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Thread: SPR: M'sia can be benchmark for Islamic nations but EC, govt too "defensive", Muslim polls group

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2008

    SPR: M'sia can be benchmark for Islamic nations but EC, govt too "defensive", Muslim polls group

    Good sense of humour.

    Thursday, 10 January 2013 13:27

    M'sia can be benchmark for Islamic nations but EC, govt too "defensive" - Muslim polls group

    Written by Wong Choon Mei, Alaa Soleiman, Malaysia Chronicle

    The Muslim American Election Observers Committee, in Malaysia on a fact-finding mission, says the country has the chance to "set the standard" for the Muslim and emerging worlds if the authorities were less "defensive" and more sincere in conducting free and fair polls.

    The Committee highlighted 3 main areas of weaknesses that it said would hinder confidence amongst the Malaysian people, including the integrity of the electoral roll; the lack of free and fair access for the Opposition to the mainstream print and broadcast media; the absence of any plans to establish a caretaker government immediately preceding the ballot to ensure fairness.

    "As democratic movements sweep across the Muslim world, we believe that Malaysia is in a position to set the standard. Our presence here is an effort to urge continued progress towards meeting international standards for free and fair elections," Dr Inayat Maliki, co-chair of the Interfaith Dialogue at Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) told a press conference on Thursday.

    "Malaysia has shown steady progress. Material progress is important but progress in the political arena is also important because that's what will ensure the viability and financial health of a country. A lot of Muslim countries lack a truly democratic process. A lot of Muslims nations are ruled by dictatorships and the change of rule of government has been or by military coups. There have not been many models for peaceful transitions especially in a multi-party format."

    EC & incumbent government not doing enough

    Malik and his colleagues Mirza Baig (from the Elections & Democracy Committee) and Mazen Asbahi (Counsel for ISNA), who came to Kuala Lumpur at the invitation of the office of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, made it clear that they were non-partisan observers and would have responded to the same invitation from Prime Minister Najib Razak's government or any other party.
    Malik took the Election Commission and the authorities to task for not doing more to ensure free and fair polls. When meeting EC officials, his Commitee offered to return to Malaysia to observe the 13th general election, which must be called before June 2013. However, they were rebuffed with the EC replying that they could visit Malaysia any time as "tourists".

    "That would hardly be fulfilling our role," said Malik, adding that although the Najib administration knew they coming, no effort was made to contact them.

    Nurul Izzah, the PKR MP for Lembah Pantai who was also at the press conference, expressed regret at the EC's 'discourtesy'.

    "It's sad but why are we not surprised. We were very disappointed when Transparency International Malaysia announced its decision to pull out because it knew it would be given a chance to carry lout its work. Why reject international observers if the elections are going to be fair," Nurul told Malaysia Chronicle.
    Very unsual to have same government for a prolonged period of time
    Malik also said that it was "very unsual" for a democratic nation not to experience any changes in government for a prolonged period of time.

    "It is seldom for democratic nations to continue to be ruled for a period of time by the same government. Not that there is anything wrong if there is transparency and accountability. But it is very unusual because the people themselves want to see changes, try new things, new ideas and people should be allowed to decide. We hope that Muslim nations across the world can transform or move into a democratic form of transition. This is necessary for continued progress."

    Malik pin-pointed the lack of a "free press" to be the greatest obstacle currently hampering free and fair polls.

    "The media seems to be totally reflective of one viewpoint. Reading the newspapers since we were here, there're very little divergent viewpoints offered There may be different angles but these eventually converge to the same viewpoint. It is a free media that makes a country democratic and the ability of the media to criticise the government, and not have to fear having their licence revoked or being hauled to jail. That's where Malaysia needs to make progress," he said.

    'Dirty' electoral roll & caretaker government

    In the Committee's meeting with EC reps, Malik said his Commitee also raised the issues of -

    > "significant numbers of non-resident voters being registered by political parties in closely-contested constituencies";
    > "questionable use of government authority to register foreign-born resdents";
    > "difficulties in challenging the validity of the electoral rolls given the lack of access to electronic records and time and cost requirements".

