Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Polls integrity still in doubt, says Ambiga

Polls integrity still in doubt, says Ambiga

BY CLARA CHOOI
ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR
April 03, 2013
Malaysian Insider  
Ambiga urged voters to show up in numbers, saying a high turnout could help reduce electoral fraud. — File picKUALA LUMPUR, April 3 ― Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan repeated concerns today over alleged discrepancies in the electoral roll and possible violence during Election 2013, despite acknowledging Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s promise of integrity in the general election. 
 
The Bersih co-chairman said Najib’s pledge to ensure a peaceful transition of power was a “given”, particularly in a country that claims to practice “true democracy”.
“It is good that he reiterated it but that is a given in any true democracy... the fact that democracy must be respected,” she told The Malaysian Insider this afternoon, shortly after Najib announced the dissolution of Parliament.

“But what we want to see now is a healthy campaign and a level playing field for all contesting parties, whether in the matter of access to media or on political violence.

“We do not want to see dirty politics and we hope that all parties will be on their highest, most ethical level of conduct,” Ambiga said.

The influential civil rights activist added that it may partly have been public pressure that had led Najib to outline his team’s willingness to surrender power should they lose at the polls, noting that many leaders in the opposition have already been demanding that the prime minister make the commitment.

“Public pressure does wonderful things,” said Ambiga, who is known for her role in leading several mammoth rallies in the streets of the capital to demand clean and fair polls.

In his televised address to announce Parliament’s dissolution this morning, Najib promised that there would be a peaceful transition of power should there be a change in the federal government after the 13th general election.

“We respect democracy, we are committed to our political transformation, we are committed to respect the voice of the rakyat,” the country’s sixth prime minister stressed towards the end of his 15-minute speech in announcing the dissolution.

Ambiga described it as a “relief” that the prime minister “finally” dissolved the Dewan Rakyat after over a year of uncertainty on the polls date, but stressed that there were still many outstanding issues in the fight for free and fair elections that have yet been rectified.

She said the country’s voting process could still be tampered with, noting that many alleged discrepancies in the current voter registry were yet to be cleaned out.

“There have been many issues that we have highlighted and they remain our concerns until today,” she said.
As such, Ambiga said the best way to minimise the effects of electoral fraud was to ensure a massive voter turnout on polling day this Election 2013.

“We therefore urge every citizen who is eligible to vote to please come out and vote.... let us minimise the effects of these discrepancies,” she said.

Election 2013 is expected to be the most keenly contested election in recent times, with analysts saying that the outcome is in doubt for the first time in Malaysian history after the historic 2008 general elections that saw Barisan Nasional (BN) lose its two-thirds parliamentary majority.

There are 13.3 million registered voters, or 83 per cent, out of 16 million eligible voters, according to the Election Commission (EC).

In Election 2008, 76 per cent out of 10.7 million registered voters turned up to vote, amounting to about 8.16 million voters.

Ambiga said that she hoped for at least an 85 per cent voter turnout, pointing out that five to 10 per cent could make a difference.

“Any increase will help reduce or mitigate the fraud,” she said.

Opposition researchers have claimed there are tens of thousands of phantom voters registered on the electoral roll, including for Sabah and Selangor, two key states capable of tilting the outcome of Election 2013.

The EC has denied the allegations, arguing that the high percentage of discrepancies in the voter roll was “normal”.

Ambiga pointed out last December that the EC had also failed to commit to stop all forms of political violence before or during campaigning.

She recently urged Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein to censure Umno supporters for threatening to kill PKR vice-president Chua Tian Chang, or risk being blacklisted by Bersih for condoning political violence.

Najib, along with leaders from BN component parties, signed Transparency International-Malaysia’s Election Integrity Pledge last month in a move they claimed displayed their seriousness in playing fair in the upcoming polls.

But Najib and his coalition have come under heavy fire for their muted response to several violent attacks on the opposition, allegedly perpetrated by BN supporters or members of hardline groups linked to Umno, the ruling coalition’s Malay lynchpin.

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