• The Election Commission should not allow spurious objections to the addition of voters to the electoral roll

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 18th of September 2015

    The Election Commission should not allow spurious objections to the addition of voters to the electoral roll

    In the past month, many DAP representatives have received complaints that newly registered voters were being objected to being included in the electoral roll by unknown individuals. These voters were being asked to attend a public hearing that was being held at the Selangor Election Commission at Wisma PKNS in Shah Alam. I attended such a public hearing on the 10th of September and what I found was utterly unacceptable.

    On this day, the voters who were being objected to were registered in the N38 Paya Jaras and the N55 Dengkil state seats, both of which were contested by UMNO in the 2013 General Election. All of the 20 voters I spoke to (newly registered as well as registered voters who requested for a change in address) had been living in the address on their IC for at least 3 years, some of them more than 10 years. The reason given by the objectors (or “pembantah”) was that the voter cannot be traced (“Pemilih Tidak Dapat DiKesan”) (See Appendix 1 for a sample). No additional proof was given to show that the objector had indeed done his or her homework in order to trace the voter that was being objected to. The fact that these objections were spurious was clear when all of the voters whom I spoke to on the 10th of September had the objections against them rejected i.e. all of them were approved to be included in the electoral roll.

    While the right to object to the inclusion of a voter on the supplementary electoral roll into the primary electoral is provided under Section 15 of the Elections (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002, these regulations also make it clear that the Registrar – usually a member of the Election Commission – has the right to ask the objector for more information regarding the nature of the objection.

    Article 15 (5) states: “Upon receipt of an objection under this regulation, the Registra may, if he is of the opinion that the particulars given in the objection are insufficient, request for further information from the objector who shall furnish the information within seven days from the date he receives such request.”

    The Election Commission must not allow objections to take place when so little proof has been furnished on the part of the objector. Instead of wasting the time of the newly registered voter, the EC should ask for more proof from the objector before allowing the objection to get to the public inquiry stage.

    I was also surprised to see that the Election Commission did not order the objector to pay the objectee the maximum amount of two hundred ringgit as compensation for any loss of time or inconvenience caused under Article 18 of the regulations. Many of these voters took time off work and had to travel to Shah Alam for the public inquiry. One voter even had to drive back from Kuantan, where he is working in a public hospital, in order to prove that he is a legitimate voter in the N55 Dengkil constituency. Voters coming from places such as Sabak Bernam and Hulu Selangor, which are far from the EC’s office in Shah Alam, may not be able to cover their expenses and time lost even with the maximum RM200 compensation. Instead, the EC asked the objector to pay RM100 for each failed objection. (See Appendix 2 below)

    In addition, the EC also failed to ask the objector to pay the objectee on the spot. Rather, the objectees were asked to fill in their details on a piece of paper by a person acting on behalf of the objector. When I asked the EC officer in charge why the objector could not pay the objectee on the spot, he replied that the EC had no power to compel the objector to do so. This is also grossly unfair to the objectee since there is no guarantee that he or she will be paid even the RM100 for the inconvenience and time lost off work.

    What the EC needs to do is to amend the maximum fine to a higher amount, in order to dissuade individuals and groups from making spurious objections to otherwise legitimate voters in their respective areas and that this compensation must be paid on the spot if the objector is not able to find any concrete reasons to object to the inclusion of these voters to be included in the primary electoral roll.

    It is hard to resist from speculating that this is part of a desperate attempt by UMNO to win back some of its state seats by objecting to voters whom they feel are much more likely to vote for the non-BN parties. When I was at the Selangor EC’s office during the public hearing, I met two UMNO representatives – one from the Paya Jaras state seat and the other from the Dengkil state seat.

