Returning officers’ ridiculous rulings deny citizens’ basic right to contest polls

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The question arises if a simple pass can override a citizen’s right to take part in the election, writes P Ramakrishnan.

Nomination day determines a candidate’s legitimacy to contest in an election. When the nomination forms are filed and accepted, the election campaign begins.

This process is a simple requirement so that names can be included on the ballot paper and printed for voters to cast their votes and exercise their democratic right on polling day.

But what happened in certain nomination centres bewildered Malaysians. The actions of some returning officers were seen to be sabotaging the chances of Pakatan Harapan (PH) in the general election. Whether these were deliberate acts or just absurdities on their part will be decided when these cases go to court.

The case involving PKR vice-president Tian Chua defies understanding. His disqualification in the Batu parliamentary constituency was shocking. It may involve intricate arguments on the finer points of the law.

In another episode, both the police and Electoral Commission officials had apparently played a blatant role in deliberately preventing a potential election candidate from filing his nomination papers.

PKR candidate Dr S Streram was unable to submit his nomination papers for the Rantau state seat because he did not have the Electoral Commission pass to gain access to the nomination centre.

The police actually prevented him from entering the nomination centre to file his nomination papers and Electoral Commission officials deprived him of his fundamental right to contest the general election by not sorting out this little problem. It appeared that they wanted the caretaker menteri besar to be returned unopposed – and they succeeded in that!

The question arises if the stupid pass can override a citizen’s right to take part in the election.

Obtaining the pass is a procedural matter. The pass was only to facilitate his access into the nomination centre. It does not determine his eligibility to contest and his fundamental and inherent right to contest in the election. That right is a fundamental and inherent right derived from the constitution.

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Here, when the doctrine of proportionality is applied, we can see the incongruity when a procedural wrong – the failure to obtain a pass – is used to deny a fellow Malaysian his basic, fundamental and inherent right to stand in the election.

Despite this, the police reportedly forcefully and bodily prevented him from entering the nomination centre. He was pushed behind the police barricade.

Why did they not alert Electoral Commission officials to the problem? They could have even taken him into the centre and handed him over to the officials to resolve the problem. Did they unthinkingly – or deliberately? – prevent his access to the nomination centre?

The officials must have known of the fracas outside the centre. Indeed they must have known because, according to Streram, two officials came to him at 9.42am, talked to him and assured him that the issue would be resolved. They promised to return – but they never did.

Couldn’t they have taken him into the nomination centre to resolve the problem? If, for some reason, he was found not eligible to contest in the election, they could have rejected his papers and showed him the exit. This did not happen.

One would have thought that it was only a commonsensical thing to do, but it seemed that commonsense had no place that morning. Instances elsewhere involved candidates not bringing their Electoral Commission passes but being allowed in to file their nomination papers. That was the right thing to do. But why is it that, in the case of Streram, such common sense did not prevail?

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PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli accused the returning officer handling the Rantau state seat of deliberately delaying Streram. “I was informed by Harapan representatives in the hall that the Negri Sembilan Election Commission director had instructed the returning officer to allow Streram in to submit his nomination paper as early as 9.30am.

“However, the returning officer kept delaying before letting him in at 10.03am and then rejected the nomination,” he alleged.

How ridiculous the whole thing appears. At 9am, Streram could not be admitted into the nomination centre because he did not have a pass. On what grounds was he then let in at 10.03am when he still did not have the required pass?

This episode seems to suggest there was alleged collusion between the police and the Electoral Commission officials to sabotage the chances of Harapan of mounting a credible challenge in Rantau in the general election. They appear to have plotted to ensure that the caretaker menteri besar won without a contest. The whole episode reeks of political corruption to subvert the election in favour of Barisan Nasional.

There were other startling decisions made on nomination day.

In the cases involving the Bukit Pasir and Penaga candidates whose nomination papers were rejected on the grounds of their being bankrupt, the circumstances were intriguing,

When Bukit Pasir candidate Pizi Jihat’s papers were rejected, he produced documents obtained in a search on the Insolvency Department website to show he was not a bankrupt. But he was nonetheless disqualified on the grounds of being bankrupt.

According to Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin, Pizi had already settled his bankruptcy before being nominated and had brought proof with him. “But (the returning officer) said the latest cheque (sic) showed he was bankrupt, which is why I’m puzzled as to which is true,” Muhyiddin reportedly said.

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We are obliged to ask whether there were two websites: one for the Electoral Commission and another for ordinary Malaysians? If this is true, which website prevails?

Bersatu’s Yaacob Osman, a candidate for the Penang state seat of Penaga, suffered the same fate: his papers were also rejected on the grounds that he was a bankrupt. But Yaakob refuted this, claiming that he had already run a check which did not show he is a bankrupt.

“The election commission has said that there is data that I am bankrupt. We did a cheque (sic) last week and yesterday as well. There were no issues and I have not been summoned by anyone or declared bankrupt. The election commission has decided, nothing can be done,” he was quoted as saying in The Star Online.

Obviously, the Electoral Commission seems to have access to a different website of the Insolvency Department which is not available to ordinary Malaysians!

How do Malaysians prove their case when there is contradictory evidence? Why should the Electoral Commission evidence override the evidence procured and produced by the candidate obtained from the same source?

Documents were presented to prove that they were not bankrupt. Despite this, they were disqualified. Did the returning officer produce documentary evidence to prove that they were still bankrupt on the day of the nomination? Will he publicly disclose the evidence he had to prove why he arrived at that decision to disqualify them?

This action will prove whether the candidates were lying or the returning officers were sabotaging their right to contest in the election.

Let the truth be told!

Elections matter, but how much they matter depends entirely on how free, open and fair they are. – Elliot Abrams

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