Hornbill Unleashed

July 1, 2013

Forgive the EC, yes, but they must first bow out

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:00 AM
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Stephen Ng

While I welcome the suggestion by former Election Commission chief, Tan Sri Rashid Abdul Rahman that the Malaysian public should focus on structural issues such as the Barisan Nasional’s (BN) monopoly on the mainstream media, the indelible ink fiasco is no small issue.

I suggest that Rashid should focus on some issues that he feels passionate about, while I personally look into the ink controversy the way I see it – as a concerned member of the public.

Why the Big Fuss?

While so many allegations have been levelled against the EC, it is this fiasco that clearly shows that the EC has, as a matter of fact, breached public trust; it is by their words, that the public form an opinion.

If the Election Commissioners have any sense of integrity at all, they should resign en bloc in order for a new bipartisan team to be entrusted with the safeguard of the country’s electoral process. When the current commissioners no longer enjoy the public confidence, they should immediately bow out instead of bringing further embarrassment to the name of the Yang DiPertuan Agong.

Despite the efforts by groups such as Tindak Malaysia, Bersih 2.0 Steering Committee and the Parliament Select Committee to help further strengthen the electoral process, the EC did nothing to ensure a clean and fair election.  In fact, they did just the opposite to the known standard practices; whether advertently or inadvertently they did this, I do not know, but from the ink fiasco, it is obvious that they had allowed the loop hole and multiple voting to be exploited.

During the last General Election, a young man in the East Coast state of Terengganu had proven that the ink could be removed easily; thereafter, he walked into the voting station a second time – except that, this young man had the integrity not to vote a second time after collecting the voting slip. This clearly shows that the entire electoral process could be easily breached because the EC had failed to implement a ‘safeguard’ measure that the rakyat wanted to be put in place.

Pakatan leaders had, time and again, highlighted that there were voters who had registered themselves in different constituencies using different authorisation cards apart from the identity cards. If the election ink could be removed, the same voter who had voted as an advanced voter could then walk into the voting station as a civilian and vote a second time.

That the controversial ink was easily removed did not require a rocket scientist to prove. Even the policeman at the voting stream where I served as a polling agent, happily showed his finger, “No, the ink is long gone!” Teasingly, I told him, “In that case, you can vote a second time.”

With all the vulnerabilities in the electoral process already identified and highlighted to the EC’s duo, with the hope that they could strengthen the electoral process, the ink fiasco is one controversy where we have the EC duo’s own words – and I must say — the noose is tightening on them!

As more truth is unveiled, it clearly shows that the EC no longer enjoy public confidence. Their lies that they are telling the public are the most blatant that I have seen! Let me give you my line of argument, besides that we are already fully aware of with regards to the so-called health effects of silver nitrate.

Apart from misfeasance, in my opinion, the EC had in fact “acted in a manner that is detrimental to the parliamentary democracy of this country.” This is Section 124C of the Penal Code which carries a sentence of no more than 15 years.

Drying in 3 seconds

In an interview conducted by New Straits Times, the EC deputy chief, Wan Ahmad Wan Omar was asked whether the ink, if applied before the voter picked up the ballot paper would cause a smudge to the ballot paper.

His answer was: “The ink dries in only two seconds.”

As a chemist with my background in printing ink, paint and emulsion polymer, I have yet to come across an ink of this kind that dries in two seconds when applied on human skin. Most standard inks used in elections dry in 15-30 seconds. He insisted that he and others had tried the ink many times.

People like PY Wong of Tindak Malaysia had pointed out that the standard procedure used in other countries has always been to apply the ink after the vote is cast but we have an EC senior official not listening hard to the people.

Cost of the “Indelible” Ink

In 2008, we were told that it only cost RM2.3 million to purchase the indelible ink for 10.9 million voters. However, by 2013, the cost had tripled to RM7.1 million. Whereas the voter population increase was only 21.7 percent, the ink cost had gone up 208.7 percent!

