. He filed an election petition in court, but his case was dismissed on technical grounds and he was ordered to pay RM190,000 in costs.

Vasantha Kumar described to the Tribunal the brutal murder of his bodyguard K Murugan, whose body was found floating in a river on election day. Murugan had received threats to stop campaigning for Vasantha Kumar, including by a BN supporter.

Murugan’s mother then took the stand to recount the days following the murder of her son.

Next, the Tribunal heard from Yasmin Masidi, who compiled and prepared the Pemantau report. She presented an overview of Pemantau’s findings from their observations of the election process on nomination day, during the campaign period, and on polling day.

She presented their findings on a number of irregularities. She described that Pemantau found excessive security presence in five constituencies observed (22 per cent) during nomination day. For example, at the Dewan Masyarakat Ranau in the Ranau parliamentary constituency, around 200 police personnel were on site, some armed with M-16s and MP-5s. Razor wires were used to surround the Subang nomination centre, despite Suhakam’s recommendation not to use razor wires in peacetime.

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Other issues covered include political violence, undue influence, the promotion of ill-will and hostility, electoral roll irregularities, “indelible” ink, bribery, treating, personation, illegal campaigning, conveyance of voters, procedural irregularities, use of government machinery and property, and harassment of Pemantau election observers.

The overall conclusion made was that election violations were rampant during GE13, and that the causes of these violations could be attributed to:

  1. the lack of awareness, if not poor knowledge on election laws by political parties, party workers and/or supporters and candidates themselves;
  2. informed and deliberate actions to gain political mileage; and/or
  3. the knowledge that enforcement of the provisions relating to election offences was insufficient.

Professor Gurdial noted that Pemantau’s conclusion was corroborated by observers accredited by the Election Commission who found GE13 to be partially free and not fair.

The fourth witness was Ibrahim Suffian, Merdeka Centre Programme Director. Merdeka Centre was an accredited observer for GE13. He described the findings of Merdeka Centre’s observations, including concerns with advance voting. Ibrahim noted that observers were not able to observe the ballot boxes between the time votes were cast to the time the ballots were counted, a five-day period.

Professor Gurdial noted that this was particularly of concern, given that around 30 parliamentary seats – enough to decide which coalition formed the government – were determined by a margin narrow enough to be affected by advance and postal votes.

Ibrahim said that the caretaker government had grossly abused their power by issuing contracts and announcing projects worth millions during the campaign period and that guidelines for caretaker governments are needed.

Ibrahim also touched on the EC’s duty to clean up the electoral roll, stringent constraints set by the EC on accredited observers, and treating.

Next the Tribunal heard from Norman a/l Kong, an Orang Asli who had travelled eight hours from his village to testify at the Tribunal. Norman, a voter in the Jelai DUN and Cameron Highlands parliamentary constituency, described how the BN had given out cash, promised to build roads, and promised to increase BR1M if villagers voted for the BN, and had threatened that they would get nothing if they did not vote for BN.

Zainal, also an Orang Asli from the Jelai DUN and Cameron Highlands parliamentary constituency, described similar experiences, and said he thought the promises and threats made by the BN influenced the voting decisions of the villagers.

The seventh witness was Datuk Abdul Halim Hussain, PKR GE13 candidate for Teluk Bahang, Penang. The Tribunal watched videos taken by Abdul Halim’s aides, which Abdul Halim said depicted money being handed out to voters from DUN constituencies in Penang which BN had won.

Another video was shown depicting several men packing up computers and printers in a coffee shop and leaving, while Abdul Halim and Sim Tze Tzin, MP for Bayan Baru, observed. Abdul Halim said the men were giving out cash to voters and packed up when they saw him and Sim.

The Tribunal was then presented with a Borang 13 from a saluran in Teluk Bahang which was littered with errors. Professor Gurdial noted that Abdul Halim lost by just 802 votes, and that a turn of 401 votes would have changed the outcome. The saluran in question itself involved more than 401 votes.

The last witness of the day was Abdul Halim’s aide, Johan Abu Bakar. Johan described how he secretly recorded one of the videos shown earlier, which depicted money being handed out to voters.

Day Three, 20 September – Vote-buying

The first witness of Day Three of the People’s Tribunal on GE13 was Yok En, an Orang Asli who is the village head of Kampung Tual, in Kuala Lipis, Pahang. He described several instances of vote buying, treating, and threats. He testified that on 1 May, he and other village heads were invited to a meeting with Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli (JAKOA), which was also attended by “Datuk Adnan”. The witness recounted that, at the meeting, they were told to vote for Barisan Nasional.

He said he attended another meeting, where he and other villagers (allegedly) received RM200 from Datuk Seri G Palanivel and Dato’ Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail. Yok En also said that villagers were promised to be given RM20 to use on polling day, and received rice, meat, and other goods from Wan Rosdy before GE13.

