Clara Chooi, The Malaysian Insider
Fraudsters will have to tread carefully during the 13th general election as thousands of extra pairs of trained eyes will be helping the Election Commission (EC) and the police spot electoral fraud and political violence when polling day arrives.
Apart from the polling and counting agents appointed by each electoral candidate inside every polling station, a new breed of observers will be trolling the EC camps outside and in the nearby areas while voters decide who should rule Putrajaya next.
These are Bersih 2.0’s “citizen observers” — ordinary members of the public out to cast their own ballots on that crucial day, but armed with special training from local election experts on how to spot possible fraud and what to do with that information.
In an interview with The Malaysian Insider recently, Bersih 2.0 co-chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan (picture) said the “citizen observers” initiative, a campaign called “Jom Pantau” that will be re-launched along with “Jom 100” some time this month, was part of the group’s last-ditched attempt to make sure that the 13th general election is conducted fairly.
Ambiga, who has now gained international recognition for her work with the polls reform group, said the reason was simple — despite the raft of reforms and repeated assurances from the EC and the government, Bersih 2.0 still believes the coming polls will be the dirtiest in Malaysian history.
She said that this was because those in power now have too much at stake when polls are called, and with the heightened sense of public responsibility felt by voters today, those who intend to cheat would have to pull out all the stops to ensure their will is done.
“We have political violence going on even now. But the cops are not arresting anybody. It looks as if some people can behave with impunity.
“On polling day, political violence is when you frighten people away from stations, when there are threats and some people get emotional on that day... don’t forget, much of this comes from members of political parties because they have invested so much in the polls.
“But what people are alarmed about is how everyone gets away with it... Now the cops are partisan, they are getting orders telling them not to take action,” she said.
“I think only cowards do it. Those who are losers... who think they are gonna lose, who are losers anyway, also those who are scared of losing, are the ones who indulge in this. Otherwise, there should be no fear at all.”
Ambiga recounted Bersih’s many struggles over the past few years, from its first mass rally before the 2008 general election, to the July 9 gathering on 2011 and last year’s April 28 sit-in protest, and said that despite all its hard work, the government’s polls reforms have been pitiful, half-baked and insincere at best.
“There is nothing genuine about their intention to reform. Nothing,” she lamented.
But she said that Bersih 2.0, the polls watchdog group that became the catalyst to the burgeoning of Malaysia’s civil society movement, had decided not to accept defeat lying down.
The group may not have convinced the authorities that a total reform to current polls processes are needed, such as wiping out the thousands of irregularities spotted in current voter registries or putting an end to political violence, but Ambiga said that Bersih 2.0 has chalked up an even greater achievement.
“We have raised awareness,” she declared.
“So this is why this January, we are going to step up our two campaigns to get more and more Malaysians out on the streets during polling day — to vote, and to help us keep a lookout for fraud.”
Ambiga said Bersih 2.0, with the help of Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (Komas) and Malaysians for Free and Fair Elections (Mafrel), will be working the ground feverishly to attract more “citizen observers” into its fold by using social media tools and working the phone lines.
Another NGO, Tindak Malaysia, has already been training polling and counting agents or “PACABAs” — individuals appointed by every candidate to observe the polls proceedings inside the polling station itself.
Speaking to The Malaysian Insider recently, Komas programme officer Arul Prakash offered a brief preview of the group’s training session planned for the “Jom Pantau” programme.
He explained that among the most common offences that take place before and during an election are money politics and the abuse of government machinery, both state and federal, during the campaign period.
“There are big, lavish dinners, handing out of goodies by using a party’s name or government department.
“These are common things that we want people to observe,” he said.
“Also, we want to have people keeping watch on the ground. So that those who plan on committing fraud, they will think twice... you are being watched... you better be careful,” he said.
Arul said the key objective of “Jom Pantau” is to make sure that fraudsters are outnumbered by Bersih 2.0’s citizen observers and are frightened off from committing any offence during polling day.
He said Komas currently has some 300 observers already registered under the “Jom Pantau” campaign but Bersih 2.0 hopes to attract at least thousands more to ensure that every constituency would have a sizeable group keeping close watch over the polling process.
To register for training as a citizen observer, individuals are urged to visit Jom Pantau’s site at pru13.info.