    The Election Commission must carry on its own due diligence and put its foot down so that these spurious objections will not take place in the future. They can do this by asking for a much higher burden of proof from the objector as to the basis of the objections, and also by increasing the maximum amount of compensation to be paid on the spot if the objector’s reasons are found to be without basis.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    Appendix 1: Objection to Leong Yung Hong using the reason “Pemilih Tidak Boleh DiKesan”

    Appendix 2: Decision by the EC to ask the objector to pay the objectee RM100 only

  • Election Commission (EC) Chairman, Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, should focus on the proposals of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on electoral reform rather than the proposal of Ridhuan Tee

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 5th of May, 2015

    Election Commission (EC) Chairman, Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, should focus on the proposals of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on electoral reform rather than the proposal of Ridhuan Tee

    It was reported in the media that EC Chairman, Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, is studying Ridhuan Tee’s proposal that candidates who want to stand for elections must have at least an SPM credit in Bahasa Malaysia (BM). I strongly suggest that the EC uses its time to focus on the studies that the EC promised it would conduct following the proposals of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on electoral reform.

    Following the publication of the findings of the PSC on electoral reform, the EC chairman published a response on the 19th of April, 2012. Among the promises made by the EC chairman was that the EC would study in greater depth and detail, including from the constitutional, legal, regulatory, technical and managerial angles, the recommendations that could not be implemented in time for the 13th general elections.

    The recommendations which require a more careful study include (i) the preparation of guidelines and procedures for a caretaker government (ii) the possibility of automatic registration of eligible voters (iii) the proposal to separate the main functions of the EC namely the registration of voters, the conduct of elections and the redrawing of electoral boundaries (iv) the proposal to have at least one third of parliamentary seats from Sabah and Sarawak (v) the possibility of improving or changing our current First-Past-the-Post electoral (FPTP) system to a mixture of FPTP and Proportionate Representation (PR) or a strictly PR system.

    More than 3 years after the response issued by the EC Chairman, we have not seen any of these studies being published or even publicly discussed by the EC.

    Rather than putting effort into studying the Ridhuan Tee’s proposal, the EC should instead deliver on its promises made more than 3 years ago, which is to publish its findings and studies on the specific recommendations made by the PSC on electoral reform as highlighted above.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    Reference: Kenyataan Media Suruhanjaya Pilihan Raya Malaysia 19 April 2012

  • UMNO stands to gain from local elections in Selangor, not DAP

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Serdang, on 6 February 2015

    UMNO stands to gain from local elections in Selangor, not DAP

    Yesterday, on 5 February 2015 in Sinar Harian, ADUN for Permatang Datuk Sulaiman Razak made several baseless accusations against the DAP.[1]

    First, Sulaiman alleged that the main reason DAP is demanding elections for local authorities (LAs, or Pihak Berkuasa Tempatan or PBT in Bahasa Malaysia) is to ‘seize more urban seats’ and to ‘monopolize positions of power and decision-making which will marginalize the rights of other races.’

    In reality, the party which will benefit most from local council elections in Selangor is UMNO and not DAP. In Selangor, UMNO holds 12 out of 56 DUN seats (21%) and 4 out of 22 Parliament seats (18%). Although UMNO succeeded in winning 18% of the popular vote in Selangor in GE-13, UMNO does not have a single representative in any of the local councils. With local council elections, UMNO through its popular support of 18% stands to win at least 50 out of 300 local councilor positions which at present are appointed by the State Government.

    At the same time, there is a strong possibility that UMNO will dominate the Kuala Selangor, Sabak Bernam and Hulu Selangor local councils through local elections, given the strong support for UMNO in these areas.

    As another example, in areas such as Petaling Jaya where UMNO did not contest any Parliament or DUN seats, local elections will give UMNO the opportunity and space to gain representation in the Petaling Jaya City Council (Majlis Bandaraya Petaling Jaya or MBPJ).

    Second, Sulaiman accused DAP of wanting to ‘taking the opportunity to become the majority in the local councils’ especially in local councils such as MBPJ, MBSA and MPAJ which have large budgets. Sulaiman’s accusation is based on the perception that urban areas are majority-non-Malay areas and that this will benefit DAP.

    This allegation is also baseless. According to the 2010 population census, 10 of the 12 local councils in Selangor have a Malay majority, including Majlis Bandaraya Shah Alam (MBSA) and Majlis Perbandaran Ampang Jaya (MPAJ). In Majlis Bandaraya Petaling Jaya (MBPJ), Malay residents are a plurality. Only in Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ) is there a Chinese plurality.

