Expect ‘dirtiest elections’ in Malaysia: Reform group


(Asia One) – A pressure group calling for free and fair polling in Malaysia warned on Monday that the country could see its “dirtiest elections ever” as it pledged to continue its campaign to prevent cheating.

Poll reform group Bersih, a civil society movement which has twice led tens of thousands to rally for electoral reform, said shortcomings such as errors on the electoral roll had been ignored by the government ahead of elections, to be held before the end of June.

The group said that the task to ensure fair elections now fell to the people and that it would embark on campaigns to boost voter turnout to mitigate fraud, and enlist citizen observers to prevent cheating.

“The 13th general elections will be one of the dirtiest elections ever seen and we should not anticipate any change in the near future,” Bersih chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan told a press conference.

The group says that despite government assurances that action has been taken, shortcomings in the electoral process have not been ironed out and that it was yet to decide whether to take to the streets for a third protest in two years.

One of the major points of contention, Ambiga said, was that there was no clear mechanism for opposition parties to access media coverage in the run up to elections, in a country where mainstream media is controlled by the government.

“In the meantime, there are increasing instances of discrepancies on the electoral roll. The Election Commission has shown itself as obstructive and utterly uninterested in implementing the simple reforms needed,” she said.

The pressure group is pushing the commission – the government body tasked with managing the polls – to invite international observers to ensure clean a fair vote.

Bersih, which means “clean” in Malay, has emerged as a major force in Malaysian politics.

Its rally in July 2011 was crushed by police who fired tear gas and charged protesters with batons, but the clampdown earned severe public wrath.

The protest was widely seen to have pushed Prime Minister Najib Razak to embark on a campaign to soften authoritarian laws in a bid to gain voter support.

A raft of reforms included the setting up of a parliamentary panel to examine polling issues such as electoral roll irregularities, allowing Malaysians overseas to vote and equal access to the media for all political parties.

But Bersih said the panel’s recommendations did not go far enough and held a second rally in April this year.

The government and its Electoral Commission, however, have insisted that the voter list is clean, saying only 0.3 per cent of those named are questionable.

Najib’s mandate expires in late April next year and many observers expect a tight contest after the opposition, led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, in 2008 handed the ruling coalition its worst poll showing ever.