Having acted as a coordinator for polling and counting agents for the Opposition campaign in the recently concluded Sarawak State Elections has made me more confused about the rationale of the electoral system in Malaysia, in particular with regard to postal voting.
Under Malaysian election laws, postal voting is mainly allowed for police personnel, members of the armed forces and Election Commission workers who are on duty on polling day. Six days before polling day, postal votes will be issued through a procedure which can be witnessed by agents from all contesting parties. The ballot papers are inserted into envelopes with an acknowledgment form attached to be ‘posted’ to the voters concerned .
Don’t be fooled by the name, though. In actual fact, only a very small number of overseas votes are sent by post. The postal votes for police personnel and members of the armed forces are dispatched by police and military officials respectively to designated police stations and army camps, whereas Election Commission workers are required to collect their own postal votes from the issuing centre.
Upon arrival at the issuing centre, the EC workers have a choice of either voting on-the-spot (a polling station a la the normal voting procedure will be set up for them), or to take the ballot papers back and return them later. The postal voting station will be open for six days until polling day.
Questions which immediately arise are: if the EC workers can come in person to collect their postal votes, why can’t they just vote on-the-spot under the normal voting procedure? Why the additional choice of issuing ballot papers in envelopes which involves more steps and make it more prone to abuse? Why should the EC workers be allowed to bring the ballot papers back while ordinary voters do not enjoy this privilege? Why do they need six days to return the ballot papers? Is it to wait for God’s vision of who to vote for?
Such is the leniency given by the EC to postal voters. Not only did police personnel and members of the armed forces enjoy the privilege of casting postal votes, it was also extended to their spouses! Meanwhile, Malaysians abroad do not have such luck.
In addition to that, a registered voter who is eligible for postal voting can apply to be a postal voter up until 3 pm the day before polling day. This is to say that less than 24 hours is required for the EC to process the application. Doesn’t such efficiency sounds all too ridiculously amazing considering that the EC needs 3 to 6 months to process the registration of an ordinary voter like you and I?
The EC’s decisions caused the number of postal voters to skyrocket in the last few days before the Sarawak State Elections, as can be seen in the constituency of Kota Sentosa (Kuching) which saw an increase from 1,800 postal voters to a whopping 3,000 voters and Pelawan (Sibu) from 14 voters to about 300 voters. As party workers, we had no choice but to compare the list of newly-added postal voters with the electoral roll and cross out the names of the postal voters from the electoral roll in order to prevent double-voting, and to be sleep-deprived in the process!
Postal votes can be regarded as a ‘fixed deposit’ for the incumbent government. This can be seen in the constituency of Senadin, where the PKR candidate was leading by a substantial number of votes but was eventually overcome by postal votes in favour of the BN candidate, causing the PKR candidate to lose the election by a mere 58 votes. In Dudong, one of constituencies which the DAP contested in, the election battle with SUPP, the other party contesting the seat, was close. The counting of the votes was a very tensed affair until, at least for a short while, the DAP finally took the lead by about a thousand votes. At that time, the counting of postal votes – which numbered about 700 in that constituency – has yet to be completed. Just as the DAP was about to celebrate its unofficial victory, a blackout occurred in the counting centre of the postal votes (one can only guess what can happen to the ballot papers in the dark!). Fortunately, the matter was resolved amicably between leaders of both parties without unnecessary chaos.
Postal votes also make vote-buying easier, as its complicated process is more prone to loopholes and abuses. As the ballot paper can be taken out from the voting station unlike normal voting, it is easy for the voter to show an ‘interested party’ his or her vote in return for a monetary reward. On the second day after the postal votes were issued, a DAP polling agent in Sibu caught on video a group of people purportedly involved in vote-buying. A man was seen handing over to three or four ladies orange coloured papers similar to the postal ballot papers along the staircase in a building. When they realized that the ‘transaction’ was being recorded, they quickly dispersed into the crowd. Although the ladies later denied any wrongdoing when contacted, their acts remain highly suspicious and demonstrates the vulnerability of the system.
Party workers need to go along with the ridiculous system and try their very best to prevent any dirty tricks. In Sarawak, agents were sent to postal voting centres to ensure that postal votes are issued according to the official list. They stayed at these centres from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for six days to ensure that the votes were picked up by the voters themselves and to stare at the ballot box to make sure that it is not moved or stuffed with extra papers. For those votes that are despatched to army camps or police stations, they tailed the car escorting the ballot boxes to ensure that the boxes did not get ‘lost’ on the way.
But that is only this much we can do. Until the Election Commission decides to get smarter, we will all need to do it the brain-less way.
Ivy Kwek was in the campaign of DAP Sibu for two weeks and still has some trouble adjusting to the KL driving manners.