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Dealing with the legitimacy of voters

Election list: Mohamad Nadzim (right) with Umno members outside the Election Commission office in Shah Alam looking at the names of new voters they are objecting to.

Election list: Mohamad Nadzim (right) with Umno members outside the Election Commission office in Shah Alam looking at the names of new voters they are objecting to.

With a general election on the horizon, both sides of the political divide are not taking any chances.

ON May 11, Chris Ng (not his real name) arrived at KL International Airport on a 5am flight after a holiday with his sister in Japan.

Instead of going home, he headed straight to the Election Commission (SPR) office in Shah Alam because his registration as a voter in Ampang was being objected to and SPR was hearing the case that day.

“I registered to be a voter in February and I received the notice from SPR two weeks ago. I called them up to ask if I could come another day because I was going to be away but they said no,” he said when met at the SPR office with his father.

His father picked Chris, 25, and his sister at the airport and brought along Chris’ birth certificate, phone and electricity bills as proof to show that he is indeed living in Ampang, which qualifies him as a legitimate voter in the area.

Because they were one of the first to arrive, his case was heard early.

When Chris’ name was called, he entered the room for the hearing, produced the documents, took an oath swearing what he said is true, and the objection against him was quashed there and then.

It was all over within two minutes. His objector didn’t even show up.

Waiting for a verdict: New voters to the Kapar constituency who have been objected to and their objectors waiting for their cases to be heard. On the top right hand is the table where RM100 is given out as compensation after objections are quashed and thrown out.
Waiting for a verdict: New voters to the Kapar constituency who have been objected to and their objectors waiting for their cases to be heard. On the top right hand is the table where RM100 is given out as compensation after objections are quashed and thrown out.

SPR awarded Chris RM100 as compensation for the inconvenience. That cash is supposed to come from the objector.

Even though his objector, an Umno member, wasn’t present, Chris still got the cash. Umno had set up a table inside the SPR office and someone was sitting there to hand out the RM100 compensation for each case they filed objections to, which got thrown out.

It wasn’t as quick for Joyce Lee, 24. It took her 1.5 hours to get from her home in Ampang to the SPR office in Shah Alam because of the traffic.

By the time she got there, registered and took a number, there were no more seats, so she and her two friends queued outside the SPR office.

It was already 11am and Joyce had taken only half-day leave.

For Ampang, there were about 500 objections.

Since it is a working day and the hearing is held during office hours, a large number did not show up.

Those who don’t show will have their names struck out as voters.

“If we file 100 objections, on average, only 30 people turn up.

“Those who come win their case. But we get to strike out the names of the 70 others who fail to show. That is good enough for us,” said one of the objectors from Ampang Umno.

In Selangor, majority of the objections are against voters which are perceived to be pro-opposition.

Ampang Umno vice chief Mohamad Nadzim Ibrahim says based on the last general election, he is of the view that certain urban voters “might have some inclination” towards the opposition “so as a political leader under Barisan Nasional we are trying to control that”.

“This is one of our strategies to make sure that the Ampang area is well balanced and that there is no sudden surge of voters coming in that area. We are not picking on any group. It’s just a strategy to win back the state.

“We believe you don’t stay there so we object,” said Nadzim, who was leading the team of objectors of new voters for the Ampang constituency.

In response to protests by PKR and DAP that their objection of some Chinese voters perceived to be pro-opposition, Nadzim says Pakatan is always talking about rights.

“How about our rights? We are just using our rights to object. Why? Because we want to make sure the voter is genuine.

“What we are doing is perfectly legal. We are following procedures.

“If the opposition has an issue with it, take us to court,” said Nadzim who is a lawyer and who contested against Datuk Seri Azmin Ali for the Bukit Antarabangsa state seat in the last general election.

PKR deputy head of the voter registration subcommittee Elizabeth Wong said the party is not against the right to object.

“We do it too if given enough time by checking door to door. If there is good reason or merit to object them we will file our objections.

“What we are against is the non-discretionary objection based on ethnicity and without proof and verification.

“How did we know this? Many taman and apartments are guarded so every visitor would need to register their name and intention to visit a particular resident.

“And the people we met and spoke to (who received objections) said there was no record of visitors (objectors) visiting them,” she says.

Nadzim says when it comes to gated or guarded communities, they would see the guard and ask if the person named is an occupant there.

