by Ida Lim
Malay Mail Online
September 22, 2013
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 22 — At the end of a five-day tribunal hearing on election irregularities, Bersih’s co-chair Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said the National Registration Department (NRD) needs to be shaken up as well as help clean up the voter registration roll.
When going through Bersih’s demands and recommendations during the hearing, Ambiga repeated the election watchdog’s long-standing complaint that the Election Commission (EC) had failed to take steps to clear the country’s electoral roll of discrepancies.
Ambiga acknowledged the EC’s stand that it was limited to only registering voters based on the identity cards issued by the NRD, even as electoral reform groups have voiced suspicion that foreigners had obtained citizenship through dubious means.
“That’s why it’s not just a question of electoral roll, it’s so intrinsically tied up – the identity card and the election commission.
“The JPN needs a shake-up as well,” she said when testifying as the last witness today, referring to the NRD by its Malay initials.
The EC has often borne the brunt of criticisms, especially for irregularities in the electoral roll, but the commission had in the past pointed out that it could not correct certain errors or changes unilaterally without being notified by voters.
The EC had also said that its role was to register voters according to the identity cards issued by the NRD, saying that the latter would be the one responsible for verifying details in the ICs.
But Ambiga rejected EC’s explanation, which the commission has used when faced with claims of errors such as the retaining of the names of dead voters on its roll and the registration of voters at addresses that they do not reside in.
“We don’t accept it as a reasonable excuse because the election commission is the sole custodian of the electoral roll,” Ambiga said.
Earlier, panel member Datuk Azzat Kamaludin raised concern over Bersih’s recommendation for automatic voter registration when citizens reach a certain age, saying that the proposal could worsen the problems with the electoral roll.
“We made this suggestion on the basis that we are dealing with people of integrity and JPN will actually act according to the law, we have to assume that,” Ambiga then replied, later insisting that the EC has to fulfill its duty to the public.
Another panellist, Dr Mavis Puthucheary, said the tribunal’s role was not to “bash” the EC, but to improve the system.
While noting the criticisms against the EC, Mavis said the public should look at it in light of developments over the years, observing that some of its powers have been reduced.
“As a result, it has decided to play a very narrow role and it dismisses a lot of things as being outside of its purview,” the academic said, referring to the EC’s limitations in removing names from its electoral roll.
“Maybe it would require expanding the role of the EC and increasing the staff of EC,” she suggested when speaking of possible reforms.
But Ambiga disagreed, saying that the EC has only “one job”, indicating that the commission should be able to ensure free and fair elections.
“They only do elections. If they haven’t got it right by now, then I’m not sure it’s just a lack of empowerment,” she said.>
The People’s Tribunal on the 13th general election, which is organised by polls watchdog Bersih, has been hearing evidence since September 18 on alleged vote-rigging in the contentious polls, with the five-day hearing to end today.
The citizen’s initiative does not have the legal authority to enforce its recommendations, but has the “moral authority” to be accepted by Putrajaya, according to Bersih.
The five-member People’s Tribunal is led by Yash Pal Ghai, a former United Nations Special Representative and constitutional law expert.
The other members are former Indonesian Electoral Commission deputy chairman Ramlan Surbakti, prominent lawyer Datuk Azzat Kamaludin, University of Malaya associate senior fellow Mavis Puthucheary and Rev Dr Hermen Shastri, the general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia.
In his closing speech today, Yash said the panel will meet again next Friday afternoon, where lead counsel Prof Gurdial Singh Nijar will present a summary of the evidence heard during the five-day hearing.