Academic consensus on unfair elections: Reinforcing the Case for BERSIH’s March

By Dr Lim Teck Ghee | 27 June 2011

Many Malaysians may be unaware of the considerable research work by social scientists – both local and foreign – that have unequivocally concluded that the country’s record on free and fair elections has been abysmal. Analysis of this remarkable record of trickery, manipulation and gerrymandering by first the Alliance, followed by Barisan Nasional (BN), goes back for more than 50 years – in fact soon after the country received its independence.

Dishonest election conduct takes the following main forms:

  1. the manipulation of electoral boundaries or gerrymandering

  2. the vast disparity of voter numbers among the constituencies

  3. the contamination of electoral rolls with phantom voters and other fraud

  4. the grossly unfair use of the governmental machinery and resources in support of ruling party candidates

  5. impersonation, multiple voting, ballot stuffing and other frauds in polling, counting and tabulation

  6. the rigid and opaque postal voting system

  7. the short campaigning period and selective restriction on campaign freedom

  8. the biased and distorted official media coverage

  9. the inadequate and outdated regulations on election expenses and funding

  10. the ineffectiveness of or limitation in judicial remedy

Adding to the above is the impotency of the Electoral Commission. Lately, there has been an upsurge of political hooliganism which is increasingly coming from high levels and aimed at suppressing any expression of concern over the fair conduct of elections. Thus, it is not surprising that the leaders of the ruling party are confident BN will remain in power – by hook or by crook – for the next 50 years.

Malaysians interested in how the ruling parties have manipulated the electoral process to their advantage are spoilt for choice in the matter of reading material. Reference to the work of any of the following scholars will provide facts and figures on the truth behind the facade of ‘democratic’ elections in the country. Among them are: Sothi Rachagan, Mavis Puthucheary, Noraini Othman, Lim Hong Hai, Wong Chin Huat, Harold Crouch, James Jesudason, John Funston, Rainer Heufers, Bridget Welsh, Ong Kian Meng, Mustafa K. Anuar, James Chin, William Case, Francis Loh Kok Wah, Andrew Aeria, Dan Slater, Simon Barraclough, Gordon P. Means and Diane Mauzy.

A selection of excerpts from some recent published work is provided in the annex (see below).

Unfortunately such accounts have been deliberately obliterated from national media coverage whilst the antics of Ibrahim Ali as well as diversionary issues are prominently broadcast and splashed in the papers. The commentaries of media sycophants focusing on the purported economic losses likely from traffic disruption (aren’t these columnists capable of finding better reasons to explain why the planned march should not take place!) are merely to hoodwink Malaysians whereas the more belligerent editorials resort to intimidation to discourage Bersih supporters marching.

Reading the independent and scholarly work on Malaysian elections should lead most in the country to conclude that the Bersih march has good reason to go ahead, if only to show to the rest of the world that BN’s claim of democratic elections has been one of the oldest – if not the oldest – lie in Malaysian politics.


Excerpts from recent academic writing on elections

  • “…Thus, the electoral system contained built-in advantages for the Malay community. There was no realistic possibility of a non-bumiputra party’s or coalition’s “going it alone” and winning an election. The only way for Chinese and Indian politicians to participate in government was by allying themselves with Malays, inevitably as junior partners. In practice, only two types of government could emerge from elections: an all-Malay government or a Malay dominated coalition…”

    Crouch, Harold (1996)
    Government and Society in Malaysia.
    St Leonards, New South Wales: Allen and Unwin Australia

  • “…Malaysia has institutionalised a semi-democratic political system. It does engage in elections, which provide for free choices, and the opposition has won seats. Yet the contest is not a fair one, given state dominance of the media, bias in government funding toward the incumbent BN, continuing electoral irregularities, and constituencies that are constructed to favour BN…”

    Welsh, Bridget (2007)
    ‘Malaysia at 50: Midlife Crisis Ahead?’
    Current History pp.106, 699

  • “…We have demonstrated how the Barisan Nasional has managed to perpetuate its rule through various forms of electoral manipulation and administrative repressions. On one hand, its initial electoral strengths have been entrenched through control of franchise, alternation of international and administrative boundaries, malapportionment and gerrymandering of electoral constituencies, controlled electoral campaigns and polling irregularities. On the other hand, political opposition is disempowered with infringement of civil and political liberties, extensive patronage networks and abuse of federal apparatus to suppress intergovernmental competition. The opposition state governments are discriminated against and in some cases overthrown through direct federal intervention, while the local elections which the ruling coalition had largely failed to win were outright terminated since 1965…”