    Does UMNO have no confidence that it can beat DAP in local elections for Malay-majority areas such as Shah Alam and Ampang?

    Third, Sulaiman accused DAP of ‘intentionally creating issues to blame the Federal Government because the election of local authorities come under a Parliamentary Act in the concurrent list for Federal Government and State Government powers.’

    Actually, State Governments have two ways to carry out local authority elections even if the Federal Government refuses to cooperate. The first way is to pass a state law in the State Assembly (DUN) to conduct local elections and obtain an exemption from the Local Government Act 1976. The Penang State Government took this approach but failed when the Federal Court rejected its appeal.

    The second approach is to hold local elections through the Selangor State Government machinery and appoint the winners as local councilors. This method has been used by the Selangor State Government to choose Chinese village heads in Kampung Baru Sungai Jarum in Kuala Langat, Kampung Bagan in Pulau Ketam and Pandamaran in Klang. The same method can be used to select local councillors but requires more detailed planning.

    Local elections in Selangor are not something new. It is stated in Selangor Pakatan Rakyat’s GE-13 manifesto as follows: Carry out decentralization through a gradual implementation of local government elections.”

    If UMNO Selangor continued to oppose the election of local authorities in Selangor, is it because they have no confidence in their own ability to attract support and win local council positions, or because UMNO in Selangor does not want to serve the people through local government?

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming

    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    [1] http://www.sinarharian.com.my/politik/bn-dakwa-dap-tamak-dalam-isu-pbt-1.357227

  • Restore Local Elections to increase accountability, to better reflect local representation and to increase transparency

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, 25th of January, 2015

    Restore Local Elections to increase accountability, to better reflect local representation and to increase transparency

    PAS President Tuan Guru Hadi Awang, in a statement on the 23rd of January, rejected the need for local elections on the basis that it would promote instability, increase the gap between rural and urban development and could lead to another May 13th in the country.[1]

    Rather than respond to these baseless assertions, I would like to make the case for why we need local elections, more than ever. Bringing back local elections will increase the level of local accountability, will better reflect political representation at the local level and will increase transparency in local council and district spending decisions.

    Increase Local Accountability

    Having served as an MP for one and a half years and having worked with councillors in the Subang Jaya and Kajang local councils (MPSj and MPKj respectively), I understand and appreciate the role of local councillors much more than before. Local councillors, in many ways, represent the first responders to the problems faced by residents be it the illegal dumping of rubbish, clogged drains or potholes. In a mature democracy, elected representatives at the national and state levels should focus on legislative matters while local councillors should focus on matters to do with the local council.

    In Malaysia, local councillors are appointed by the state government. Many of them are unknown to local residents, even in the areas which they are supposed to take care of. One of the main reasons behind the relative anonymity of the local councillors is because they are not elected. I can assure you that any elected representative in Malaysia would have gotten telephone calls asking for us to take care of their rubbish problems because “we elected you”. They cannot say the same of the local councillors.

    In the current set-up, local councillors are beholden to the parties which appoint them rather than to the residents whom they are supposed to service. While a non-performing councillor may not continue to receive the recommendation from the elected MP or ADUN to continue his term as a councillor, the question of accountability still remains. A poorly performing councillor can remain in his position as long as he is ‘protected’ by the party. In areas where the elected representative is from a different party from the councillor, the line of reporting and accountability becomes even less clear.

    Hence, local elections are the most effective way to restore the link between residents and their local councillor. Local councillors will have to campaign in order to be elected. They will have to make election pledges and produce election manifestos. Their profile among residents will be raised. Their accountability to the residents who voted them into office will also increase. This is arguably the most important reasons for the restoration of local elections.

    Better reflection of local political representation

    As it stands, it is a zero sum game at the local council level for political parties. Whoever controls the state government, controls the appointment of ALL councillors regardless of political support of the respective parties at the local level.

