KUALA LUMPUR: The 14th General Election (GE14) is just around the corner. There is a great sense of anticipation and excitement that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak will call for the election anytime now.
Both sides of the political divide have already embarked on the campaign trail for quite a while now starting with the war of nerves, with the poster war just emerging indicating campaign machineries are gearing up. GE14 is considered by political observers as the mother of all elections with politicians from both sides going overdrive with their rhetoric and promises.
The average citizen too is already feeling the GE14 euphoria, with the election dominating the coffee shop talks and conversations at functions and over the social media.
However, the Election Commission (EC) that conducts the election feels there is a need for greater participation in the election, not only as voters and candidates but also as polling agents.
EC chairman Tan Sri Mohd Hashim Abdullah noted that despite of the preoccupation with election, with some claiming that the EC is biased and that foreign monitors should be called in, many of the political parties and candidates fail to appoint their own monitors at polling stations.
AGENTS CONTRIBUTE TO TRANSPARENCY
The polling and counting agents (PACA) employed by parties or candidates play a crucial role in contributing towards the credibility and transparency of the election process and hence there is no need for foreign monitors and etc.
“Every party is given the opportunity to monitor the voting process at every voting stream by appointing their agents. These agents appointed by the parties and the candidates are allowed into every polling stream before voting starts and until vote count ends,” said Mohd Hashim during the Media Briefing on GE14 at Wisma Bernama, here recently.
Mohd Hashim voiced his concern that there were political parties and candidates that have failed to appreciate the roles played by PACA.
PRU 14 will see 8,971 polling centres with 29,097 polling streams. There shall be 116,388 PACA if all the parties or candidates appoint their respective agents.
Unfortunately, there are those who don’t bother to appoint their agents. And some of those appointed as agents don’t take their role seriously, some go missing instead of being at their respective polling centres.
“EC has no power to act on agents who don’t turn up or leave the voting centres when polling is in progress,” he said.
EC IS NOT BIASED
There are parties or candidates that appoint agents only at several voting centres and ignore the rest of the voting centres in the constituency. When the outcome does not favour, suspicions will arise and subsequently the accusations and defamatory allegations against the electoral process.
Mohd Hashim noted that while GE14 is being viewed by political pundits as the most keenly contested elections, EC views seriously parties or candidates who fail to appoint their agents at the polling stations.
“We will think of a way to address this. Maybe we will publish a list of candidates who have not appointed agents at the social media web site or something like that so that the society could see for themselves that they are not serious in participating in the election process,” said Mohd Hashim.
Meanwhile, the Director of Election Academy, Hasanul Isyraf Naim noted that the PACA are given the opportunity to be present at the voting streams as early 7.30 am.
By being present early the agents representing the party and the candidates can monitor the whole voting process starting from the sealing of the ballot boxes after inspection, the voting process and the counting process after polling closes.
“Only after the agents are satisfied that the ballot boxes are empty it would be sealed. Throughout the voting process the agent could observe the voters coming in, witness voters’ fingers applied with indelible ink and ensure the ballot papers are properly dispensed to the voter,” said Hasanul.
After the voting process is completed, the ballot papers would be counted at the respective polling streams and the PACA could continue monitoring the counting process.
After voting closes, the first thing that the EC employees do is count the ballot papers to see it tallies with the total number of ballot papers issued at the polling station. This is crucial to ensure that the number of ballot papers do not exceed the number issued at the centre.
Only after the agents are satisfied, the counting begins and the result recorded on form 14. Each of the agents are given a copy of the form for the use of the respective parties.
By this way no one could change or dispute any information regarding the vote count at every voting stream.
VOTERS ARE THE ONES WHO DECIDE
While lots have been said about GE14, Mohd Hashim called upon Malaysians to exercise their rights in the democratic process by going out to vote.
As at fourth quarter of 2017, EC had 14,968,304 registered voters in its electoral roll. Women make up slightly more than half of the total with 7.5 million registered voters (50.6 percent) while men make up 7.3 million (49.9 percent) of the voters. From the total, 6.2 million of the voters are in the 21-39 years old age group.
He regretted that 3.6 million Malaysians aged 21 and above have yet to register as voters.
Mohd Hashim also touched on the kempen undi rosak (spoil the vote campaign) that went viral in the social media recently saying it is not the way to vent out their frustrations on the political parties.
“In this respect EC has nothing to lose. If you are dissatisfied with the political parties, then you should vote,” he said.
During GE13, 173,868 spoilt votes or 1.3 percent of the total number of votes were recorded.
TAKING CRITICISM IN ITS STRIDE
Being the agency entrusted with the responsibility to conduct elections in the country, EC is not spared from criticisms.
There has been allegations that the democratic process in the nation is no longer transparent and is biased towards parties with vested interest.
However, for Mohd Hashim what is more important is that the EC carries out its responsibilities without fear or favour in the best possible manner in line with the democratic processes of the nation.
As for Mohd Hashim, it will be his first time handling a general election since he was appointed as EC’s chairman in January 2016.
Apart from the logistic preparations for GE14, the EC is now busy conducting roadshows to explain the election process for numerous parties like government bodies and others. – Bernama