    Wong, Chin-Huat, Chin, James and Othman, Norani (2010)
    ‘Malaysia – towards a topology of an electoral one-party state’,
    Democratization, 17: 5, 920- 949

  • “…In Malaysia, elections are not fair since basic political rights and civil liberties are restricted. Limitations to press freedom and to the right to associate and assemble, malapportionment, gerrymandering, and the financial advantages of the ruling parties are testimony to the systematic violation of fairness principles…”

    Ufen, Andreas (2009)
    ‘The transformation of political party opposition in Malaysia and its implications for the electoral authoritarian regime’,
    Democratization, 16:3, 604-627

  • “..On average in eleven general elections in Malaysia, the opposition wins 45 percent of the votes, but due to the limits on the opposition within the electoral system, through gerrymandering, malapportionment and the impact of a first-past-the post system, and constraints on political organization for the opposition, holds less than 15 percent of the seats in parliament. In the 2004 election the BN won 63.4 percent of the popular vote, but won 91 percent of the overall seats…”

    Welsh, Bridget, Suffian, Ibrahim & Aeria, Andrew (2007)
    ‘Malaysia country report.’ Asian Barometer

  • “…All mainstream media are directly controlled by either the government, such as Radio and Television Malaysia (RTM), or by companies that have a close link with the BN’s top leadership, such as Utusan Malaysia, New Straits Times, TV3, and Ntv7. Their relationships with leadership make them favourable to the ruling BN…”

    Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani (2009)
    ‘The Emergence of new politics in Malaysia
    – from consociational to deliberative democracy.’
    Taiwan Journal of Democracy, Vol. 5, No. 2: 97-125

  • “The Malaysian electoral system . . . [has been] so heavily loaded in favour of the government that it is hard to imagine that [it] . . . could be defeated in an election.”

    Crouch, Harold (1996)
    Malaysian Government: Authoritarian Repression and Democratic Responsiveness.
    Ithaca: Cornell University Press

  • “…Further, these iterative electoral victories have extended some legitimating cover for the government’s often sly legislation, habitual amendments to the constitution, manipulation of standing orders and question time, and elevation of loyalists to the largely ceremonial upper house. In sum, while the government can claim that Malaysia holds the longest unbroken record of elections in the region, it has not been established competitively. As Tun Razak noted in 1971: “So long as the form is preserved, the substance can be changed to suit conditions of a particular country…”

    Case, William (1996)
    ‘Can the “Halfway House’ stand?
    Semi-democracy and elite theory in three Southeast Asian countries’. Comparative Politics, Vol. 28, No.4, pp.437-464

  • “…A further package of factors working in Umno’s favour included an electoral redistribution, changes to electoral laws, and a ‘cleansing’ of the electoral roll. An electoral redistribution carried out by the Election Commission (EC) added 26 seats to parliament, most in areas favourable to Umno in the south (Johor from 20 to 26, Selangor 17 to 22), and Sabah (20 to 25). The northern states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah had no additions. Furthermore, several seats in Kedah won by PAS in 1999 were reorganised with a higher proportion of non-Malay voters, making a repeat PAS victory unlikely.

    “…Traditionally, not issues but the ‘three Ms’ – media, money and machinery – are the key determinants of Malaysian elections. (It used to be the ‘four Ms’, before Mahathir retired.) The BN controls all television and radio stations, and all major newspapers, either through its control of government or party ownership. It uses this control to sell the virtues of the BN, and denigrate the opposition. An independent voice does exist in the form of the online newspaper Malaysiakini. Some opposition parties and NGOs also have their own publications on the internet and/or in hard copy. But such publications cannot reach a large audience.

    “…The most controversial aspect of the 2004 election campaign was its management by the EC. The elections were the most disorganised and contested ever. In some cases this may simply have reflected incompetence, but EC activities frequently provided direct benefits to the BN, as they had in the revisions of electoral boundaries and membership of the electoral roll.

