Is SEDAR sedar of what makes for clean and fair elections?

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Ravinder Singh takes to task a local think-tank director for claiming that statements about our election system being unfair are false.

Photo credit: hazuism.blogspot.com

Sedar stands for Socio-Economic Development And Research Institute, which was set up in 2001. Based in Kuala Lumpur, it claims to be an independent think-tank with the mission “to help develop ideas and strategies in building a united, democratic, just, egalitarian, liberal and progressive nation for all Malaysians, transcending the barriers of race and religion”.

Commenting on Nick Xenophon’s detention, this think-tank’s executive director Tan Chuan Koon was quoted in the Sunday Star, 17 February 2012 (Penang Island edition) as having said that

1. “the Opposition had been making false claims that the election system was not fair”.

2. “The March 2008 political tsunami where the opposition took control of five states would not have been possible if the system was dirty…”

An e-mail enquiry I sent to him to confirm whether these statements were correctly reported got the reply: “What is the problem? Kindly advice.”

My response was: “Are the said statements attributed to yourself correctly quoted by The Star? If so, I would like to understand how the fact that the BN lost a few states in 2008 proves that the elections are fair and clean?”

Twenty-four hours later, no reply was received. I therefore take it the statements were correctly reported. This then raises questions about this think-tank’s methodology of coming to conclusions on important matters such as the elections.

The same statements are being bandied about by the BN and its supporters. This is to be expected. But when an independent think-tank repeats them, it must be able to rationalise them. Not that it cannot make those statements, but it must be able to support them with facts, sound and logical reasons, evaluation of actions against laws, ethics and moral standards. In this regard, Sedar should throw light on the following, which are some of the more obvious actions of the Election Commission and the ruling party in the conduct of our elections:

  • Constituency sizes vary so hugely that up to 18 votes in some opposition leaning constituencies are considered “approximately equal” to just one vote in BN-supporting constituencies. For what reasons does Sedar consider this fair and clean? The EC’s own website states that the number of voters in the different constituencies should be “lebih kurang sama” or approximately equal. How is 18 “approximately equal” to 1? “Approximately equal” is the requirement of the Federal Constitution. In which language in the world is 1 considered “approximately equal” to 18? Why does Sedar feel that it is fair and clean for 1 vote in Putrajaya to be “approximately equal” to 18 votes in Kapar?
  • Vote counting at each stream at each polling station is being done to spy on voter sentiments. With this very detailed information that can identify how a small group from a particular area (e.g. a kampong or an apartment unit) voted, the EC then draws electoral boundaries to include or exclude particular kampungs and housing areas from electoral constituencies, regardless of whether the number of voters in the constituencies created are “approximately equal” as any common person understands the words “approximately equal”. This is how huge and tiny constituencies are created on purpose to give advantage to the ruling party. How does Sedar explain the fairness and cleanliness of this gerrymandering?
  • Civilians are not allowed to conduct balloting in armed forces camps. The reason given is “security”. There are dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of civilians that are employed by the armed forces and they work in the camps. Those doing paperwork will be handling some sensitive information. They move about the camps. Yet they are allowed to do so. Election workers will not be handling any sensitive military information. They will not be moving about the camps. So what is the true reason for not allowing civilians to conduct the balloting watched by the candidates’ agents as in every other polling station? For what reasons does Sedar see this as a clean and fair process of balloting in the armed forces camps?
  • Thousands of persons not qualified to vote under the law were given blue ICs (as has been revealed in the RCI on ‘Project IC’ in Sabah ) and they voted. Evidence has been given that the citizenships and blue ICs were given in exchange for votes – “you help me, I help you”. In the eyes of Sedar, is this a fair and clean practice? Why? Over the last year or so, wholesale vote buying has been carried out by the incumbent government with public money. Dr Mahathir has openly said that all those who receive the various “bantuan” should vote for the givers of the “bantuan”, i.e. the BN. I help you, you help me. I give you “bantuan”, you vote for me. According to Dr Mahathir, not voting the BN is biting the hand that feeds the rakyat. Does this make for fair and clean elections in the eyes of Sedar? Why? Bear in mind that the money used is public money, not BN’s money. What about phantom voters? Has Sedar done an in-depth study of this? Are the claims of the existence of phantom voters a mere figment of the imagination?
  • What about the closed-door screening of the film “Tanda Putra” (i.e. the May 13 incident) to 3000 Felda settlers who were brought to KL? Is it clean and fair to brainwash people, to scare them, to sow hatred for people of a different race in this way to get their votes regardless of the consequences that could follow while shouting “1 Malaysia ” in another breath? There is a ban on the screening of this film to the public. Is it not an offence to screen banned movies? Is this a fair and clean practice in election campaigning?

Need an independent think-tank be reminded that its work is supposed to be like that of a good pathologist worth his or her salt. The pathologist does not accept the police’s word or anybody else’s word that there was no foul play in the death of someone. With an open mind, he scrutinises first the outside of the body. Then he cuts it up to examine the inside and do any lab and other tests that may be necessary to pin-point the cause of death. Only then does he come up with his conclusion.

Is Sedar fully sedar of all the factors that make for a fair and clean election? Has it done an autopsy to look at the total scenario, i.e. look beyond the surface, or as is said in Malay, to look for the udang sebalik batu? To be credible and live up to its claim of being an independent think-tank, could Sedar please give solid, intelligent explanations to show how each of the above listed actions contribute to make our elections fair and clean.

Ravinder Singh, a former teacher, is an activist based in Penang and regular contributor to our Thinking Allowed Online section.

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Viktor Wong
28 Feb 2013 5.33pm

SEDAR is a Gerakan-sponsored think tank. The director of SEDAR is an ex-political aide to former Gerakan president Dr Lim Keng Yaik.