• The Election Commission (EC) should issue detailed guidelines for overseas voting as soon as possible

    Media Statement on Overseas Voting after SPR Meeting with Political Parties on the 7th of March, 2013

    In a briefing to political parties on the 7th of March, 2013, the Chairman of the Election Commission (EC), Tan Sri Abdul Aziz, and the Deputy Chairman, Datuk Wan Ahmad, announced a few matters pertaining to overseas postal voting. We welcome these announcements, especially the decision by the Election Commission to allow political parties to appoint election agents and observers not only at the Malaysian embassies, high commissions and consulates (embassies, hereafter) around the world but also when these overseas postal ballots are issued in Putrajaya before they are sent overseas and when they are collected in Putrajaya after they are sent back.

    The Election Commission also announced that they will be sending out a detailed guidebook (buku panduan) to all the embassies to set out exactly the procedures and processes associated with overseas postal voting so that these can be implemented uniformly throughout the Malaysian embassies worldwide. The Election Commission also promised that they would issue detailed guidelines for voters as well as for political parties on the process and procedures relating to overseas postal voting which are relevant to both of these groups.

    We strongly urge the Election Commission to provide the following details in these guidelines:

    1. Steps to notify those who have applied to be overseas postal voters whether their application has been approved or not. The EC stated that only those whose application has been rejected (mostly because they are not yet registered voters) will be informed immediately. For the rest, the EC stated that only the Returning Officer in the respective constituencies (where these overseas voters are registered) can approve the application to be an overseas postal ballot. The EC promised to name these Returning Officers early, before the dissolution of parliament, so that these applications can be processed as soon as possible and the duly voters informed.

    2. Instructions to political parties on the process of appointing and approving election agents at the embassies and also to monitor the issuing and collection of overseas postal voters in Putrajaya. To reiterate, the EC announced today that election agents representing political parties at the embassies can be appointed to monitor the casting of votes in the embassies. Furthermore, the EC announced today that representatives of political parties will be allowed to monitor the issuance of overseas postal ballots in Putrajaya which would include the issuance of the equivalent of a Borang 13 which confirms the number of ballots issued and sent to the various embassies overseas.

    3. Confirmation of when the overseas postal ballots will be issued and sent and when the overseas voters can collect and cast their ballots at the embassies. We urge the EC to consider extending the opening hours of the embassies on the designated polling day for the embassies in order to allow voters who have to travel long distances in certain countries such as the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom to cast their votes at the embassies.

    4. Clarification to the overseas postal voters that they can choose to send their ballots, which come together with self-addressed envelopes to the Returning Officer in their constituency, through private channels including express mail and even arranging for the ballot to be personally delivered to the Returning Officer by 5pm on polling day. Allowing this option would mean that those voters who fear that their ballot may be compromised can send their ballot directly to the Returning Officer rather than having the ballot go through the Diplomatic Dispatch from the various embassies.

    5. Clarification that for those overseas postal voters who cannot collect their ballots at the embassies, that these ballots will be mailed to them directly instead.

    6. Confirmation that the absent voters (Pengundi Tidak Hadir) will also have the option of collecting and casting their ballot at the embassies or have the ballots sent directly to them.

    7. Clarification that overseas observers from appointed NGOs can also be appointed. The EC indicated that this was the case in response to one of my questions during the Q&A session. We hope that this can be confirmed and that the proper guidelines can be issued as to who are the NGOs which are allowed to appoint overseas observers and how these overseas observers are to be appointed.

    Providing the right for Malaysians overseas to cast a vote is long overdue. We hope that the EC will do what is necessary so that all Malaysians overseas who are already registered voter can be given the proper information in a timely fashion and that proper procedures can be put in place so that the secrecy of the overseas ballots can be guaranteed.

    Anthony Loke Siew Fook, DAP National Organizing Secretary

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming, DAP Election Strategist

    This press statement was published by DAP Malaysia.

  • A Recent Visit to our National Library – Some Worrying Observations

    Recently, I had to get my hands on some education statistics and the only place where I could locate some of this data was at the National Library.[1] The National Library is located just off Jalan Tun Razak, near Jalan Semarak in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. The first and only time I had been to the National Library was in the last 1990s, after completing my studies in the UK. I remember the grand entrance into the library but recalled little of the books and reading materials.

