New amendments in Election Offences Act- might as well don’t hold elections

The amendments in the Election Offences Act will now facilitate the tampering of ballot boxes, the surge of legitimized illegal voters, potential abuse on legitimate voters at the Barung and curbing of public rallies during the election campaign period. Is this what the government call as reforms? 

Resident Wangsa Maju

The recent amendments to the Election Offences Act 1954, passed on April 19th 2012 in the Parliament ( puts a big dent in the election process rather than reforming it. Below are the summarized changes.

1)The role of the Barung Agent is now removed under the S26. Barung Agents consist of volunteers who act on behalf of the election candidate(s), and they are stationed at the Barung (booth) on Election Day. These agents ensure the Election Laws are adhered to, at the booth. The agents also spot for phantom voters or voters with suspicious identity cards.

Barung Agents are the first line of defense against phantom voters and recipients of the Project IC. Since the Barung Agents are seating or standing next to the SPR clerk, the Agents will be able to spot any irregularities on voters’ identity cards and question the SPR clerk’s actions. The Polling Agents, who are stationed in the polling stream (classroom) on the other hand, are seated too far away from the SPR clerks- they will not be able to spot any ‘funny’ identity cards of the voters.

2)The role of the Barung Agent is also to ensure that eligible voters are not turned away at the Barung. For instance, where a legible voter turns up at the wrong polling centre, the Barung Agent at the booth can insist that the SPR clerk assist to direct the voter to the correct polling centre. With  the removal of the Barung Agent role, there will be no one ensuring such assistance is rendered.

3)The worse case scenario is the SPR clerk blatantly turning away eligible voters, even if the voter(s) turns up at the correct polling centre. The SPR clerk may merely provide the excuse that the voter’s name is not in the Electoral Roll.  

4)The 50 meter ruling is now changed to 100 meters- no campaigning is allowed within 100 meters of the polling centre (S26). Previously the border was within 50 metres of the polling station (classroom); now it is within 100 metres of the polling centre (school). Anyone who contravenes S26 is up to a fine of RM5,000 or 2 years’ jail or both (S24 & S26). This deters election volunteers and observers.

5)The amendment in S14 empowers the SPR to be flexible on the counting time of the ballot papers. The SPR, with the new Act, can opt to count ballot papers any given time. If the polling process stops at 5 pm, the SPR may opt to count the ballot papers at 6pm, 7pm or even at 10pm so it wishes. Between 5pm and the start of the counting of ballot papers, there is high possibility that the ballot boxes will be left unguarded by polling agents as the SPR has the power to order the polling agents out of the polling station during this interval.

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