“Sometimes we wait for someone to come out and approach them and ask if they recognise if the person is staying there. If they say they don’t know, then we take our chances and file an objection.”

Khairuddin Mohd Ghalip who was leading the team of objectors from Kapar Umno says for gated communities, if they are not able to get hold of the new voter, they would file an objection stating that the person could not be traced or identified.

He says it is easier with non-gated and non-guarded houses because they can just drive over to check if the new voter lives there.

“But we only do it during the day because it would not be proper to go to people’s houses at night.”

The problem about doing it during the day, especially in urban areas, is that often nobody is home then.

Nadzim argues that in such cases it is only right for them to file an objection.

An objector has the right to object to 20 names and has only to pay RM10 to file each objection. SPR would then send a notice to the address of that voter and ask the person to attend the hearing.

“If they receive the notice, they will attend. If they did not receive the notice it means that is not their address and they are not a legitimate voter there,” says Nadzim.

Wong points out that SPR should not subject the voter to a hearing if the objector does not turn up.

“These names should automatically be included if the objector is not there,” she says.

Wong says the issue of indiscriminate objections is a serious one.

From what she has witnessed in Selangor over the last few weeks, she says many did not turn up for the hearing.

“We fear many voters won’t be able to vote even though they qualify.

“If entire communities are objected to based on ethnicity, they would be discouraged to register to vote or they would change their address or simply be disenfranchised and hence unable to vote.”

Nadzim however sees no reason why voters should not show up for the hearing.

“If you really want to vote, you will come. You will be compensated. The hearing takes into account that you came here and that maybe you had to take leave from work to attend so they compensate accordingly. RM100 or RM200 – it depends.”

There are about four million people in the country who have not registered to vote, mostly young people.

So, doesn’t this objection exercise defeat the purpose of getting more young people to register and exercise their right as voters?

Nadzim says he is all for people becoming voters.

“Once you reach 21 you should register yourself. But please register at the place you are residing. Why vote in Kelantan if all along you are working and living here?”

Wong says SPR should not shy away from the automatic registration of citizens in the long term so that anyone of 21 will be on the electoral roll according to their IC address. She believes this can reduce unnecessary processes and paperwork.

UKM head of political science Dr Muhammad Takiyuddin Ismail says the objection issue is not something new.

“But it is only after political tsunami of 2008 that the issue started getting more attention.

“It is not only the opposition who are concerned about this. The ruling party too have their concerns because objectors are not just pro-Government.

“The opposition too is involved in objections like this. It is a normal strategy both sides use and it is allowed under the Constitution.”

He points out the number of objections increase significantly when there is speculation that elections are close.

Dr Takiyuddin says even before the last general election, Selangor already had a high number of objections.

“In Selangor, the objections are obvious because it is an important state for grabs.

“The reasons given for the objections seem superficial and as if they are made up.

“But I must also say these are reasons frequently used by both sides of the political divide when they make objections.”

He says it is an open secret that the objections are being done systematically.

“RM10 to file an objection is a small amount. Those who object surely have sizeable funds to pay for compensation if their objection fails.”

Hence he says the strategy to object to all new voters is being done on the basis of probability.

Out of 50 new voters who are being objected to, he says, maybe five or so would not be eligible voters in that area.

“In politics and in Selangor in particular, especially for marginal seats (with a majority of less than 1,000), five votes can make a lot of difference.

“There is the perception that young, first-time Chinese voters are inclined towards the opposition (Pakatan), so the objector (Umno) is not taking any chances.”

He says even though the objector has the legal right to object, the existing pattern is causing problems for voters because they would need to go to the SPR office to argue their case.

“Some have to take leave and time off work to attend the hearing. Most are young voters and this incurs additional cost for them to come and get the issue sorted out.”

Dr Takiyuddin also says SPR’s recent decision not to distribute the draft of the Supplementary Electoral Roll any more to the political parties for them to check the names of new voters and the change of the addresses too is “not productive”.

The best way to solve the problem, he said, would be for SPR to look into the automatic registration of voters.

In the meantime, he suggests, they impose a higher amount of compensation or charge a deposit when someone files an objection against a voter.

Not everyone though found the objections a bother.

Lynn from Kapar came to the SPR office with three friends. They were surprised and pleased at the RM100 compensation they each received.

“I don’t even get RM100 for one day’s work. So now we are all going shopping,” she said.

voter registration , electoral roll , SPR , Umno , PKR , objection