Cameron highlands by-election: Highest number of offences documented

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The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) today announced their findings of the observation at the P078 Cameron Highlands by-election.

Bersih 2.0 documented 23 cases of election offences throughout the period from nomination day on 12 January 2019 until polling day on 26 January 2019.

These election offences were committed by both main political coalitions, with Barisan Nasional involved in 14 cases, Pakatan Harapan in five cases and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia in two cases. None were recorded for the two independent candidates.

The election offences committed were for treating (four cases), abuse of state resources (three cases), bribery and undue influence (two cases), the incitement of ill-feeling on race and religion in campaigning (four cases), campaigning on polling day (nine cases) and others (one case).

This makes the Cameron Highlands by-election as the by-election with the most cases of election offences documented so far after the 2018 general election. It should be noted that these were what was observed by Bersih 2.0 only and does not include offences observed by other groups. For details of the offences and our recommendations, you can read our full report on the Cameron Highlands by-election, which is available for download at www.bersih.org

Bersih 2.0 believes the high number of election offences recorded is not due to increased disregard for the election law. On the contrary, this may be attributed to the fact that this was the first by-election called due to an election offence committed, which led to a heightened awareness of election offences by all parties.

Furthermore, the highlighting of election laws by both the Electoral Commission and Bersih 2.0 through clean and fair election pledges and statements and the fact that both Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional held each other to account for election offences may have contributed to the higher number of recorded incidents.

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Among the election offences this time in the Cameron Highlands by-election, Bersih 2.0 views the incitement of ill-feeling on race and religion, or identity politics, to campaign for votes as the most worrying of offences.

In a ceramah in Kampung Keledek on 18 January, Umno Youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki was reported to have said that if the DAP candidate won, it would be harmful to Malay and Islam.

Pas Youth chief Muhammad Khalil Abdul Hadi alleged that the DAP would remove Islam as the official religion while Pas president Abdul Hadi Awang said in a video, “If non-Muslims want to be safe, do not vote for DAP… vote for the Muslim candidate, all will be safe… Muslims will be safe, non-Muslims will be safe.”

Pakatan Harapan candidate M Manogaran was subjected to such hate campaign tactics which linked him to firefighter Muhamad Adib Mohd Kassim’s death during the Hindu temple incident in Seafield in leaflets that were distributed and graphics that went viral during the campaign period.

Bersih 2.0 strongly condemns such campaign tactics and calls on the police to investigate these incidents without delay and hold the perpetrators accountable for what they said in order to preserve inter-communal harmony among Malaysians.

Bersih 2.0 is also extremely concerned with the abuse of state resources by both Pakatan Harapan as the ruling federal government and BN as the ruling state government. PH was involved in using a government asset to campaign, when a four-wheel-drive vehicle belonging to the Pahang Forestry Department was found to be used for campaigning purpose.

Pahang Menteri Besar Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail handed out ‘Bantuan Sekolah Rendah’ (primary school aid) to 647 students in Jelai constituency and 22 forest reserve land use permits for smallholders in Cameron Highlands during the campaign period.

There were also numerous “ministerial working visits” two weeks before the official campaign period started on nomination day. Bersih 2.0 calls on the Electoral Commission to come out with a clearer guideline to curb such abuse of state resources in future elections.

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We would further propose that such “working visits” by ministers, who are also senior party leaders, should cease the moment Parliament is dissolved or when a seat is declared vacant to ensure a level a playing field for the election.

Some improvement and innovation has been made by the Electoral Commission in the conduct of the election, which is commendable. This includes:

  • the provision of the service of advance checking of candidates’ nomination papers before nomination day
  • the request for candidates to sign a pledge to abide by the election law. live telecast of the counting of votes in one polling stream
  • the release of early unofficial results
  • warnings and police reports for offences

These measures and actions taken by the Electoral Commission has resulted in greater efficiency, transparency and respect for the existing election laws, further restoring public confidence in the institution, which had eroded as a result of previous allegations of bias and electoral misconduct.

To further improve the conduct of elections, Bersih 2.0 makes the following recommendations:

  • Electoral Commission and/or firsthand eyewitnesses should report either to the police or the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission any election or non-election offences so that proper investigation can be initiated and action taken.
  • Many candidates and their campaign team members lack knowledge and understanding of election laws and election offences. The Electoral Commission should provide pre-election briefings on election laws and offences for potential candidates or their agents.
  • Political parties need to come together to discuss and agree on reasonable compliance parameters for election laws. They also need to identify areas that need legislative updates or reforms in defining election offences. Bersih 2.0 welcomes the call by former Umno Youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin and Electoral Commission chairman Azhar Harun for such an exercise and is ready to assist the commission in organising such an event to help bring clarity to the election laws.
  • The Electoral Commission should continue to improve and innovate the conduct of elections by using by-elections as “electoral labs”. We urge the Electoral Commission to try out alternate voting sites or methods for absentee voters – those who reside overseas or far in remote constituencies. For example, opening polling centres in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore for those who are registered in Cameron Highlands would probably have resulted in higher voter participation in this by-election.
  • Bersih 2.0 calls for the Electoral Commission to be given more power to enforce the election law, including the power to fine candidates or any violators of election law for minor offences, such as treating of free ice-cream at Pos Terisu, free food in Kampung Belau by Barisan Nasional and the wearing of party logos in polling stations. There is clearly a need to differentiate between minor and serious offences which current legislation does not and for the Electoral Commission to be empowered to act against election offences. This would require legislative reforms.
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Bersih 2.0 made history in this by-election by organising the first ever debate among election candidates which was broadcasted live over national television via RTM’s TV1 and Astro Awani. Although attendance at the debate venue was poor, the recorded viewership from TV1 was 749,000 for the one-hour debate. We still do not have the figures for Astro Awani.

It should be noted that the BN candidate Ramli Md Noor refused to take part in the debate nor did he sign the Bersih election pledge.

While there are still serious concerns about the abuse of state resources and identity politics in campaigning, Bersih 2.0 is satisfied with the Electoral Commission’s conduct of this by-election and the greater awareness of election laws and offences shown by all parties.

Bersih 2.0 also wishes to record a special appreciation to the media personnel who covered the Cameron Highlands by-election and for their critical role in reporting what was happening on the ground. Their contribution to nation-building and the democratisation of this country cannot be overstated.

Bersih 2.0 steering committee

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