What is more interesting is this: On Sept 21, 2011, Malaysiakini’s Aidila Razak had quoted Ichal Supriadi, from Asian Network for Free Elections, “Indelible ink is good business. For example, US$2.7 million was spent to buy 1,149,890 bottles of indelible ink for 574,945 polling stations in the Indonesian presidential election of 2009.”

Assuming a currency exchange rate of RM3 to one US Dollar, this is nearly the same amount that our EC had spent on the indelible ink for the entire country’s 26,000 polling stations during GE13.

Based on the Indonesian experience, a bottle of indelible ink can be as low as RM7. Even if the EC had purchased 260,000 bottles of the ink (as claimed), it would have just cost them RM1.82 million. And if Indonesia’s cost of using indelible ink was only US$2.7 million (about RM8.1 million), how is it that the EC had to spend a whopping figure of RM7.1 million, when we only had 13 million voters compared to Indonesia’s  170 million and Malaysia’s total land area is only one-fifth that of Indonesia!

Again, reports show that EC claimed they had bought a total of 260,000 bottles. This hardly makes any sense at all, since we have only 26,000 voting streams. Why should each voting stream be given ten bottles of the ink, when all they possibly needed were only two bottles for 800 voters?

Since the indelible ink is available from various countries around the world, why in the first place should the EC “reinvent” the wheel at such a high cost, only to find that it had failed to perform what is supposed to do? Spending over RM7 million from the public’s coffers on the controversial ink, and still telling one lie after another to cover up, that is what infuriates a lot of us.

In retrospect, EC duo had insisted that the ink could last for a minimum of seven days. They also insisted that there was nothing wrong with the ink, when the subject was first raised. Then, they told the story that it was the Ministry of Health which instructed them to use nothing more than one percent Silver Nitrate; anything more would be harmful to the kidneys and considered carcinogenic. Now, it’s clear that the ink had no chemical, but belonging to the same category as food colouring!

By all means use it during the coming by election in Kuala Besut, but use it properly! Follow international standards. If in doubt, consult Tindak Malaysia’s founder, PY Wong. There is nothing magical about the ink except that it is necessary within the context of our “Third World Mentality” to use the indelible ink to reduce possibility of multiple voting. A Boomerang for Abdul Rashid

According to a news report back in 2008, a leaked US diplomatic cable revealed that it was former EC chief, Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman who announced that the indelible ink would not be used at the eleventh hour — after it had been purchased!

The diplomatic cable had stated that the EC’s reason in making a sudden U-turn on the use of indelible ink during the March 2008 General Election, appeared to be due to pressure from the BN Government.

“In a hastily announced press conference and flanked by both the (former) inspector-general of police (IGP) Musa Hassan, and the attorney-general (AG) Abdul Gani Patail, Rashid stuttered through a prepared statement officially terminating the fraud prevention method that the EC had embraced only nine months ago,” the cable stated.

As suggested by the cable, “The EC’s grounds for reversing itself on the use of indelible ink do not appear very convincing. Regardless, the EC has damaged its credibility on the eve of the election and invited greater suspicion of Malaysia’s electoral process.”

The indelible ink is supposed to address an important loophole in the voting process; but by their actions, Rashid and in many ways, the EC duo, had acted in a manner that is detrimental to the parliamentary democracy of this country.

Therefore, Rashid and Minister Tengku Adnan, it’s not as simple as that – to scrap the idea of the indelible ink in future general elections just because we are not a third world country or because the ink had become a controversial issue. In fact, the basis of democracy is in a clean and fair election, and unless we fix the loopholes in the voting system, we are no better than Myanmar under the military regime, not forgetting that it is a minority government at present.

And if the current EC has to be sacked, let it be a warning to others that the rakyat takes a serious view of the entire fiasco – or ultimately, the prime minister would have to bear the brunt of it all. This country is not short of people who are more qualified to fill the positions – be it in the EC, police, or even the cabinet!

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