Lack of independence and impartially of the Elections Commission in conducting the 1972 registration of voters’ exercise

Speech by DAP Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka,Mr.Lim Kit Siang , in the Dewan Rakyat on the Supplementary Supply Bill for 1972 on Tuesday , 5th December 1972

Lack of independence and impartially of the Elections Commission in conducting the 1972 registration of voters’ exercise
I rise to refer to the $911,124 which is sought for the Election Commission to cover its expenses for this year. Out of this sum, the bulk of it, viz. $863,824, was to cover the cost of registration of electors and the revision of electoral rolls in Malaysia.

I want to take this opportunity to express my Party’s utter dissatisfaction at the way and manner the Elections Commission conducted the registration of voters exercise in September this year.

The purpose of every revision of electors exercise should be to ensure the maximum registration of eligible electors, to make the Elections

Commission conducted revision of electors exercise, it would appear that the purpose was to undermine Opposition strongholds by (i) carrying
out maximum cancellation of voters and registering minimum number of new eligible voters in Opposition strongholds and urban areas; and (ii) carrying out maximum registration of new voters in Alliance strongholds and rural areas.

My party, and our Members of Parliament, Sato Assemblymen and branches throughout the country had tried to secure the co-operation of the

Elections Commission to ensure that there is smooth registration of voters but unfortunately, the attitude of the Election Commission is one of obstruction and hostility.

It is clear that the assurance given by the Prime Minister in this House in August this year, when in reply to one of my oral questions, to the effect that the Election Commission will co-operate fully with Opposition Parties to ensure maximum registration of eligible voters was an empty one.

Right from the beginning at the start of the revision of electors period, my Party sent two representatives, namely Sdr. Fan Yew Teng, Member of Parliament for Kampar and Party Nasional Organising Secretary, and Sdr. Lee Lam Tye, State Assemblyman for Bukit Nanas and Party Nasional Publicity Secretary, to see the Elections Commission Chairman, Tan Sri Ahmad Perang, to offer our co-operation in the exercise.
Tan Sri Ahmad Perang told my colleagues that he was seeing them in their personal capacity and not that because they represented the DAP.

This show the obstructive and unreasonable attitude of the Elections Commission Chairman. In the first instance, he would not dare to adopt the same attitude to leaders of the ruling party, like the national leaders of UMNO. Secondly, if Malaysians in their personal capacity should try to see Tan Sri Ahmad Perang, they might as well hope to go to the moon.

Such unco-operative, high-and-mighty, hostile attitude on the part of the Elections Commission Chairman, coupled with the slip-shod and unsatisfactory manner the registration of voters was carried, has completely undermined public confidence in the independence, impartially and integrity of the Elections Commission as a body which is fair and aaproachable to all.

This allegation is not lightly made, and I advance the following charges in substantiation.

1. Refusal of Elections Commission Chairman to allow opposition parties to help register voters

For the first time in Malaysian history, the Elections Commission had refused to furnish opposition political parties with registration of voters forms to help register eligible voters during the exercise in September this year. Last year, in 1971, and in previous registration exercise , as from 1960-1968, opposition parties could get such forms. The purpose clearly is to prevent the maximum registration of eligible voters in Opposition strongholds and urban areas.

The Elections Commission has subsequently explained that this departure from past practice applied not only to Opposition parties but also to the ruling Alliance party.

This is a very weak junctification, for it is public knowledge that the Elections Commission employed the Alliance party machinery, in particular the UMNO machinery in the rural areas, to help them to register voters. Invariable, the emphasis is on registration of government supporters and neglect of opposition people.

The other reason which the Elections Commission had advanced for the departure also does not sound convincing. The Elections Commission has said that in the 1971 revision of electors period, there had been multiple registration by the same person.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, this came about because an elector was unable to ascertain whether his previous registration was still valid, as in the previous General Election and by-elections, many voters who had previously voted and had not changed their address found that they had been disenfranchised.