    My visit in December 2012, which took place over a few days, illustrated, in a microcosm, what is wrong with the way the country is currently being governed and administered. Despite its sizeable overall budget of RM54 million in 2013, the flagship library of the National Library system is disappointingly poorly designed and not public friendly, focuses on the wrong priorities, has poor ‘software’ and is not representative of a truly ‘national’ library.

    Poor design and not public friendly

    For a National Library that is supposed to promote a culture of reading, only two floors out of 3 buildings were dedicated to books and materials which the public could borrow. And both these floors were located in Wisma Sejarah, which is to be found at the very back of the National Library.[2]

    Most of the public libraries I’ve been to in the US have their borrowing section on the ground floor of the main library building so that the public can have easy access to these books. It’s not really convenient for people to trudge all the way to the back of the library complex and go up to the third or fourth floor of the building to borrow and return books.

    Even getting to this building was tricky. We had to walk through the front of the main library complex (Anjung Bestari) to the back and there were no signs as to where exactly Menara Warisan Sejarah was located. It is also very difficult for a disabled person on a wheelchair to get to this building. Even though there was a disabled ramp that led to this building, from the photo below, one can see that the ramp is far too steep for someone on a wheelchair to go up and down easily.

    A steep disabled ramp leading up to the Menara Warisan Sejarah which houses books which the public can borrow

    In other related news, we did not see any outdoor parking lots specifically reserved for disabled visitors although we drove around the entire library complex twice. We might have missed them but if there were any specifically reserved slots, they were clearly not marked or visible to visitors.

    As for parking lots in general, there were certainly enough for us given that the National Library was largely deserted of public visitors during the times (weekdays and weekends) we visited. However, the sheltered parking annexe in Menara PNM (the tallest building with 15 floors, which houses special collections and government documents) had only just over 30 total parking spaces for the public, with parking slots on the first 3-4 floors reserved exclusively for Library directors and staff. This shows that the National Library is not designed to handle high-volume traffic, should more people decide to visit in future.

    Sheltered parking annexe at Menara PNM – each floor had about 20 parking spaces

    When we got to Menara Wisma Sejarah, we were surprised to find that 5 floors have been rented out to other parties including a law firm and an event management company! One really has to wonder about the rationale of this rental agreement and how these contracts came into being.

    4th floor to the Penthouse

    Basement Floor to the 3rd floor

    And even the small space that was allocated to public rentals was not properly maintained. Stacks of books were found piled up on shelving carts and strewn haphazardly all over the floor.

    This kind of maintenance would be a disgrace in any public library. That this would occur in the flagship National Library building is utterly shocking! We may have all the funds in the world to buy the newest books but if we cannot even shelve our books properly, then all this money spent has clearly gone to waste.

    Books piled up on the shelving carts

    Books strewn all over the floor

    Wrong priorities

    Instead of putting the books which the public could borrow in the main library complex (Anjung Bestari), this space was reserved for exhibitions instead. There is a lot of material here promoting the Minister in question – Rais Yatim – and of course, 1 Malaysia propaganda, but also a lot of underutilized space. Wouldn’t it be more productive to use this space to put reading materials which the public can borrow and have access to, and to put in a nice café where people can sit and read instead of these largely empty exhibition spaces?

    Main hall of the main library complex (Anjung Bestari) – with a lot of empty and underutilized space

    Even the types of books published by the National Library and put on prominent display smack of government propaganda. Not surprisingly, many of the books on display feature the accomplishments of Dr. Mahathir, Najib and the other Prime Ministers of Malaysia. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that we shouldn’t publish literature on our past PMs but a lot of other people and institutions such as the Perdana Leadership Foundation (PLF) are already doing things like this. Wouldn’t it be better for the National Library to focus on publishing and promoting literature which is not covered by the mainstream but which is important to the culture and heritage of our country?