The next witness, Sani, was also an Orang Asli from a village in Kuala Lipis, Pahang. He also testified on vote buying, treating, and threats. He described how his village head had called for a meeting upon returning from a meeting in Kuantan and told the villagers to vote for BN. The head villager said Wan Rosdy had (allegedly) warned that the villagers would be fined by the police if they voted for the opposition, and if the villagers voted for Barisan Nasional, BR1M would be increased from RM500 to RM1200 and it would not be given if Pakatan Rakyat won.

Next, Steven Ng, a chemist, provided expert testimony on the use of indelible ink during GE13. He explained that silver nitrate is a key ingredient in formulating indelible ink, and should make up 10-18 per cent of an indelible ink solution to be effective.

Professor Gurdial added that according to United Nations Development Programme guidelines, silver nitrate should make up 5-25 per cent of an indelible ink solution. The indelible ink used during GE13 only contained 1 per cent silver nitrate.

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Steven also described his shock that the indelible ink contained 29% moisturiser. He also rebuked the Election Commission’s claim that silver nitrate was carcinogenic.

Next, the Tribunal watched videos produced by the Election Commission on polling day procedures. Steven Choong of Tindak Malaysia provided commentary on the videos and additional information.

Malaysiakini journalist Koh Jun Lin took the stand next. He described how he observed government machinery being used during the campaign period at an event where Tan Sri Muhyiddin bin Yassin spoke. The sound system equipment had logos of the Department of Information. When seeking clarification by the event organiser, he was threatened with violence.

The next two witnesses were volunteers with Pemantau, who travelled to Johor to observe the campaign period. The first witness, Alfian Zohri, described seeing inflammatory banners printed by the MCA, and the use of government equipment at a campaign event at Southern University College attended by Dato’ Sri Najib Razak.

The second witness, Mandeep Karpall, described booklets that were distributed at the event which contained racist and inflammatory content. The Tribunal was presented with the content of the booklet depicting a Chinese person steam-rolling ‘ketuanan Melayu’, and Lim Kit Siang telling students that Chin Peng had championed independence, among others.

Day Three continued with several other testimonies.

Day Four, 21 September 2013 – Gerry-mandering abuse of power

The fourth day of the People’s Tribunal began with a continuation of yesterday’s testimony by Masjaliza Hamzah, Dr Tessa Houghton and Professor Zaharom Nain on research conducted by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and the University of Nottingham into media coverage of GE13.

In response to a question on internal censorship, Prof Zaharom commented that the education system in Malaysia bred conformity among students who would eventually become journalists.

In response to a question on how to bring about greater media accountability in terms of dealing with differences, Dr Houghton suggested that a self-regulatory media council could be a way forward, based on her New Zealand experience. Masjaliza said that a repeal of the PPPA and a self-regulatory media council would be part of the solution, but also noted that the current push towards a media council came from the government, in the form of a statutory body rather than a self-governing council of media practitioners.

Prof Gurdial Nijar noted that current anti-monopoly legislation does not cover anything that falls under MCMC and excludes government activity.

Wong Chin Huat provided expert testimony on malapportionment and gerrymandering. Currently, the relative value of votes for different parties are unequal — the number of votes are disproportionate to the actual number of Parliamentary seats gained — due to these problems.

The Federal Constitution said that electoral districts should be approximately equal, with weightage given to rural areas, but ever since 1973 there has been no cap on malapportionment. He noted that despite popular perception that malapportionment works against non-Malay voters, it actually disadvantages Opposition-voting Malays. Gerrymandering disregards the political conditions of a particular community: it cuts through even the same home, with spouses assigned to different constituencies as voters.

What was needed was the restoration of a mechanism to cap malapportionment and for more restrictive conditions for delineation, as well a change in the approval process of new boundaries. Wong also advocated for a change to the current electoral process: the first-past-the-post system is vulnerable to electoral manipulation based on electoral boundaries, and heightens tensions between different ethnicities and groups due to a winner-takes-all mentality.

The third witness was Ong Guan Sin, who expanded on a case of gerrymandering mentioned by Wong: Kampung Abdullah in Johor, which was formerly entirely part of the parliamentary constituency of Segamat. When a new constituency was created (Sekijang), more than a thousand voters were transferred out of Segamat into Sekijang. Many voters living in the same household, including spouses, found that they now voted in different constituencies. This included the witness’s own family.

The next witness was Tian Chua, the MP for Batu. His fine in a court case in 2010 was reduced by a judge and the sentence for imprisonment removed to avoid a by-election as he would still be eligible to hold office. His lawyer wrote to the EC to confirm that Tian Chua was eligible to run as candidate, which the EC affirmed pending the Returning Officer’s assessment as to whether he met the other conditions for candidacy on nomination day.

His nomination papers were duly accepted. Subsequent to GE13, the BN candidate filed a petition alleging that the EC was wrong and that Tian Chua should have been disqualified. The EC recanted, despite its earlier response to Tian Chua. The BN petition was struck out due to a technicality and costs were awarded to Tian Chua. Unusually, the EC did not apply for costs.