    For example, PAS may have won all four state seats and the parliaments seat of Kuala Terengganu but they have no representation whatsoever in the Kuala Terengganu City Council. Similarly, UMNO won 7 out of the 21 state seats in Seberang Prai but they have zero representation in the Seberang Perai Municipal Council. Pakatan Rakyat won 9 out of 11 parliament seats in KL but have no representation whatsoever in Kuala Lumpur City Council.

    Restoring local elections would better reflect the local political representation for all sides be it Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat.

    Local elections will not necessarily result in DAP dominating the contests in urban areas for two reasons. Firstly, the emergence of other parties and political forces will likely be the strongest in the urban areas. It will not be surprisingly for candidates representing green interests or even a green party to win representative in local council elections. Single issue candidates such as an anti-KIDEX or a pro-animal position are much more likely to win local council elections in Petaling Jaya compared to non-urban districts where mobilization based on a single issue is much more challenging.

    Secondly, the ethnic composition of many of the urban councils have changed significantly since the May 13th incident in 1969. The large migration of Malays from the rural to the urban areas have made areas like Kuala Lumpur very different from today from what it was in 1969. According to the 2010 census data, the Malay population in Wilayah Persekutuan KL (45.9%) outnumber the Chinese population (43.2%). In fact, out of the 3 city halls, 9 city councils and 37 municipal councils in Malaysia, only 6 have populations where the Chinese outnumber the Malays – Ipoh, Kuching Selantan, Johor Bahru Tengah, Pulau Pinang, Sibu and Subang Jaya![2] In other words, 88% of these large urban areas have a plurality and in most cases, a majority, of Malay residents. Even in a place like Petaling Jaya, the Malay population (46.2%) outnumber the Chinese population (39.6%)! (See Appendix 1 below)

    While the Malays may be slightly under represented in the voting population in some of these urban areas because of their younger demographic profile, it is clearly wrong to say that the DAP will dominate local elections on the basis that urban areas are largely Chinese dominated.

    More transparency in the budgetary process

    My final argument as to why local elections need to be restored is in term of budgetary transparency and oversight. Currently, there is very little debate or deliberation as to how a local council’s budget is allocated. This matters since it determines how many playgrounds get upgraded, how many overhead bridges get built, how much is spend on rubbish collection and public cleansing, how much is used for landscaping, just to give a few examples.

    With a more accountable elected local council coupled with a more politically accurate representation of local councillors, there will be a better check and balance over how the local council budget will be spent. Similar to how the opposition at the federal and state levels are supposed to scrutinize the government budgets of the federal and state governments, a more representative council should also do the same for the local council budget.

    Conclusion

    While there may be some legitimate concerns over having local elections e.g. the kind of electoral system to use, the specific powers of the local councillors, who can vote in these elections, just to mention a few, the possibility of a May 13th like event happening as a result of local elections is not one of them.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    Appendix 1: Ethnic Composition of the 3 City Halls, 9 City Councils and 37 Municipal Councils in Malaysia according to the 2010 Census Data

    [1] http://m.harakahdaily.net/index.php/presiden/33425-pembangunan-bandar-bermasyarakat-madani

    [2] Some of these places have since been upgraded to city councils e.g. Petaling Jaya

  • Why BN does not want more Parliament seats

    Why BN does not want more Parliament seats

    The fact that no new no Parliament seat was added in Sarawak by the Election Commission is a very good indication that the yet-to-be revealed peninsular Malaysia and Sabah delimitation plans will also not include parliamentary seat increases.

    With 31 out of 222 seats, Sarawak currently has 14 percent of the total Parliament seats. This figure would be diluted further if parliamentary seats are added in peninsular Malaysia and Sabah but not in Sarawak.

    Any Sarawak chief minister would not have agreed to the new Sarawak delimitation plan if there was no assurance from the BN at the national level that no parliament seat will be added in either peninsular Malaysia or Sabah. This way, the current distribution of parliamentary seats and power at the federal can be maintained.

    The delay in revealing the new delimitation plans for peninsular Malaysia and Sabah also indicates that a decision has been made to present plans without any increase in Parliament seats.

    Election Commission chairperson Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof (seated right), in various statements in 2014 indicated that new Parliament seatswould be added in the coming delimitation exercise, especially in existing seats with more than 100,000 voters. It was also reported in various news reports that the delimitation exercise would begin by the end of 2014.

