Thursday, May 02, 2013

Malaysia's clean-polls pledge smudged by ink flap

Malaysia's opposition and clean-polls activists said Wednesday the integrity of weekend elections was in doubt after revelations that indelible ink meant to prevent fraud can be easily washed off.

Pressured by huge demonstrations for free and fair polls in recent years, the country's long-ruling government is introducing indelible ink in Sunday's vote, the first in history in which the opposition has a chance of winning power.

But reports have mounted that security personnel who took part in early voting had easily been able to clean off the ink, which is applied to a person's finger to show they had voted and is supposed to remain visible for at least a week.

"Definitely we are concerned. The whole integrity of the electoral process has come into question," said veteran opposition politician Lim Kit Siang.

"(The Election Commission) should immediately address this problem. Otherwise it will be a black mark on the commission and undermine the public confidence in the results."

The Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition that has ruled since independence in 1957 has been under pressure over charges it sought to manipulate the vote through an allegedly biased electoral system.

The opposition has claimed that electoral rolls in some closely fought constituencies contain huge numbers of unaccounted-for voters and say the government has dragged its feet on addressing such issues.

They also accuse the Electoral Commission of being in Barisan's pocket. The government has promised a clean election.

But commission officials appeared to acknowledge on Wednesday that the ink system was not foolproof. Commission secretary Kamaruddin Baria said some officials had failed to shake the bottles before applying the ink, meaning it could be washed off.

"This is the first time (the ink is used). I cannot guarantee anything," he told AFP, but added that he was "confident" the commission had cleaned up the electoral roll and there would be no multiple voting or other irregularities.

Maria Chin Abdullah, a member of electoral reform group Bersih, said the ink flap "reconfirms our fear" that the government was resisting reforms to stamp out alleged cheating.

The ruling bloc has faced numerous accusations of fraud in past votes, including cases of voters well past 100 years old yet still listed on electoral rolls, massive vote-buying and army officials filling out ballots for soldiers.

Hard-fought campaigning officially got under way on April 20, and police have said more than 1,000 reports of election violence and intimidation have been made. No deaths have yet been reported.-Channel News Asia (May 02, 2013)

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