Many registering officers advised such person to register as a new voter to be on the safe side. If the Elections Commission had made the Electoral Registers easily available to the public for verification, then much of this problem would not have arisen.

2. Registration agents in Opposition areas more concerned about voter cancellation that voter registration

The registration agents sent to opposition areas are generally more interested in voter cancellation than voter registration.
Such agents will call at the house, ask whether the various names on the voter’s list are in, without explaining what he is about. Invariably, the women folk in the house will say they are not in – for they will be out work or some other assignment and the registration agent will then cancel their name from the electoral roll.

This is why the last general elections, and at every by-election, we find thousands of voters in every constituency explaining that they had been disenfranchised, for they have lost their right to vote although they had voted in previous elections and had not moved their address.

Last year alone, in my constituency of Bandar Melaka, 4,200 voters were deleted from electoral roll during the registration of the voters exercise.
I estimate that at least 75 per cent were unjustly disenfranchised. Probably, the exercise should be more aptly called ‘cancellation of voters’ exercise.

In many areas, I have received reports that the registration agents refused to register new eligible voters when on their rounds disenfranchising voters.

The purpose, again, is to weaken the electoral advantage of Opposition strongholds.

3. Minimum Publicity about the Registration of Voters exercise
The Elections Commission had conducted the least publicity campaign this year about the revision of electoral rolls.
There was no spot announcement in four languages over Television Malaysia, and full use of publicity and propaganda machinery of the government through radio, information vans, poster campaigns, press, etc.

In fact, the Elections Commission deliberately obstructed the DAP from carrying out publicity drives to inform the people about the registration.

In Malacca, the DAP applied for police permission to send out mobile announcement teams to the various constituenoies to inform the people about the registration , and where to register themselves. The police, however, refused to grant the permit on the ground that the Elections Commission felt that there was ample publicity already.

4. Maximum inconvenience to as to discourage people from registering
Coupled with the minimum publicity to keep the registration from the knowledge of the maximum number of people in the urban areas, the Elections Commission devised a system where there was maximum inconvenience to discourage anybody to knows and wants to register as a voter or to check whether he was still a voter.

I will list one of this inconvenience:

( I ) The intending registrant did not know where to go register. Thus, in the whole of Petaling Jaya, the intending registrants were at a complete loss as to where to register themselves. They also did not know where to find out this information. Discouraged, many did not register.
( II ) The registration of voters during office hours was a cause of great inconvenience to the people who have to look after the homes. If the registration centre is accessible nearby, as at political offices, community centers, association premises, and open after office hours, then such inconvenience would be removed and registration would proceed more smoothly.
( III ) Many people who went to district or land offices in the different parts of the country to register are made to wait, either because the officer in charge was not in, or was too busy some other matters.
( IV ) Many people were told to go home because there was no registration forms, particularly for those wishing to change their address. During the last one week, this problem most acute, and I personally have seen people queering up at registration offices and told that they could not be register because the Elections Commission did not sent them enough forms.

5. Non-availability of electoral registers

The Elections Commission refused to sell or lend electoral rolls to political parties, asin the past, to help the public to check whether they were registered voters or had been disenfranchised.

From the above instances, it would appear that the Elections Commission is one of the most imcompetent set-up in the country.

It is essential for the smooth functioning of the electoral process that the Elections Commission should have the opposition parties and the public about its independence, of the opposition parties and the public about its independence, impartially and integrity.

It should not given my cause for suspicion that it is merely a subservient creature of the ruling party. It must not only be independent and impartial, even more important, it must be seen to be independent and impartial.

The Elections Commission should take note of the points that I have made to ensure that all those who are eligible to vote are registered on the electoral register.

This can be achieved by the introduction of the round-the-year registration system, or automatic registration system.

Secondly, opposition parties should be supplied with electoral registers, on payment of the fees, so that they can function as political organizations. There is no justification or excuse whatsoever for the Elections Commission in continuing to deny opposition parties the electoral registers unless the purpose is to be unfair to opposition parties to the advantage of the ruling parties.