Pakatan abandons appealing polls disputes, will push for reforms, say lawmakers

FEBRUARY 28, 2014

Instead of disputing election results, opposition lawmakers now prefer to ensure the Election Commission implements electoral reforms and draws up election boundaries on an equitable basis. – The Malaysian Insider pic, February 28, 2014.

Having failed to win any of its 13th general election petitions filed in the courts, Pakatan Rakyat will have a better bet at winning more parliamentary and state seats in future elections by pushing the Election Commission (EC) to implement electoral reforms and draw up election boundaries on an equitable basis, lawyers for the three opposition parties said.

They said trying to obtain legal remedy in the petitions was a futile exercise, judging from the outcome of the hearings in the courts.

The senior lawyers, who are also members of parliament, said PR must ensure EC conducted elections that were fair and free for opposition parties and independent candidates who take on Barisan Nasional (BN) candidates.

More importantly, they said, a vigorous awareness campaign needed to be launched to educate the public that elections must be won through the ballot box and not going to court on grounds of fraud and corrupt practices.

A total of 58 petitions were filed in the peninsula and 11 in Sabah and Sarawak after GE13. Finally, only one was heard on merit, but it was eventually dismissed.

Their response came following the dismissal of election petitions by PAS and PKR despite the Federal Court remitting cases involving Bagan Datoh, Tapah, Ketereh, Machang and Lubuk Merbau to the election courts to hear cases by calling witnesses.

Lawyer R. Sivarasa said, on reflection, the filing of petitions after the general election was a sheer waste of time and a costly affair.

"The candidates or voters who filed the petitions had hefty costs imposed on them and this was seen as punishment meted out by the court," said Sivarasa, a member of the PKR political bureau.

The Subang MP said PKR had to raise about RM1.5 million to pay BN candidates and the EC.

Sivarasa said the election court imposed, on average, RM80,000 in costs after hearing a preliminary objection when in normal civil cases the amount was between RM5,000 and RM10,000.

The lawyer also feared that the public would resort to more radical action in the future when they realise that access to justice in court was impossible.

"Will the frustration of the public over the election results push them to adopt more radical activities like street protests?"

He said the message was clear that opposition parties and strategists must push the EC to be a good referee in preparing the electoral roll and conducting polls.

Veteran lawyer Karpal Singh, who represented the DAP in numerous election petitions over the 35 years, said the courts were very slow to alter the decisions of the electorate on voting day.

"This is the trend in most countries and the judiciary is reluctant to interfere unless in exceptional circumstances."

The DAP national chairman and Bukit Gelugor MP said many petitions were filed this time around as the election results in many constituencies were close and many allegations were levelled against the EC and BN.

In GE13, BN was denied its two-thirds majority for the second time. Datuk Seri Najib Razak's BN coalition managed to win only 133 parliamentary seats, seven seats fewer from 2008.

The opposition (PAS, PKR and DAP) won 89 seats and also secured 53% of the popular votes.

Karpal said the opposition could use its newfound strength in Parliament to ensure there was no gerrymandering and malapportionment of constituencies by EC in the coming delineation exercise that tilted towards BN.

"The number of seats cannot be added without the support of the opposition," he said.

PAS lawyer Mohamed Hanipa Maidin said there was already a perception in the public mind that remedy through legal avenues was an exercise in futility but electoral reform groups like Bersih have instilled awareness and educated the public on the importance of free and fair elections.

"Bersih conducted an unprecedented People's Tribunal where election experts and witnesses were called to testify on alleged malpractice and fraud. Their soon-to-be-released report will show the shortcomings and the improvements that need to be undertaken by the EC," said the Sepang MP.

He said opposition parties and their members were now in a better position to reach out to voters to exercise their democratic rights and this included voicing their objections if they were unhappy over the constituency delineation exercise.

Hanipa said all those who aspired towards fair and clean elections must also strive to ensure that the electoral roll was clean and only eligible voters were given the right to become advance voters.

“A Merdeka Center study revealed that advance votes made a difference in the last election and it also caused Pakatan to win more seats," he added. – February 28, 2014.