Opposition cannot compete on equal terms with BN, reveals US report

Posted on 01/04/2014 - 12:00

Sonia Ramachandran

PETALING JAYA: Gerrymandering and unfair delineation exercises are criticisms often levelled against the Election Commission (EC).

But when another country is the one criticising Malaysia, does this not mean the nation’s credibility in the eyes of the world takes a beating?

On Feb 27, US Secretary of State John Kerry officially released the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices to Congress.

The reports, which are in their 38th year, document human rights violations and abuses in almost 200 countries and territories, including Malaysia, in 2013.

Tindak Malaysia founder P Y Wong said the report showed that the US had done a pretty thorough job studying the situation regarding elections in Malaysia.

“It doesn’t sound good for us internationally when the US criticises us like that but then again the US itself is not a paragon of virtue.

“The people who really understand the situation are the people on the ground. If you’re not on the ground, it’s hard for you to judge,” he told theantdaily

The report stated that Malaysian law provided citizens the right to change their government peacefully and that citizens exercised this right through periodic elections based on universal suffrage.

However, it said that while votes generally were recorded accurately, there were irregularities that affected the fairness of elections, and this right was abridged.
“The constitution does not limit the difference in the size of electoral constituencies in each district and each constituency, regardless of size, is represented by one parliamentary seat.

“The size of electoral districts varies, with rural districts generally smaller in population than urban districts. For example, the rural district of Igan has 18,000 registered voters with one representative, while, the urban district of Kapar had over 144,000 registered voters with one representative. This has the effect of over-representing the rural vote, which historically has predominantly supported the ruling coalition,” it stated.

The report said the 2013 national elections saw the opposition parties winning 52 per cent of the popular vote, 89 of 222 parliamentary seats, 229 of 505 state assembly seats, and control of three of the 13 state governments despite having unequal access to mainstream media.

“Opposition gains came despite the fact that opposition parties were unable to compete on equal terms with the BN coalition because of unequal access to the mainstream media and the gerrymandering that benefitted the ruling coalition.

“The discrepancy in size of electoral constituencies allowed for the ruling coalition to win 60 per cent of the seats in parliament with only 48 per cent of the popular vote. In contrast, the opposition received 52 per cent of the vote but only obtained 40 per cent of the seats, due to its stronger performance in population dense urban districts,” it said.

The report said the government offered 10 minutes of pre-recorded television airtime to both BN and the opposition to present their manifestos but that the government-influenced mainstream media limited the amount of time the opposition could campaign on air as well as which parties could advertise in newspapers.

“In March the opposition-led Penang state government attempted to buy advertising space in a mainstream newspaper owned by Umno. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng reported that the state was informed by the newspaper it would not accept advertisements from the opposition,” it said.

The report said the EC accredited several national organisations to observe the elections, including the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), the Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) and Merdeka Center for Opinion Research (Merdeka Center).
It stated that a joint report released by IDEAS and CPPS on May 8, three days after the general elections, stated that the elections “proceeded smoothly and with minimal major issues.”

“They were critical, however, of media coverage in favour of the ruling coalition and reported misuse of government facilities by the BN and doubts about the EC’s impartiality and the integrity of the electoral rolls. Their report concluded the elections were “partially free and not fair,” said the report.

It also touched on Cambodian and Indonesian observers being invited by the EC along with 17 other delegates from Asean countries who noted that they were able to oversee the process without issue.

“The government did not allow international NGOs or representatives from non-Asean countries to observe the electoral process,” it said.

Wong added that it was unfortunate Malaysia did not allow foreign observers, except from Asean, to observe the elections.

“Malaysia lost an opportunity to showcase its election integrity by doing that. The EC’s excuse for that is that they say foreign observers do not understand our culture and are therefore not equipped to understand our elections.

“But at the same time, they are more than happy to send their own officers abroad to observe other people’s elections,” he said.

Wong pointed out that election laws are universal and had nothing to do with culture.

“It’s based on universal principles of human rights and that is why people from different countries can observe elections in other countries.

“There are a lot of contradictions put forth by our local EC officers that do not stand up to logic,” said Wong.