    The Committee also recommended a caretaker government to ensure "fairness and prevent abuse of government powers and resources to impact the conduct and outcome of elections".

    Somebody must do something

    Malik, however, does not appear to expect much positive response from either the EC or the Najib administration and it was up to the people to keep up their demands for a more transparent system.

    "[For example], we feel it is the duty of the EC to say it [the lack of equal access to the mainstream media] is a hindrance to free and fair election. They say there's only so much they can do," said Malik.

    "They shouldn't get defensive. Somebody needs to be doing something , somebody, the government, the Ruler, somebody needs to be doing something."

    Malaysia Chronicle

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2008

    SPR: Elections in Malaysia. Hardly free and fair, Imam Mohamed magid

    Imam Mohamed Magid

    President, Islamic Society of North America.

    Elections in Malaysia: Hardly Free, Barely Fair and in Dire Need of Reform

    [Admin: Note - the original post has been removed by the blogger. The pdf of the original article is attached]
    Posted: 01/16/2013 10:21 am

    This spring Malaysians will go to the polls for the 13th time to elect their leaders. The election will be unlike any one that has preceded it. More Malaysians will vote than at any other time in history -- and those who vote will be, on average, younger than ever before. Malaysians, known to vote consistently along the racial lines that divide that country, may, for the first time, in large numbers cast their ballots based on policies and performance.

    We traveled to Malaysia last week as independent election observers to investigate reports of fraudulent practices marring the credibility of Malaysian elections. We are not the first group to visit Malaysia for this purpose. International organizations have already highlighted concerns about electoral fraud in Malaysia and a high-ranking delegation including representatives from seven countries made a similar visit in April 2012.

    After meeting with the Election Commission, civil society groups and members of the opposition parties in Malaysia, we cannot but affirm the findings of the groups that have preceded us. The freeness and fairness of elections in Malaysia is in serious jeopardy as a result of three primary factors:

    1. Tightly controlled media
    2. Aberrant registration of voters reflected in the electoral roll
    3. Abuse of power by the incumbent government

    A political awakening is taking place in Malaysia. In the last election in 2008 the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition won over 50 percent of the popular vote in peninsular Malaysia, gaining control of 37 percent of the Parliament and five of Malaysia's 14 states and territories, denying the ruling party its 2/3 majority in Parliament for the first time. The 2/3 majority is a magic number that gives the government a "filibuster"-proof majority, which among other things, empowered it to amend Malaysia's constitution a shocking 600-plus times since independence.

    A poll released last week by the independent Merdeka Center of Malaysia shows that the government's approval rating is at 42 percent suggesting that there is a real chance the opposition can increase its gains and win a Parliamentary majority.

    Yet standing in the way of this march towards democratic reform is the actual conduct of elections. UMNO has been in power since 1957 and during that time the party has gained a virtual monopoly on power in the country. The major levers of power, be it the judiciary, the media, the police, AG's chamber and the anti-corruption commission are widely-believed to be loyal to the party. While Malaysia is on paper a constitutional monarchy with regular elections, the system is strongly biased in favor of the government with gerrymandered districts and vastly unequal resources available to opposition parties. The election commission has been widely criticized for abetting the UMNO-friendly system.

    In our conversations in Malaysia we learned that poor management of the voter list has allowed thousands of deceased voters to cast ballots and shows instances of addresses in key swing districts that house over 120 people. Thousands of new voters are registered in districts, well above what would be considered a reasonable rate of new registrations. Over a million expatriates are denied the opportunity to vote unless they physically return to Malaysia for an election that is typically called only two to three weeks before the polling day -- the shortest election period in the world. On the other hand, military servicemen and police officers are allowed to vote absentee but officers fear their ballots are not secret, and fear retribution for casting a vote against the incumbent.

    When Parliament is finally dissolved the playing field is likely to grow more uneven. The apparatus of the government can be mobilized to aid the incumbent -- from transportation and logistics to paid staff and workers.

