PETALING JAYA: The Election Commission (EC) has invited the Coalition of Free and Fair Elections (Bersih) to observe the upcoming Sungai Kandis by-election, an invitation the electoral watchdog is pleased but remains cautious.
Bersih announced on Facebook Monday (July 9) that it had received an official letter from the EC, inviting the electoral watchdog to observe the Aug 4th by-election.
This is the first time Bersih has received an invite after 12 years of championing for free and fair elections.
"The invite is significant because it shows that Bersih, as a civil society, is being recognised to monitor the elections.
"In the past, we have been shunned by the EC despite many requests," executive director Yap Swee Seng told The Star on Tuesday (July 10).
He said it is the step in the right direction for Malaysia to achieve free and fair elections, but he is cautious not to celebrate before receiving the terms of reference.
Yap said in previous elections where non-governmental organisations were allowed to observe, the EC barred them from entering the polling stations and did not allow the publishing of their observation report.
"Such conditions are unreasonable and it actually defeats the purpose of having observers. What is the point of observing the elections if the findings and report cannot be published?" he queried.
Yap said that Bersih needs to have access to all the important election processes in order to fulfil its role as independent observers effectively.
"Now we need to find out whether observers can actually access the postal ballot box, advance voting ballot box, the polling stations, electoral rolls and things like that," he said.
"We welcome the positive gesture by the EC to open up and allow civil society to be observers, but at the same time ... there should be no restrictions imposed that violate the freedom of expression of civil society," he added.
Yap added that they would require a minimum of 109 independent observers, one for each of the voting streams in the 19 polling stations.
The Sungai Kandis by-election was called after PKR's incumbent assemblyman Mat Shuhaimi Shafie passed away on July 2 due to lymphatic cancer.
The EC has fixed nomination on July 21 and polls on Aug 4 with a 14-day campaign period.