IDEAS was accredited by the Election Commission of Malaysia (EC) to observe the recently concluded 13th General Elections. Our mandate was to observe, record, analyse and report events leading up to GE13, and subsequently recommend ways to improve any weaknesses found. We benchmarked our observation against the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Declaration on Criteria for Free and Fair Elections. We deployed 325 observers to 99 parliamentary constituencies in Peninsula Malaysia and 6 overseas polling centres.
Generally, we found that EC successfully ensured the overall process between nomination day and election day proceeded smoothly without any major glitches. Complaints have been filed about the possibility of phantom voters and the failure of the indelible ink to work as it should. Both are important issues that must be addressed. However, we position these two issues in the context of the wider lack of trust in the integrity of the electoral roll, instead of simply a weakness of the EC. In order to address the root cause of the problem, serious attention must be given to improving the integrity of the electoral roll. This involves improving the integrity of the National Registration Department’s database, which may not be within the EC’s purview.
It is important to examine the events building up to GE13 in order to get a better perspective. Taking a long-term view, we saw that (1) The media was heavily biased in favour of Barisan Nasional. State-funded media platforms have been abused to project partisan views to the public; (2) There were doubts about the EC’s impartiality and competency despite their many efforts to improve the electoral system. They were seen as being part of an already biased civil service. The fact that EC members repeatedly issued statements that could be construed as partisan did not help. Their defensiveness when criticised further angered the public; (3) Trust in the integrity of the electoral roll is low. This resulted in the public being very cautious when there were reports of foreigners being flown in, when they saw foreign-looking individuals, or when the indelible ink was seen as ineffective; (4) The Registrar of Societies did not treat all political parties equally, delaying the registration process of non-BN partie; (5) Constituency sizes are too unequal, allowing parties that win many smaller seats to win parliament, despite not commanding popular support; (6) Financing of political parties is not transparent, resulting in a big lack of clarity about the financial standing of the competing parties; (7) During the campaigning period, government and armed forces facilities were repeatedly used for campaigning purposes during the official campaign period; (8) Racial issues were dangerously exploited for political gains. There were many instances of BN fishing for votes by sowing mistrust between the Chinese and Malay communities.
Therefore, although the official campaign period and electoral processes may have proceeded smoothly and with minimal major issues, wider issues that are not within the EC’s purview have built up over the last few years. These issues conspired against non-BN parties, therefore creating a very uneven field. Due to these reasons, we conclude that GE13 was only partially free and not fair.