    Literature published by the National Library featuring the usual cast of suspects

    Not truly a ‘National Library’

    In my humble opinion, a national library should be a progressive institution that aims to preserve, highlight and conduct research on the literary traditions of all communities and cultures in the country. Even though BM is the national language and should be given the most important status, other languages used in Malaysia have also produced important literary contributions which are of literary, cultural and historical significance and therefore should not be ignored.

    And yet, this seems to be the case for our ‘National Library’. A sign which is prominently displayed has “Membudayakan Bahasa Kita” as one of the tag lines as well as “Membudayakan Tulisan Jawi”.

    Taglines for the National Library 

    I don’t have anything against the usage and learning of Jawi. I learned Jawi in primary school and was pretty decent at it but I don’t see why Jawi should be given prominence at the same level as BM while many of the other languages spoken and used by Malaysians are totally ignored.

    Many of the signs at the National Library have both BM as well as Jawi featured which is a bit odd to me – since Arabic speakers from the Middle East who may visit the library would not understand the Arabic words in Jawi, and Malaysians who can read and understand Jawi would also be able to read and understand the words in BM. Why not state basic visitor information, such as opening times, in Chinese and Tamil in addition to BM?

    Opening times of the National Library in BM and Jawi

    One of the other odd things I found on one of the posters at the National Library was this poster emphasizing “Kedudukan Istimewa Bumiputera”. The special status of the Bumiputeras in Malaysia is found in Article 153 of the Federal Constitution. I have no dispute with that but I was left to wonder why this specific issue is highlighted in our National Library?

    Poster with “Kedudukan Istimewa Bumiputera” in the National Library

    Ironically, the photo of the children in this poster is actually a photo of 3 Temiar children who are part of an Orang Asli kampong in Perak.[3] And the Orang Asli are not recognized in the Federal Constitution as belonging to the Bumiputera population in Malaysia.

    Photo of the Temiar children taken by the Center for Orang Asli Concerns and featured in a Nut Graph article (http://www.thenutgraph.com/left-in-the-margins/) The poster in the National Library does not attribute credit for the photograph to either the COAC or the Nut Graph.

    Documentation Problems

    Even in the area of collecting government documents – which the Library should be good at since it is a government agency – the National Library fails miserably. I was looking for education statistics at the state level and I found out that the various state education departments stopped submitting their records to the National Library in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When I asked the person in charge why these documents were stopped in the early 2000s, she said that these government agencies simply stopped sending their reports to the National Library, and the National Library never followed up to ask them to do so (even though they are supposed to by law). The Library of Congress in the United States is supposed to collect and house every single newly published book that it can possibly lay its hands on. This is a mammoth task which by most considerations, they do pretty well. In contrast, our National Library can’t even keep track and collect all of the government’s own documentation, much less the other books which are published in Malaysia.

    ‘Software’ issues

    I think that many of the problems I’ve highlighted with regard to the National Library starts with the issue of leadership. If the leadership, starting with the Minister, cares more about public appearances and publicity – which explains the large exhibition area and the 1 Malaysia propaganda stuff – then this will filter down the line and into the mentality of the organization. The leadership in charge of the National Library will then also focus on the wrong priorities – making themselves look good in the eyes of the Minister – by organizing events that will help promote themselves and the Minister rather than to focus on what is really important – to increase the reading culture in our country, to make our national library system into one that is widely accessible, frequented and used by the public and that is truly inclusive, and to protect, promote and conduct research on the important literary contributions in this country in all languages and traditions.

    No amount of money spent on building new libraries and procuring new books and developing new apps can make up for this shortcoming in ‘software’ – the most important of which is the issue of leadership.


    [1] The educational statistics I was looking for could only be found in the Social Statistics Bulletins and the Department of Statistics only provided soft copies for 2012.

    [2] http://www.pnm.gov.my/index.php?id=276

    [3] http://www.thenutgraph.com/left-in-the-margins/

  • Director-General of JASA Dato’ Fuad Hassan should be sacked for being BN’s chief propagandist

    Media statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, 30th January 2013

    That the Barisan Nasional (BN) government abuses state resources for its own political programmes and propaganda is no longer surprising to most Malaysians. That a former two-term UMNO state assemblyman, Dato’ Fuad Hassan, would be appointed, in 2009, as the Director General of the Department of Special Affairs or Jabatan Hal Ehwal Khas (JASA) under the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture, is also no longer surprising.

