If the public had more trust in the Election Commission to carry out fair elections, there would have been no need for citizens to resort to measures to prevent phantom voters, observes Douglas Teoh.
A lot of fuss has been raised regarding the mistaken “arrest” of Chua Lai Fatt, an Indian Malaysian who was adopted into a Chinese Malaysian family.
The misunderstanding arising from the mismatch between his skin colour and Chinese name was used by the Electoral Commission as a means to accuse political analyst Dr Ong Kian Ming and bring to light his “irresponsibility”.
I admit, I have little knowledge of the legal aspects of this issue, but through this short essay, I would like to argue that this allegation (that Ong is wrong) – is completely unfounded, and that the true culprit is one we’re all familiar with.
I would like to begin by addressing one key aspect that the EC has in fact neglected, when hurling it’s accusations at Ong: that is, the role of civil society in GE13.
Borrowing from John Keane, we can define civil society as “non-governmental institutions that tend to be nonviolent, self-organising, self-reflexive, and permanently in tension, both with each other and with the governmental institutions that ’frame’, constrict and enable their activities”. To summarise, Keane was pointing to two major characteristics of civil society: the voluntary nature of participation, as well as its limited capabilities.
With that understanding, let’s try to revisit GE13. There was already a ruckus over immigrants being transported days before GE13 itself (video footages in KLIA, as well as snapshots of these migrant workers).
In response to a possible hijacking of the elections (which many felt was highly possible by then), civil society groups such as ABU as well as a “loose coalition” of social media users (also voters) began sharing information regarding counter-measures to engage and stop these political migrants.
Some of these included stopping them in their tracks, asking them in Bahasa Malaysia their place of birth, education and more importantly, requesting them to recite the Rukun Negara and sing Negaraku. Should a “detained” person blunder in any way, it was taken as a sign that he may indeed be a political migrant and was told to leave the polling centre immediately.
Indeed, the Election Commission has attempted to use the scenario described to their advantage by making this an issue of skin colour. Basically, the accusation is that we are “discriminating” against people based on what colour they are – just because they are of a certain colour does not necessarily mean that they belong to a particular race.
Furthermore, their argument goes on to say that in acting this way, the masses (led by Ong) effectively denied one person his right to vote and decide for himself the future of this country. On this account, civil society seems guilty of both charges.
What a convincing argument given by the Commission! However, before buying into it, we need to remember again the fact that civil society groups are voluntary movements which are limited in both resources and scope of activity, due to their non-violent and informal nature. Despite that, they are still a group of citizens united in struggling for a cause, regardless of the structural constraints placed on them.
Having little to no formal political means of stopping phantom voters, civil society had by itself devised methods to identify and stop the hijacking of Malaysia’s elections. Sure these were not foolproof, but this remains the one thing Malaysians can afford to do without resorting to scaremongering and violence.
Malaysians may have wronged Chua Lai Fatt, but we now need to ask a more fundamental question – why has this occurred in the first place?
The answer is simple: because the Election Commission is perceived to be merely a tool ready to bow to the manipulation of the ruling coalition. Had the Commission been trusted to carry out fair elections, there would have been no need for citizens to take to such measures.
After all, a social movement works in a manner similar to Newtonian physics: always in reaction to something. In this case, it is unfair elections.
To illustrate that, I’ll pose a question quoted directly from ABU’s pamphlet:
“If you and your friends do not protect your polling center, then who will?”
The answer to that – No one.
The fact still remains that Chua Lai Fatt was wronged, but who is to be blamed? I leave that thought to you.
Douglas Teoh is currently a psychology tutor in a local private university who intends to pursue his postgraduate degree in politics.