    While the floods in the East Coast may have caused the public display of the new delimitation exercise in peninsular Malaysia to be delayed, and will likely delay it further, there is also another alternative explanation. Which is that the EC was asked to amend the delimitation proposals so that no new parliament seats are added.

    My colleague, Anthony Loke, the MP for Seremban, had already revealed in early November 2014 that he saw an electoral mapfor Negri Sembilan which proposes an increase in parliament seats including splitting the seat of Rembau into two.

    This shows that the maps for peninsular Malaysia, and possibly Sabah, were ready for public display. 2014 came and went but these maps were never shown.

    So, why was this the case?

    One possible explanation is that the EC obtained orders from ‘above’ not to increase any parliamentary seats to avoid the possibility that the whole delimitation exercise would be ‘stuck’ in parliament because BN does not have a two-thirds majority to vote through an increased number of Parliament seats, as this will require amending the federal constitution.

    It is also likely that the EC was asked not to increase any state seats in the states where the BN does not enjoy a two-thirds majority – Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu, Penang, Perak, Selangor and Negri Sembilan.

    This is to avoid the problem of not being able to obtain a two-thirds majority in these state legislatures to increase the number of state seats by amending the state constitution. The exception here may be in Kelantan, where the PAS state government has had experience in negotiating with the Election Commission to increase state seats.

    In states where the BN does enjoy a two-thirds majority such as Perlis, Pahang, Malacca, Johor and Sabah, it is likely that the EC will propose new state seats because such proposals are likely meet the approval of the BN-controlled state legislatures, which includes the necessary constitutional amendments at the state level.

    What are the political implications?

    What would be the impact of such a move by the EC? While we cannot be sure until the maps are revealed, it is likely that if no new Parliament seats are added, the EC will redraw the existing parliamentary boundaries to be favourable to the BN.

    We saw this happen in Kedah in the 2003 delimitation exercise where no Parliament or state seat was added, but major gerrymandering took place which helped the BN win back marginal Parliament seats in lost in the 1999 general election, including Pokok Sena, Bali and Jerai.

    In states like Selangor, boundaries may be redrawn to help BN win back marginal parliamentary seats such as Kuala Langat, Sepang and Hulu Langat. In Johor, boundaries may be redrawn and new state seats created in order to help the BN win back marginal state seats such as Bekok, Tangkak and Parit Yaani.

    The ‘no increase’ urging by some NGOs

    Ironically, the EC may justify its decision not to increase Parliament seats by referring to the statements made by NGOs such as Bersih, Tindak Malaysia and ABU requesting that no new parliament seats be added in the delimitation exercise.

    While I am certain that none of these NGOs would approve of the EC’s attempts at gerrymandering even if no new parliament seats are added, their insistence on no new parliament seats may come back to haunt them.

    This is because if new parliament seats were proposed and new state seats in the Pakatan-controlled states of Kelantan, Penang and Selangor and in states where Pakatan has at least one-third of state seats – Terengganu, Kedah, Perak and Negri Sembilan – the EC and the BN would have been forced to negotiate with Pakatan.

    Then, the option would have been available for Pakatan to reject the delimitation plans, either at the federal or at the respective state levels by refusing to amend the state and federal constitutions. The default then would likely be to go back to the existing maps, which would be somewhat fairer, electorally speaking, compared with a new set of delimitation plans that would most certainly be more favourable to the BN.

    What can we do then?

    If the EC wants to bulldoze such a delimitation proposal in Parliament and in the respective states, the remaining options for the opposition as well as civil society, would be the following:

    • Organise as many objections as possible to the proposed delimitation exercises and use the public hearings to pressure the Election Commission to amend its delimitation proposal;

    • Ramp up pressure on the EC at each subsequent public hearing; and

    • If all else fails, the rakyat should organise another massive public gathering to protest of the delimitation exercise.
    We cannot allow a government that was supported by only 47 percent of the voters in the 13th general election to abuse the electoral system so that it can stay in power in perpetuity.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

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