    In the face of very broad concern over EC activities its chairman proposed an independent inquiry into EC conduct. Prime Minister Abdullah quickly rejected this, telling the EC to conduct its own internal inquiry…”

    Funston, J. (2006)
    ‘The Malay Electorate in 2004: Reversing the 1999 Result?’,
    in Saw Swee-Hock and K. Kesavapany (ed.),
    Malaysia: Recent Trends and Challenges,
    Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore, p. 313

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Monday, 27 June 2011 - 11:54 am

    The bottom line is simply this: If you are against Bersih, it means cheating and lying is acceptable to you. Like it or not, whatever you believe in whether things are fair or unfair, cheating is no longer acceptable as is corruption is no longer acceptable in the new globalized, internet age. Its simply a basic rule that ALL players have to accept regardless of race, religion and ideology.

    The real fact is that Najib, not embracing Bersih, adds suspicion that he plans to increase UMNO/BN cheating electorally. He started his administration with illegal takeover of Perak, followed by repeatedly breaking the law not just bending it, further wrecking the judicial system, and of course buying elections and other electoral fraud. His track record is pretty obvious and all the suspicion is not only justified but rather clearly probably right.

    Why would Najib be against Bersih when he says he is for reform and he says BN has the momentum? If what he says is true, then a free and fair election will only add credibility to his agenda and confirm his program success. The only reason to oppose Bersih is because his programs and leadership, after more than two years, is a failure and will not stand up to scrutiny.

    Najib, who preaches governance, performance NOW by opposing Bersih, says its unfair to judge him on governance and performance – that he is entitled to cheat. Is that right?

  2. #2 by bruno on Monday, 27 June 2011 - 12:05 pm

    The word Bersih will send Umno ministers scrambling to the bathrooms.Those that are too slow will wet their pants,dripping all the way to the bathroom.Mentioned the name of the Bersih chairman and the Umnoputras are ‘MIA’.They consider Ms. Ambiga their biggest nightmare.

  3. #3 by monsterball on Monday, 27 June 2011 - 12:16 pm

    What UMNO and now UMNO B says or said.. interpret or interpreted are all gospel truth and Malaysians must trust and believe them always……that’s all.
    Time and time again hundreds of comments made and this post published the comments made by International regonized personalities and organzations… are all ignored by the government.
    It is their nature to cheat to win since Mahathir took over.
    The idea of cheating reached new levels..under him.
    He cheated…established a string of loyal cronies.. and encouraged corruptions… much so… is out to buy up the whole country to govern forever …was his idea and on going.
    UMNO B is a devilsh party…getting more and more rotten out of desperations to stay in power.

  4. #4 by tak tahan on Monday, 27 June 2011 - 12:20 pm

    Soon anything to do with Bersih attributes like detergents,soaps,clean water n foods,fresh air,clean streets,roads,cars and houses will be frowned upon by the dirty government of the day.Come to worst,those abovementioned users would be highly considered a threat to national security or the Royal Highness.

  5. #5 by bruno on Monday, 27 June 2011 - 12:25 pm

    Why Ms. Ambiga is Umno’s biggest nightmare.Umno never wants to play fair,because Umno is being brought up like a spoilt kid.A stupid spoilt kid always like to win.He doesn’t have the marbles to lose.So if he takes a blow and falls flat on his face,the first thing he does is running up to his mummy.A spoilt kid knows no shame.So in order to not lose,he has to cheat.And Umno doesn’t want to lose in elections,even when its popularity ratings have gone down to twenty.So it takes out the money that it had looted from the people’s bank and try’s to buy its way to the winners circle.It will even go to the extent of switching ballot boxes too.So what Bersih is against Umno is for.That is why they don’t like Ms. Ambiga.

  6. #6 by cskok8 on Monday, 27 June 2011 - 2:16 pm

    But they have a world renowned Professor from UiTM saying that Ambiga is an enemy of the Malays/Muslim.

  7. #7 by Winston on Monday, 27 June 2011 - 4:49 pm

    There are plenty of works on the Malaysian
    elections, or rather the unfairness practised
    by the incumbent, during such elections.
    And these shenanigans have been going
    on for decades.
    The question to be asked is why the authors, at least the local ones, did not do anything to galvanise the Malaysian electorate to take action to counter these deceptions?

  8. #8 by jus legitimum on Monday, 27 June 2011 - 6:09 pm

    Umno is scared of Bersih because it can galvanise all the races for a good cause-free and fair elections.Comprehensive and thorough electoral reforms will definitely mean the end of the regime that has been cheating and shortchanged the voters for decades.

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