Monday, February 4, 2008
FREE AND FAIR ELECTION
Election Commission Headquarters in Putrajaya
One of the motivating factors that caused BERSIH to organise street demonstration on Saturday, November 10, 2007, was the purported discrepancies in the Election Commission (EC) electoral roll system. Amongst others, BERSIH claimed that the existence of “phantom electorates” in the electoral roll system has not been fully rectified by the EC. It was alleged that great many names in the electoral roll system are already more than 100 years of age and known to have died donkey years ago.
It was reported in the Star newspaper (Monday September 10, 2007) that the Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM), Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman as saying, “ The most criticised aspects of the Election Commission (EC) is the electoral roll system especially when it involved allegations of phantom voters”.
While he lauded the Election Commission’s (EC) numerous efforts to clean up the electoral rolls, Abu Talib felt more should be done.
“Measures taken by the EC, such as checking one’s registration status through the commission’s website and the likely use of indelible ink in the next election are highly commendable”.
Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman, Chairman, Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM)
“However, there should be better coordination between the National Registration Department (NRD) and the EC so that dead electors are expunged from the electoral roll as soon as the death certificate is issued,” he said.
How do we know that the election is free and fair? To answer the question, I managed to obtain credible guidelines that can be used as benchmark from INTER-PARLIAMENTARY UNION 2006 (ISBN 92-9142-277-0). If the readers think that EC has fulfilled all the criteria, then it is free and fair. The rest I leave it to the readers to read the guidelines carefully.
1. Free and Fair Elections
In any State the authority of the government can only derive from the will of the people as expressed in genuine, free and fair elections held at regular intervals on the basis of universal, equal and secret suffrage.
2. Voting and Elections Rights
2.1 Every adult citizen has the right to vote in elections, on a non-discriminatory basis;
2.2 Every adult citizen has the right to access to an effective, impartial and non-discriminatory procedure for the registration of voters;
2.3 No eligible citizen shall be denied the right to vote or disqualified from registration as a voter, otherwise than in accordance with objectively verifiable criteria prescribed by law, and provided that such measures are consistent with the State’s obligations under international law;
2.4 Every individual who is denied the right to vote or to be registered as a voter shall be entitled to appeal to a jurisdiction competent to review such decisions and to correct errors promptly and effectively;
2.5 Every voter has the right to equal and effective access to a polling station in order to exercise his or her right to vote;
2.6 Every voter is entitled to exercise his or her right equally with others and to have his or her vote accorded equivalent weight to that of others;
2.7 The right to vote in secret is absolute and shall not be restricted in any manner whatsoever.
3. Candidature, Party and Campaign Rights and Responsibilities
3.1 Everyone has the right to take part in the government of their country and shall have an equal opportunity to become a candidate for election. The criteria for participation in government shall be determined in accordance with national constitutions and laws and shall not be inconsistent with the State’s international obligations;
3.2 Everyone has the right to join, or together with others to establish, a political party or organization for the purpose of competing in an election;
3.3 Everyone individually and together with others has the right:
- To express political opinions without interference;
- To seek, receive and impart information and to make an informed choice;
- To move freely within the country in order to campaign for election;
- To campaign on an equal basis with other political parties, including the party forming the existing government.
3.4 Every candidate for election and every political party shall have an equal opportunity of access to the media, particularly the mass communications media, in order to put forward their political views;
3.5 The right of candidates to security with respect to their lives and property shall be recognized and protected;
3.6 Every individual and every political party has the right to the protection of the law and to a remedy for violation of political and electoral rights;
3.7 The above rights may only be subject to such restrictions of an exceptional nature which are in accordance with law and reasonably necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others and provided they are consistent with States’ obligations under international law. Permissible restrictions on candidature, the creation and activity of political parties and campaign rights shall not be applied so as to violate the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status;
3.8 Every individual or political party whose candidature, party or campaign rights are denied or restricted shall be entitled to appeal to a jurisdiction competent to review such decisions and to correct errors promptly and effectively;
3.9 Candidature, party and campaign rights carry responsibilities to the community. In particular, no candidate or political party shall engage in violence;
3.10 Every candidate and political party competing in an election shall respect the rights and freedoms of others;
3.11 Every candidate and political party competing in an election shall accept the outcome of a free and fair election.
4. The Rights and Responsibilities of States
4.1 States should take the necessary legislative steps and other measures, in accordance with their constitutional processes, to guarantee the rights and institutional framework for periodic and genuine, free and fair elections, in accordance with their obligations under international law.
In particular, States should:
- Establish an effective, impartial and non-discriminatory procedure for the registration of voters;
- Establish clear criteria for the registration of voters, such as age, citizenship and residence, and ensure that such provisions are applied without distinction of any kind;
- Provide for the formation and free functioning of political parties, possibly regulate the funding of political parties and electoral campaigns, ensure the separation of party and State, and establish the conditions for competition in legislative elections on an equitable basis;
- Initiate or facilitate national programmes of civic education, to ensure that the populations are familiar with election procedures and issues;
4.2 In addition, States should take the necessary policy and institutional steps to ensure the progressive achievement and consolidation of democratic goals, including through the establishment of a neutral, impartial or balanced mechanism for the management of elections. In so doing, they should, among other matters:
- Ensure that those responsible for the various aspects of the election are trained and act impartially, and that coherent voting procedures are established and made known to the voting public;
- Ensure the registration of voters, updating of electoral rolls and balloting procedures, with the assistance of national and international observers as appropriate;
- Encourage parties, candidates and the media to accept and adopt a Code of Conduct to govern the election campaign and the polling period;
- Ensure the integrity of the ballot through appropriate measures to prevent multiple voting or voting by those not entitled thereto;
- Ensure the integrity of the process for counting votes.
4.3 States shall respect and ensure the human rights of all individuals within their territory and subject to their jurisdiction. In time of elections, the State and its organs should therefore ensure :
- That freedom of movement, assembly, association and expression are respected, particularly in the context of political rallies and meetings;
- That parties and candidates are free to communicate their views to the electorate, and that they enjoy equality of access to State and public-service media;
- That the necessary steps are taken to guarantee non-partisan coverage in State and public-service media.
4.4 In order that elections shall be fair, States should take the necessary measures to ensure that parties and candidates enjoy reasonable opportunities to present their electoral platform.
4.5 States should take all necessary and appropriate measures to ensure that the principle of the secret ballot is respected, and that voters are able to cast their ballots freely, without fear or intimidation.
4.6 Furthermore, State authorities should ensure that the ballot is conducted so as to avoid fraud or other illegality, that the security and the integrity of the process is maintained, and that ballot counting is undertaken by trained personnel, subject to monitoring and/or impartial verification.
4.7 States should take all necessary and appropriate measures to ensure the transparency of the entire electoral process including, for example, through the presence of party agents and duly accredited observers.
4.8 States should take the necessary measures to ensure that parties, candidates and supporters enjoy equal security, and that State authorities take the necessary steps to prevent electoral violence.
4.9 States should ensure that violations of human rights and complaints relating to the electoral process are determined promptly within the timeframe of the electoral process and effectively by an independent and impartial authority, such as an electoral commission or the courts.