Sunday, September 9, 2007

Fair polls involve more than just ballot boxes, says Suhakam chief

The Star, Sunday September 9, 2007

KUALA LUMPUR: Free and fair elections involve more than just ballot boxes, voter registers and campaign posters, said Human Rights Commission chairman Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman.

He said for an election process to be "free", citizens must have the right and opportunity to choose without intimidation from any party.

"Each voter should be able to cast his or her ballot free from intimidation, violence, administrative action or fear of retribution," he after delivering his keynote address at the Human Rights Day 2007 conference themed "Human Rights and Election on Sunday.

Abu Talib touched on several concerns, which dampened the electoral process, including the electoral rolls system, which he described as one of the most criticised aspect, especially when it came to allegations of phantom voters.

"Measures which have been taken by the EC such as checking one's registration status through the commission's website and the likely use of indelible ink in the next election are highly commendable.

"However, there should be better coordination between the National Registration Department (NRD) and the EC so that dead voters are expunged from the electoral roll as soon as the death certificate is issued," he said.

He said all eligible voters should also be automatically registered.

Abu Talib also noted that most polling stations were not disabled friendly, which served as a deterrent to the physically challenged from exercising their voting rights.

He said access to the media remained a serious problem with opposition parties, and urged the EC to consider a mechanism of assuring fair distribution of media access for all candidates and political parties.

On the same note, he also called for a balance to be struck between security, civil rights and freedom when drafting laws pertaining to the Sedition Act, Official Secrets Act, Internal Security Act, the Police Act and Societies Act.

"There are cases where opposition parties were refused police permits to hold political ceramah. In two cases the application for registration of political parties were rejected by the Registrar of Societies on grounds of threat to public order and national security."

Abu Talib also stressed that there should not be an unfair use of public resources for campaign, citing a recent by-election campaign in which the Government announced allocation of funds and development projects in that constituency to gain political leverage.

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