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The EC is caught in its electoral machinations

POLLING IS TOO IMPORTANT, in the Election Commission's considered view, to be left solely in the hands of the voter. He would not understand the issues, and he would be swayed by sweet talk and irrelevant issues like religion or activist babble about corruption, integrity, transparency to prevent him for voting the BN in. So it has, over the years, shortchanged the voter to make it difficult for him to vote. He might live in Batu Gajah, in Perak, but his place of voting is in Tampin, Negri Sembilan. But never mind, arrangements are made for phantom voters to vote on his behalf. All this is done with the connivance of the EC, and other agencies of government, like the National Registration Department, which issues identity cards to illegal immigrants and others so they could vote on behalf of Malaysians who cannot or would not vote, especially those who died years ago. The EC has but one mission: the BN must be returned to power at whatever cost. If that means playing fast and loose with the rules, then so be it. If it means the widespread use of phantom voters and improper electoral registers, then so be it. Its role is but to do and die.

The EC chairman, Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, understands this only too well. In early 2003, when the parliamentary constituencies were being redrawn, he made an unpublicised trip to Sabah, where he met with UMNO leaders. His mission was two-fold: to ensure that Muslims would form the majority of any new Sabah state assembly, and that the Chinese, whose support is crucial for any group wanting to form the government, be permanently reduced to an irrelevant electoral force. He achieved both. He had private meetings the night he arrived with those of like views in Sabah UMNO, then with UMNO leaders the next morning, and returned home. He did not meet any other leaders in the state BN or opposition. UMNO had proposed that one way out of this was to have 70 parliamentary constituencies, unworkable since neighbouring Sarawak would also have to be upgraded, and that would have made the exercise moot since UMNO does not exist in Sarawak, and the Sarawak BN would not agree to a plan for more seats in return for a majority of Muslim constituencies.

To ensure control, the BN is prepared to what was agreed when the two states joined Malaysia, a third of the parliamentary seats. The reason is not for constitutional reasons, but so the Muslims would govern in perpetuity. In the end, the EC ensured 36 of the 60 Sabah state constituencies would have a Muslim majority, with 25 parliamentary constituencies. Tan Sri Rashid did not talk of a Malay majority, since even the Malays in the two states do not want to be seen to be close to the Malays in the peninsular. This is nevertheless a double-edged sword. The Sabah and Sarawak Muslims resent federal control, and Sabah UMNO is nothing but. The EC plays with fire. The UMNO arrogance in the new BN government is all too obvious. The non-Muslims are sidelined, and made to understand that they have only a supporting role in a federally-controlled state BN. As usual, no long-term thought is given to what is done. One now knows why the opposition PAS is establishing roots in the two states, more so in Sabah. For the UMNO's Muslim campaign in Sabah and Sarawak would only ensure a local Muslim alienation that would benefit PAS. As in the peninsular.

The EC forgot that tribal loyalties are more powerful unifying force than artificial political or religious groupings. When religion is politicised, the beneficiaries would either be the theocratic parties or the tribal groups, or even a united Muslim-non Muslim groups confronting a foreign force. The quiet anger amongst the natives in Sabah, of whatever religion, is noticeable when talking to even UMNO leaders. They do not like to play second fiddle to Kuala Lumpur. They know why UMNO is so important in Sabah: the large vote bank which would help the rulers in Kuala Lumpur reassert their position in UMNO in party elections. This is, not to put a fine point to it, a deliberate political colonisation of the state. The BN partners in the peninsular rush to set up branches in the state, even to stand for elections. Few in Kuala Lumpur even understand the forces ranged against it. It cannot last. It is made worse by its total victory in Sabah in last month's general election. Well-informed Sabahans, in politics and outside, in the BN and Opposition, look at all this in trepidation and fear, and even the most optimistic will not rule out a split in the state BN and UMNO before the next general election, with even Muslim politicians prepared to throw in their lot with non-Muslim political leaders.

Tan Sri Rashid and the EC must take responsibility for it. Their mishandling of the 11th General Election has created an underclass of Malaysians furious at being taken for a ride. The BN government and UMNO is in denial. It blames the EC for all the problems, calls the Opposition sore losers, and pretend all is well. But it is nervous. Especially after the Opposition has issued a detailed riposte for the EC's shortcomings, which it intends to challenge in court. The BN does not want to hear of it. The BN-owned and controlled newspapers all but ignored it. It is left to a beleagured Tan Sri Rashid and the EC to explain, but with such ineptitude and stupidity that it beggars belief. In an interview on 13 April, 2004, he accused political parties for mismanaging of the postal ballots. He has a conspiracy theory about it - he has one for every constitutional wrong he commits. And in his frequently ludicrous and laughable attempts to explain the unexplainable, he takes Malaysians to be fools and idiots.

One example will suffice. He says, in a press conference, that 5,000 ballot papers in Lumut were not returned. He said many sailors were out at sea, and could not vote on the day specified. He talks nonsense. If all our naval ships were out at sea at the same time, which is unlikely, no more than 2,000 sailors would be on board. As far as I know, the RMN does not have an aircraft carrier, not do we have plans for one. If we had, Tan Sri Rashid would be right. If they have to vote at a specific point, why were the ballot papers not issued only to those who came to vote? Why was it given out to all and sundry as he says they were? The government cannot keep quiet now. It is in the thick of it as surely as the EC is. Keeping quiet or ignoring the result of the EC's handiwork is not an option. The ground seethes in anger at being taken for a ride. There are no outward signs of it, but talk to the ordinary man in the street, and you would an anger that seems to surpass even at the political destruction of Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim. The widespread goodwill the new prime minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, before the general election is all but depleted. For that he must thank Tan Sri Rashid and the EC. No one else could have done it so efficiently. Certainly not the Opposition.

M.G.G. Pillai
[email protected]

Terbitan : 16 April 2004

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