Monday, July 25, 2011

Why the BN fears indelible ink and automatic registration

Written by Maclean Patrick, Malaysia Chronicle

Back in 2008, the use of indelible ink was mooted and shelved at the eleventh hour. This shocked election observers and when questioned as to why the ink was not used, even-though a batch was bought from India, the Election Comission along with the Barisan Nasional government said in unison that it violated the citizens right to cast vote.

It is a rather mystifying reason, yet even-though the ink was not used in the 2008 election, it did not deter the public’s move to grant great gains to the opposition. If you take into account popular vote and not seat count, Pakatan Rakyat was almost dead even with Barisan Nasional.

And now with the 13th General Election looming - in the very near future - the issue of transparency in the voting process has surfaced again. The main contention for all is the existence of phantom voters. Voters who are registered in multiple places and even dead voters who resurrect just in time to cast their votes and then return to sleep for another five years.

Such is the fallacy in the Malaysian voting process that citizens have banded together to support the Bersih movement, that has an eight point recommendation to ratify some of the problems with elections in Malaysia.

In an obvious move to pacify angry voters, the EC has stated that they will put into place some of the recommendations by Bersih. Yet, there is one that remains a hotly contested issue - the use of indelible ink.

The EC said it is considering the use of a biometric system for voters’ verification in the general election. EC Chairman Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof said the commission would first have to scrutinize the system before the implementation.

When the issue of why indelible ink was not used, the EC chairman added,”The proposal also contravenes Article 119 (1) of the Federal Constitution which guarantees every citizen’s constitutional right to vote in an election, and that right cannot be denied unless the registered voter is disqualified under the law.”

Yet, until today, no-one knows how indelible ink can contravene a person’s right to vote in an election. And the EC still insists it is independent from the BN political masters! It looks like the reason for such strong objection to indelible ink may only reside in the minds of the BN and its obedient Election Comission.

Article 119 (1) of the Federal Constitution also does not indicate how ink can disqualify voters:

Article 119. (1) Every citizen who—

(a) has attained the age of twenty-one years on the qualifying date;

(b) is resident in a constituency on such qualifying date or, if not so resident, is an absent voter; and

(c) is, under the provisions of any law relating to elections, registered in the electoral roll as an elector in the constituency in which he resides on the qualifying date, is entitled to vote in that constituency in any election to the House of Representatives or the Legislative Assembly unless he is disqualified under Clause (3) or under any law relating to offences committed in connection with elections; but no person shall in the same election vote in more than one constituency.

As mentioned in Article 119(1), disqualification is subject to Clause (3) which states:

(3) A person is disqualified for being an elector in any election to the House of Representatives or the Legislative Assembly if—

(a) on the qualifying date he is detained as a person of unsound mind or is serving a sentence of imprisonment; or

(b) having before the qualifying date been convicted in any part of the Commonwealth of an offence and sentenced to death or imprisonment for a term exceeding twelve months, he remains liable on the qualifying date to suffer any punishment for that offence.

So what was the EC Chairman alluding to when he said that indelible ink contravenes Article 119(1) and violated the citizen’s right to cast votes?

The use of indelible ink is practiced in most countries and it does not contravene on the constitution of these countries. India, the biggest democracy in the world; has been a long time user of indelible ink.

It is inexpensive and easily implemented, especially when dealing with rural areas. The voter checks their name on the electoral sheet, takes the ballot paper and then gets their pinky finger marked with this ink. Where are the security risks? And how does that deny the voter his right to vote?

The EC in 2008 did come up with a scenario that voters can be inked, by force, before they go to the polling centre thus voiding them from voting.

It is a plausible situation but then, an intelligent voter would report the incident to the police, prove themselves still eligible since their name on the electoral sheet has not been cross out, and still cast their vote. And further-more, a vote is only spoiled if the ballot paper is marked wrongly, not when a pinky finger is inked before hand.

Automatic registration

Instead it is the Election Commission that has contravene and violated a Malaysian citizen’s right to vote.

An citizen upon reaching the age of 21 is eligible to vote. It is their constitutional right to do so. Yet, the Election Commission has constantly evaded this issue. Instead, it has refused to grant automatic voter registration for those reaching the age of 21.

Article 119(1) is very clear on this matter, if you are 21 and reside in a constitution; you are thus, eligible to vote in that constitution.

Any move to create automatic registration would mean a revamp of the electoral listings and the creation of check and balance practices to ensure that voters are registered where they reside. This would mean a cross-check with the National Registration Department, to ensure that only legit citizens of Malaysia are registered as voters.

Automatic Voter Registration would be a better system to put in place than biometrics, for it covers two areas in the voting process; ensuring that all Malaysians can cast votes and guaranteeing that only Malaysians can cast votes.

Indeed, above the whole issue that biometric is better than indelible ink and the cost of these two authenticating mechanisms to test for eligible voters; the EC is hiding the fact that they themselves are the ones contravening the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.

- Malaysia Chronicle

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