Not seeing the wood for the trees

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THE much vaunted biometric system, if and when in use during the next general elections, can tell the identity of a voter – a genuine Malaysian voter.

 

LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Local authorities like the Kuching North City Commission are the seat of grassroots government.

There will be no more phantom voters.

So claims the Election Commission (SPR).

Its chairman, Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, said in Kuching early last week that it would be possible for this high-tech system to eliminate or erase the names of voters disguised as Malaysians and who have somehow or other gotten onto the registers and have voted during past elections.

This system will exorcise those hantu for ever.

News that the SPR would welcome queries from individuals, groups or political parties who want to know more about the exorcising of ghosts is assuring.

That’s the spirit.

At the same time, the use of the indelible ink is being shelved because that system, according to the SPR, cannot accurately determine the identity of the voter. However, the point is that the ink prevents double voting while the biometric system identifies and verifies true or false Malaysian voters (such as the foreigners who have obtained Malaysian blue identity cards in Sabah), long a sore point of contention there.

“For SPR, we want to see the documents, whether the bearer of the identification card (IC) is genuine, carried by the owner and not forged,” Abdul Aziz was quoted to have said, in defence of the use of the biometric system, yet to be tried and implemented.

Sabahans may like to know more about this system – find out how clever this technology is in its ability to distinguish between Sabahans and others.

Two systems

Are not the two methods performing different jobs? They could complement each other, please explain.

Where is the ink now?

The SPR bought the ink from somewhere for a considerable sum of public money before the last General Election.

Why not use it for the next elections or else sell it or give it away to countries which have been using indelible ink to prevent double or triple voting successfully in their elections?

I was under the impression that the ink could not be used in time for the last elections because there was a technical problem vis-a-vis the existing election laws. And there wasn’t sufficient time to regularise its use.

Whether you use the biometric system or the ink or both, you may have to amend the election regulations.

No sweat there, right?

To introduce a system that can detect the phantoms on electoral rolls is to acknowledge the existence of such voters in the first place.

But we do not know the exact number of such voters throughout Malaysia. Maybe more in the West and in Sabah but can someone tell us how many of such voters are in Sarawak?

There cannot be so many of them to cause the ruling parties to lose power or the opposition to control PutraJaya. Other issues and factors may be at work, not the phantoms alone. It’s the ‘fixed deposit’ states of Sabah and Sarawak that will determine the way to PutraJaya. So keep on investing in them.

We have spent too much time on this comparatively small issue. People have been holding protest rallies but still the real problems have not been adequately addressed.

Whatever the system, inking or biometric, the effort to reform the electoral system is cosmetic, I venture to say.

We are not seeing the wood for the trees.

In my opinion, more importantly is the deprivation of the democratic rights of those Malaysians who are not registered as voters. Blame it on the system. Overhaul it if we are serious about empowering our people.

Subject to correction, there are about four million Malaysians out there who are not on the electoral rolls and therefore cannot vote at the next elections, in a matter of months from now. And 400,000 of them are in Sarawak alone.

These citizens are being deprived of their democratic rights to vote by the electoral system we have been applauding unashamedly.

That deprivation of the democratic rights of citizens, especially of young Malaysians, should be addressed as a matter of urgency, in addition to de-listing of pemilih hantu from the registers or the use of the ink.

We wish the commission would initiate more meaningful reforms than it is presently proposing if the body wants to sustain the confidence of the public, its raison d’etre. We realise that it is the government as such which has the power and the authority to introduce new laws or amend existing ones to deal with electoral reforms, but surely the SPR can be proactive in this regard.

Now that the voters will be properly identified as true Malaysians by the biometric system, then what else?

I for one think that the real reforms of the electoral system in this country have not been adequately addressed.

What is the problem for the government to enact a law or amend the Federal Constitution to clearly say that any citizen upon reaching the age of voting – 21 years – is a registered voter for the purposes of the election regulations? I don’t see any objection to a motion in parliament to amend the constitution from the opposition if they know what is good for them.

Once considered registered, the voter can cast a vote at a local polling both within a polling district or by electronic means from another site within the country as well as outside it. Then the biometric system (to identify true Malaysian voters) and the indelible ink (to prevent them from voting twice during any election) are worth the money we have spent on them.

Compulsory voting

Moreover, there must be introduced compulsory voting. Other advanced countries have been doing this successfully. In Sarawak, most people are law abiding. An honest voter knows that he will be in trouble if he does not vote and so he will make it a point to cast it at the nearest station, money or no money.

Local government elections

Further, to strengthen and sustain democracy in Malaysia, revisit the local government elections. Let people learn the ropes of managing local affairs. The councillors will learn how to devise ways and means to raise revenue for their respective councils instead of waiting, waiting and waiting for funds from the state government or the federal government before small-scale projects in the districts can be undertaken.

There are many people who would like to serve in any council. However, to get there they must get elected. A lot of the problems connected with foreign traders in Sibu and Serian now would be reduced if the locals are elected councillors. As locals, they have a heavier responsibility towards their wards or voters. If they fail to perform their tasks, they will not be voted in again at the next local government elections.

Flogging old horse

In the past, I have touched on the above subjects – automatic voter registration, compulsory voting and local government elections. By way of emphasis, I make no apology for flogging the old horse. I strongly feel that it is the right and proper thing to bring up for discussion the subjects again in the hope that the authorities concerned would spare a thought to revisit them, one or two or all of them.

I believe those leaders worth their salt are keen to empower people at the grassroots level to govern their own affairs, thereby sustaining the democratic system of government from strength to strength.

For what they are worth, these are my sincere views.

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