    JASA is nothing more than a taxpayers-funded propaganda arm of the Barisan Nasional (BN) government, costing the public a wasteful RM23 million as it has been allocated in the 2013 budget. The widely reported recent statement by Fuad Hassan at the Johor Social Media Partner gathering where he answered, “God willing… BN could obtain a two-third victory in the upcoming general election if we continue to work hard and strive to achieve what was targeted”[1] clearly shows the political bias as well as the political objectives of this senior civil servant. In April 2012, Fuad Hassan was also reported as saying that JASA, in cooperation with other government agencies such as KEMAS, works in order to strengthen the BN coalition for the general election.[2]

    In fact, JASA makes no attempt to even hide its political objectives and bias. According to its website, JASA’s motto is “Memimpin Pendapat Rakyat (Leading Public Opinions) ke arah menyokong Kerajaan melalui gagasan 1 Malaysia.”[3] JASA’s mission clearly degrades the professionalism and integrity of civil servants, the majority of whom want to serve the people without having to involve themselves in the work of defending the record of the BN government and using underhanded tactics to attack the opposition. I am sure that most of the 1,300 civil servants who currently work in JASA would be glad to serve the people of Malaysia in other capacities in other ministries or departments.[4]

    Even the activities organized by JASA to increase support for the Gagasan 1 Malaysia concept have resulted in spectacular failures and done more harm than good to societal harmony. In a Rapat 1 Malaysia gathering organized by JASA in Feb 2010[5] (which featured a former UMNO ADUN, Datuk Hj Zainal bin Hj Sakom and lecturer and columnist Dr. Ridhuan Tee) the keynote speaker, Dato’ Nasir Safar, then special officer to Prime Minister Najib, was reported to have said that ‘Indians are beggars’ and ‘Chinese, especially the women, came to Malaysia to sell their bodies’.[6]

    Finally and most troubling is our discovery that JASA has most likely been embarking on an aggressive voter registration exercise nationwide to place phantom voters on the electoral roll, including voters who are not born in Malaysia who are registered in urban areas without house addresses and street names such as Kampung Melayu Majidee in Johor Baru, Kampung Sri Gombak Indah in Gombak and Kampung Baharu Ampang in Ampang.[7]

    As part of the Malaysian Electoral Roll Analysis Project (MERAP), my team and I have found thousands of such cases – voters not born in Malaysia registered in urban areas without house numbers and street names by a government agency – who were likely registered by JASA and KEMAS.[8] That the BN government is attempting to duplicate its Project IC efforts through agencies like JASA and KEMAS, in cahoots with the Election Commission (EC) and the National Registration Department (NRD), should not be surprising in light of the recent evidence given by former civil servants in the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the issue of illegal immigrants in Sabah.

    It is likely that Azrul Azwar, chief economist of Bank Islam, was suspended on the basis that he gave a favorable scenario for Pakatan Rakyat to win the next general election in a forum organized by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore. Azrul was giving his professional argument that was backed up by comparisons in the increase in the number and percentage of new voters since the 2008 general elections. If Azrul, who is not even a civil servant, was suspended for giving his professional opinion as an economist, then Fuad Hassan should be sacked from the ranks of the civil service for his overt role as Chief propagandist for the BN, which is clearly demonstrated by the events and activities JASA organizes, the speakers which JASA invites to its events and the materials which JASA prints and distributes.

    Furthermore, Fuad Hassan should be investigated for his possible role in giving illegal immigrants ICs and registering them as voters. This action is far more dangerous and threatening to the security of the country than anything which Azrul Azwar had done in his capacity as Chief Economist in Bank Islam.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming, DAP Election Strategist

    This press statement was published by DAP Malaysia.

