Political parties failed to ensure integrity of Port Dickson by-election

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Source: freemalaysiatoday.com

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) has released its Port Dickon by-election observation report.

The report combines findings of the monitoring of nomination day, the election campaign, early voting, polling day and the vote-tallying process during the by-election.

The by-election was marred by various election offences and misconduct during the campaign period. Ten issues were recorded, and all were committed by Pakatan Harapan and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (Pas).

Pakatan Harapan candidate Anwar Ibrahim was found to make a surprise appearance at an awards ceremony for army veterans at the Port Dickson Army Museum in an army camp on 3 October 2018. He was given VIP treatment while no other by-election candidates were invited and given the same treatment. In the awards ceremony, Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu hinted that army veterans’ welfare would be assured if the next Port Dickson MP was to become the prime minister.

The fact is that government property – an army camp – was involved in the awards sceremony, and access to the event gave Anwar an unfair advantage over other candidates.

Anwar was also able to attend a zakat aid distribution event at Masjid Jamek Permatang Pasir together with the Negri Sembilan chief minister of Negeri Sembilan. Aid recipients were requested to attend by the Negeri Sembilan Islamic Religious Council. It again raises question on the abuse of government machinery and created an unfair level playing field among the candidates.

Anwar also launched a free online tuition portal named pdtuition.com, but the portal is connected to a Perak state government-linked tuition portal, ezlearn2u.my It raises questions on the abuse of Perak state government’s resource.

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Anwar also campaigned at a free concert and two dinner events. It was unclear who paid for these events. If both events were organised with his or his agent’s authorisation as part of his election campaign in accordance with Section 15A of the Election Offences Act, the event expenses have to be reported in the candidate’s account. The law sets the election spending limit at RM200,000 for each parliamentary candidate.

Furthermore, according to a Malaysiakini report on 12 October, some guests at the dinner event in Lukut claimed that the dinner was free of charge, which made it an offence under Section 8 of the Election Offences Act.

Bersih 2.0 recorded four offences committed by Pas and its candidate Mohd Nazari Mokhtar. They were found presenting gifts such as television, home appliances and hampers and providing free medical check-ups repeatedly in their campaigning events.

On polling day, Bersih 2.0 observed at polling centres in the Chuah, Linggi and Sri Tanjung state constituencies. The polling process was generally smooth except for some issues as follows:

  • Party booths (pondok panas) were noticed at all polling centres in the three constituencies despite being prohibited under the law
  • Unauthorised party supporters were found entering the Port Dickson Vocational College and Port Dickson National School together with the candidates. Street vendors and party supporters were found within a distance of 50 metres from the college
  • An election observer was not allowed to enter the polling stream at the college, but this was later resolved
  • Facilities for wheelchair user facilities at the Kampung Sawah National School and the Leong Hin San Estate Community Centre were not up to standard
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Bersih 2.0 believes that stronger law enforcement and more effective training for election workers are key to resolving these issues.

Overall, the by-election was conducted smoothly with some improvement by the Electoral Commission as follows:

  • When the independent candidate Kan Chee Yuen planned to distribute free pens to voters, it acted proactively by reminding him that it was an election offence. Kan decided to cancel his plan after the advice from the watchdog
  • Thewatchdog reminded ministers to only campaign outside office hours and ensure that no government assets were used. It also reminded the candidates that it might be an offence if development projects were launched to fish for votes. The watchdog called on the Ministry of Defence to give candidates equal access to army camps
  • Electoral Commission chairperson Azhar Harun instructed election enforcement officers to take action against party supporters campaigning outside the Teluk Kemang National School polling centre on polling day

Bersih 2.0 applauds the watchdog for taking such proactive preventive measures. Such measures should continue and be strengthened in future with clearer guidelines and briefings to all the candidates and their election campaign team before the campaign period starts.

We call on all ministers and government agencies to refrain from inviting any election candidate to government public events or functions during the campaign period in future elections. The principle of separation between political party events and government events and administrative neutrality must be observed at all times.

Bersih 2.0 urges all political parties to extend their full cooperation with the Electoral Commission and abide by election laws. It is crucial to ensure that corrupt practices are not tolerated in election processes if Malaysia aspires to become a truly democratic country.

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Bersih 2.0 steering committee

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