Election in Malaysia

by Damaso G. Magbual, Member, NAMFREL National Council
Chairperson, Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
from NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.3, No.1
June 25, 2013

A round table discussion on three recent elections in Asia was organized by the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) in UP Diliman on May 31. These elections were held in Pakistan, Malaysia and the Philippines (with emphasis on the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao - ARMM). Mr. Raveendran Nair of the Malaysian Embassy in Manila gave a report on the last election better referred to by the media and the political contestants as General Election 2013. Mr. Nair gave a brief presentation on the election process as well as the results. There was hardly any room for disagreement on what was presented.

It was reported that of the 222 seats up for grabs, the ruling party (UMNO) got 133 while the opposition (Pakatan Rakyat) received 89. Mr. Nair did not find it significant to mention that while the ruling party was allotted 60% of the seats in parliament, it received only 46.6% of the popular vote. He did mention though that Malaysia’s system is first-past-the post in single member constituencies. But how does the proportion of seat allocation relate with the mantra, “one person, one vote, equal value”?

Civil Society Organizations in Malaysia involved with monitoring elections have long brought out the issue of “border realignment, delimitation, demarcation but this was met with deafening silence by the ruling party” said a local election observer. In the delimitation of constituencies, urban areas that normally vote for the opposition have three to four times more voters per constituency than the rural areas which normally vote for the ruling party. Hence, the disparity in the seat allocation vis-à-vis the popular vote.

Malaysia has laws similar to the decrees of Marcos during martial law in the Philippines. These laws restrict basic freedoms such as the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, both necessary for a candidate to get his message to the voter. To mention a few,

1. The Police Act of 1967 provides the police with powers of issuing licenses (permits) with respect to public gatherings and may impose conditions they deem necessary. The permit has to be applied for 14 days before the event. (Mr. Nair claimed that three days is sufficient but the law says otherwise). Here, an assembly in excess of more than five people is deemed an illegal assembly. Further, while it takes 14 days to apply for a permit, in the last election, the campaign period lasted only 14 days.

2. The Sedition Act of 1948 has a very broad definition of what constitutes “seditious tendencies” on issues relating to the Malay language, rights of Malays, Malay rulers, religion, etc. This law has been conveniently used to harass members of the opposition.

3. The Internal Security Act (ISA) of 1960 which was repealed in June 2012 with what is referred to now as SOSMA, Security Offenses (Special Measure) Act, and the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) have been dubbed by the opposition as the “same dog as the ISA with a different collar”. These two laws allow the arrest of any person suspected of threatening the national security of Malaysia.

There are other laws such as the Official Secret Act of 1972 that restricts divulging information to the public.

The mainstream media of Malaysia is unabashedly biased in favour of the ruling party. Hence, the opposition has to rely on social media to get its message across to the voters.

The process may appear to be free and fair but the “rules of the game” do not promote a “level playing field”.

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