  • 呼吁选举委员会取消马来西亚海外公民必须在过去五年回马至少30天方能有资格成为海外邮寄选民的条件,并重新检视海外邮寄选民的投票程序。

    民主行动党全国组织秘书兼亚沙国会议员陆兆福与选举策略员王建民于2013年1月25日在吉隆坡发表的联合文告:

    2013年1月21日,选举委员会公布马来西亚海外选民申请成为第13届全国大选海外邮寄选民的条件与程序。

    国会遴选委员会早在2011年12月1日提呈的初步报告就已提出此项建议,但选举委员会耗时14个月才真正执行,我们对此深感失望。目前,选举委员会尚有两个月时间登记所有旅居海外的马来西亚选民。尽管选委会已经做出如是宣布,但因为不必要的拖延,许多马来西亚海外公民依然会因此而丧失应有的公民权利。在这段期间,选举委员会和外交部并没有采取任何行动,鼓励马来西亚海外公民在马来西亚驻外大使馆或办事处登记成为普通选民。此举意味着,成千上万旅外马来西亚公民因为没有登记成为普通选民,因此无法申请成为合格的海外邮寄选民。

    尤有甚者,选委会还设下条件,要求所有申请成为邮寄选民的旅外国人,必须在过去5年至少回国30天,我们对此限制非常失望。选举改革国会遴选委员同意,旅外选民必须在过去5年回国一次,但他们没有设下任何逗留期限。我们是因为考虑到,大部分旅外公民通常只回国度假约一至三周。更何况,设下这条件之后,选委会还必须向移民厅查核相关申请者是否符合资格,此举势必让选委会耗费更长时间批准邮寄选民的申请,增加负担。我们认为,这项30天限制不公平也不合理,此项条件有违当初鼓励更多海外公民行使宪赋投票权的精神。因此,我们促请选委会立即取消上述条件,允许在过去5年曾经回马一次,且不论逗留期限的旅外公民成为合格海外邮寄选民。

    与此同时,我们也在此呼吁选委会重新检讨海外邮寄选民的投票程序。第一,我们要求选委会设下三天时间,让海外邮寄选民能够前往相关大使馆或代表处索取选票并划票,而非只有一天时间。此举让海外选民可以有数天时间前往使馆领取选票、划票,减少使馆发生选民人满为患大排长龙的情况,尤其是在马来西亚旅外公民社群庞大的都会,如如伦敦、纽约和坎培拉。

    第二,我们要求选委会允许各党派驻监票员驻守相关使馆,监察索票、划票和递送选票回布城选委会总部的过程,同时允许各党代表驻守在布城选委会总部以监视选票分寄至各个选区的程序。我们并非要求所有222个国会议席与505个州议席的候选人各自委派监票员,我们只是要求,允许各个政党委派一名代表,意即总人数可能少於10人的监票员代表团,驻守相关使馆。由於许多海外邮寄选民都是第一次透过邮寄方式履行他们的公民权利,此举就是为了确保他们的选票不会受到任何影响,也确保最终寄送回大马各自投票站的海外邮寄选票,是他们当初在大使馆内划上属意政党的选票。

    第三,我们要求选委会承诺,将在提名日当天把所有获批准的海外邮寄选民名册交到各区候选人手上;以确保候选人能够准确知道,他们的选区内有多少获得选委会批准通过海外邮寄投票的选民,同时也确保,提名日之後,不会再突然出现更多海外邮寄选民的名字。

    第四,有鉴于整个海外邮寄选票过程冗长,从印刷和递送海外选票、到选民前往相关使馆投票、选票寄回选委会布城总部、又从布城分寄至各个选区,可能耗时长达两周。有鉴於此,我们要求选委会允许至少21天竞选期,而这也符合净选盟八大诉求其中一项。过去,许多海外学生或驻外公务员的邮寄选票失效,一是他们太晚拿到选票,再来则无法在指定计票时间内抵达计票中心。为了避免马来西亚海外选民的权利被剥夺,我们要求选委会提供至少21天的竞选期。

    我们已经引颈长盼选委会此项宣布已久。如果选委会真的有诚意方便马来西亚海外选民,则当局就应该废除在过去5年至少逗留我国30天这项条件,并重新检讨海外邮寄选民的投票程序,让全体马来西亚海外公民和政党,都能安心,不必担忧海外邮寄选票的秘密性与安全受到影响。

    陆兆福

    王建民博士

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