ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR: EC move over postal votes

Postal ballots could prove even more crucial this time, as Kuala Terengganu's 80,229-resident electorate appears to be split down the middle between Umno and Pas. Azharuddin is unlikely to make an impact.

Zubaidah Abu Bakar, New Straits Times


It comes as a relief that the Election Commission (EC) has decided to display the results of postal voting first before those from the polling stations at the tallying centre in Stadium Negeri.

Not that this will eliminate the recriminations over postal ballots altogether. At most, it will elicit fewer allegations of tampering.

There may not be many postal ballots, but because the winning margin in the Kuala Terengganu by-election is expected to be small, they could well sway the outcome and be turned into a subject of controversy.

Postal votes are already an issue in Kuala Terengganu. A voter in one of its state constituencies, Ladang, filed an election petition seeking a recount of 127 postal votes that were rejected by the EC before they were counted.

The Kuala Terengganu High Court had thrown out the petition by Mahari Endut when election judge Datuk Ramly Ali ruled the petitioner had failed to establish the facts.
Mahari had named returning officer Datuk Mat Razali Kassim, who is Kuala Terengganu mayor and the returning officer for the by-election, and Pas candidate Datuk Engku Hassan Engku Omar as respondents.

Engku Hassan obtained 6,723 votes in the March general election, defeating Barisan Nasional's Datuk Wan Hisham Wan Salleh, the elder brother of Kuala Terengganu BN candidate Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid, by 31 votes.

Wan Farid is facing Wakaf Mempelam state assemblyman Mohd Abdul Wahid Endut from Pas and independent candidate Azharuddin Mamat @ Adam.

The late Datuk Razali Ismail secured a 628-vote majority to retain Kuala Terengganu last March, defeating Mohamad Sabu of Pas and independent candidate Maimun Yusof.

Postal ballots could prove even more crucial this time, as Kuala Terengganu's 80,229-resident electorate appears to be split down the middle between Umno and Pas. Azharuddin is unlikely to make an impact.

Of the 1,035 postal voters, 1,001 are in the police force, 27 in the military and the rest are Terengganu students studying abroad.

Postal ballots were distributed yesterday; the police have told the EC that polling would be conducted tomorrow.

The casting of postal ballots at police stations and army camps is usually observed by polling agents and can be held at any time as long as ballot papers reach the returning officer before 5pm on polling day.

"Votes will be counted by the assistant returning officer in charge of postal voting, in the presence of agents of candidates before being taken to the tallying centre in Stadium Negeri.

"The results of postal voting will be written first on the board for display," says Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar, the EC deputy chairman.

The counting of postal ballots for the Jan 17 by-election will take place at the returning officer's by-election operations room at the Kuala Terengganu Municipal Council building at the same time as the counting for all polling stations — shortly after 5pm.

Postal voting for armed forces and police personnel has been marred by accusations of intimidation, breach of secrecy and fraud.

It is also common for opposition parties to accuse the EC of transferring postal votes to assist the BN in marginal constituencies, an act Wan Ahmad said was meant to justify their losses.

Advocates of "free and fair elections" have repeatedly called on the EC to do away with postal ballots.

Abolishing postal voting is one of the demands of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih).

"It is unfair to make the EC the scapegoat when party leaders are well aware that there is no way votes can be transferred, as counting is done in the presence of the agents of the contesting candidates.

"Party leaders know exactly how postal ballots are handled but choose to keep quiet when party supporters make wild accusations against the EC," said Wan Ahmad.

Even so, the commission is trying to make sure that the first by-election of the year is as transparent as it can possibly be.