    Most troubling is the mainstream media which is more or less owned by UMNO or UMNO affiliates. With the country already on election footing, we read newspapers sycophantic in their praise for UMNO while giving no space for opposition parties to air their views, perspectives or accomplishments. This disparity in coverage will certainly work to the detriment of the opposition during the election period. Although Internet access is high in Malaysia, UMNO relies on the loyalty of rural voters who rely heavily on traditional media.

    Around the world no political party has held onto power consecutively for longer than UMNO and its ruling coalition -- now going on 56 years. This in itself raises serious questions as to how fair a chance the electorate in Malaysia is being provided for choosing a different government, in a democratic system supposedly modeled on the Westminster Conventions.

    As independent observers we are of the view that Malaysians should have the opportunity to choose their own leaders in an election that holds each and every vote sacrosanct. Based on our findings we have little confidence that this will indeed be the case in Malaysia unless significant reforms are implemented over the next few months.

    As members of the Muslim-American community we earnestly look towards Malaysia taking its place among emerging Muslim democracies like Turkey and Indonesia. We believe that representative democracies are critical to building modern, economically prosperous and educated societies and combating the scourge of corruption and poverty that afflicts many Muslim majority nations. The recent upheaval in many Muslim lands points out this desperate need. We feel that Malaysia has full potential to blaze the path and set the standard. It is critical that she do everything in her power to ensure that the concerns of the civil society organizations and the opposition are addressed and the elections are free and fair.

    The United States, while not to be seen as interfering in the Malaysian elections, has an obligation to exercise its moral authority, as enunciated in President Barack Obama's Cairo address, to be fully supportive of free and fair elections as pivotal in nurturing nascent democracies in Muslim majority countries.


    Mazen Asbahi, Esq.
    Counsel, Islamic Society of North America

    Mazen Asbahi serves as counsel to the Islamic Society of North America. As an attorney, Mr. Asbahi practices in the areas of business, healthcare and nonprofit law, representing a wide variety of clients, including entrepreneurs, investors, established businesses, physician practice groups, other healthcare-related businesses and nonprofit institutions. Mr. Asbahi received his bachelors degree with highest honors from the University of Michigan, and his juris doctorate degree, with cum laude honors, from the Northwestern University School of Law. He received his principal legal training at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, one of the nation's premiere law firms.

    Dr. Mirza Baig, MD, PhD
    Member, Elections & Democracy Committee

    Dr. Baig is respected and well recognized neurosurgeon, scientist, inventor and a community leader from Houston, Texas. He has been active in humanitarian causes throughout his career beginning as a college organizer, from Bosnia relief efforts to Pakistan Flood Relief recently. In Ohio, Iowa and Texas, Dr. Baig has been active in the US electoral process by organizing the American Muslim community's engagement at various levels. He has facilitated over the years, countless number of candidates and represented the American Muslim community in political forums. Dr. Baig received his BS from University of Maryland. His medical education was at Howard University. His graduated research for his PhD work was completed in National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

    Dr. Inayat Malik, MD
    Chairman of Board for Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati; Co-Chair of Interfaith Dialogue at ISNA

    Dr. Malik is an accomplished surgeon, a leader in the American Muslim community, a human rights advocate and key organizer for inter-faith dialogue across the United States. In addition to Dr. Malik's dedication to medicine, he is also active in the Muslim community and is devoted to improving interfaith relations in Greater Cincinnati. Dr. Malik is a founding member and past president of the Islamic Association of Cincinnati and the Islamic Educational Council. He chaired the committee responsible for envisioning and constructing the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, one of the largest Islamic Centers in the US and is currently serving as its President and Chairman of its Board of Trustees. Dr. Malik has encouraged voter registration through the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, sending out emails and providing on site registration facilities. He has also hosted various candidates for elected political office at local state and national level to present their viewpoint on various issues to the attendees at the Islamic Center, from both the Democratic and Republican parties. Dr. Malik graduated from King Edward Medical College in Pakistan.

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