He also recounted the discovery, made on advance voting day in his constituency, that the so-called indelible ink could be easily removed. He expressed his concern that the electoral roll given to political parties did not separate out advance or postal voters from ordinary voters; thus there was no way to verify whether someone had voted twice.

Nurul Izzah Anwar spoke on political violence in Lembah Pantai before and during GE13, as well as unfair treatment by the authorities towards her and her campaign. Advance voting ballot boxes were moved without her agents being present, and they were also unable to monitor the boxes during the time they were kept in police lock-up.

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Known Umno members seemed to have been appointed as election officers by the EC. Her party workers were assaulted and publicly-displayed material vandalised — a pattern which began long before GE13. She and her workers have made many police reports, even gave photos of the culprits, but no action was taken by the police.

Low-income single mothers in Lembah Pantai, largely from Malay and Indian communities, were threatened with the withdrawal of financial assistance from the government if they did not vote for the BN. Flags put up by her supporters — none of which carried logos — in the form of a public art installation titled “Malaysian Spring” were taken down quickly by DBKL, ignoring the BN party flags nearby.

They were also subjected to wild allegations by politicians and the police in the media. Her opponent also filed an election petition against her, which was struck out on technical grounds.

The next witness was Nurul Izzah’s director of public complaints bureau, Abdullah Izhar. DBKL was instructed not to take action against PPR residents who were in arrears before the general election, but after BN candidate Raja Nong Chik (then Minister of Federal Territories) lost, DBKL started taking action — some of which amounted to fees of RM20,000.

He testified that during the campaign, those who supported Umno obtained preferential treatment while those who supported Nurul Izzah were threatened by DBKL if they had outstanding bills.

The Tribunal suggested that election petitions not be dismissed without having the case heard on merits, and that the judiciary be independent, fair and impartial.

The seventh witness was Dr Toh Kin Woon, who served as an executive state councillor in Penang under the Gerakan government. He resigned from the party in 2008. He provided testimony on the role of state agencies and other institutions in maintaining power for the BN.

He said that the police Special Branch used to submit reports to the Chief Minister regarding the government’s performance, so the BN would be aware of the feelings on the ground and accordingly prepare themselves for the next elections.

The Information Department complemented this by organising functions and meet-the-people gatherings (with food) for campaigning. The JKKK — a village’s security and development committee -– held cooking and sewing classes in local villages, where candidates would introduce themselves to the women at these kind of events. Even BN ministers, if they served Pas voters (as they are supposed to serve all regardless of who the voters voted for), they would be told by the local JKKKs to cease doing this or the JKKKs would not assist the candidates next time.

For opposition-controlled territories, if a road was to be repaired, funds sent would be withheld for some time. And then when built, they would say Umno requested for it, not Pas. The idea was that if the people saw that they were able to get their roads repaired even if they didn’t vote BN, what would be the difference between voting BN and Pas?

The next witness was Lee Wee Tak, representing the Malaysian Electoral Roll Analysis Project (Merap). The project report identified 30 issues of concern with regards to the electoral roll.

He said that testimonies for the Sabah Royal Commission of Inquiry claimed that foreigners were issued with NRICs without proper process, and they were then placed in various constituencies as voters. He dubbed dubious entries in the Sabah electoral roll as “RCI voters”. These entries on the roll have various problems: incomplete addresses, inconsistent gender and state codes. He showed cases where same old IC numbers were used by different people.

Worryingly, a majority of additions and removals to the electoral roll from the fourth quarter of 2012, gazetted for use in GE13, were not disclosed to the public.

Merap identified suspicious voters via an analysis of addresses: there were new voters registered with addresses of non-existent/abandoned buildings, or questionable addresses. Most of the voters with blank/incomplete addresses were located in Sabah and Sarawak, with unusually high percentages of such voters even in urban and semi-urban areas.

The gazetted electoral roll from the fourth quarter of 2012 should be identical to the roll used for GE13, but upon comparison there were about 25,000 names deleted and approximately 1,600 voters added to the roll used for GE13.

The last witness for the day was Fuziah Salleh, the MP for Kuantan. She alleged that her party agent was prevented from monitoring advance ballot boxes as the police station was a “restricted area”. However, they were given assurances as to the safety of the boxes. She subsequently received a tip that the ballot boxes would be switched a day before polling day. She insisted on escorting EC officials into where the boxes were held, but was prevented at gunpoint.

A voter in her constituency was given ballot papers twice: he had voted in the morning but discovered that the indelible ink could be washed off. He then decided to check the system by going to the same polling station for a second time in the afternoon and managed to get a second set of ballot papers. EC guidelines say that if a channel/saluran was too busy, a second saluran could be opened; however, the names of voters who already voted in the morning were not marked off in the electoral roll used during the afternoon. This voter did not vote but told the police, and made a police report.

Source: bersih.org

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