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Friday, March 26, 2004

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The day I was a polling agent

Friday, March 26 @ 16:01:39 MYT

by Jarrod Daniel
I am writing to document my experiences as a polling and counting agent (Paca) in Sunday’s general elections.

This letter aims to provide a brief insight as to what actually happens during the polling process and the agony that ‘opposition’ polling agents have to go through during the electoral process.

I was assigned to a polling station where I thought things would get interesting. We were provided with materials and training to ensure that we would be able to monitor the situation as effectively as possible. The training provided by the Mafrel (Malaysians for Free and Fair Elections) was extremely mind blowing. Mafrel had warned us of the troublesome presiding officers (ketua tempat mengundi).

But somebody telling you something is not the same as you experiencing it yourself. Along with our kit which was provided, we received a list of suspicious voters. We had some houses where more than 90 people were living in it! The current ruling coalition had a 150 metres head start in this election. However, what shocked me was the process itself.

Malaysian law dictates that every vote is secret. Nobody has the right to know my vote until and unless one decides to tell you. But the Elections Commission (EC) intentionally demands that all voter IDs be recorded on the counterfoils of ballot papers. That means, if they want to, they can trace each and every vote to the individuals. This is wrong. And more importantly, this is downright illegal. This is intimidation beyond anything else. This is why whispers in the government servant circles went along the lines of "tow the line or else..."

So we lodged a protest. But the EC handbook was clear. Polling clerks were mandated to write the unique voter IDs on each and every ballot counterfoil. But what was more interesting was the fact that opposition polling agents, like myself, were frowned upon. This was especially so if we knew our rights. If we knew what was allowed by the law, we were troublemakers. This was because we were lodging complaints on irregularities.

My first complaint was accepted without any problems. That was the complaint about writing unique voter ID's on the ballot paper counterfoils. As the day progressed, I started lodging reports on irregularities. There was a voter who came in the afternoon that had somebody else with the same IC number voting for her in the morning. I advised these individuals to lodge police reports immediately.

But perhaps the most appalling incident in my polling centre was when a man had walked in although the register showed that he was supposed to be a female. I had immediately lodged a protest. I argued with the presiding officer that he cannot allow a man to vote when the register clearly showed that the IC belonged to a female. The presiding officer overruled me and said that he had the right to overrule me. He said that the National Registration Department had probably made a mistake and with that he was allowing the gentleman to vote.

I argued that the election laws were clear that one cannot allow a male to vote when he/she is registered as a different gender. I cautioned the presiding officer that he was committing electoral fraud. I then demanded that the man take an oath that he really is the "woman" in the SPR roll. The presiding officer overruled me again, telling me that it was his call and he believed that the National Registration Department had made a mistake. The BN polling agent kept quiet throughout the incident.

I then decided to lodge an official complaint. Election laws say that polling agents are allowed by law to lodge complaints on irregularities on the polling process. The man refused to accept my complaint saying that I had no right to complain because everything was legal and okay. This is the same man who had no problems with me protesting on phantom voters. In this issue, he refused to budge. He didn't want to accept my complaint. I argued and argued to no avail. The system was clearly failing me.

At some points during the whole process I felt that the whole country was against me. Here I was trying to ensure that the elections were fair. Nothing more, nothing less. That everybody got their due process. Heck, during the vote counting process, I even told the Barisan guy that some votes for him that he said were spoilt were not spoilt as it was allowed by law.

I felt cheated and I felt betrayed. There was absolutely nothing I could do. Thank God the other polling agents were my friends. They provided moral support when frustration ran high. We were the only ones raising objections. That was because we were strong-minded Malaysians who knew our rights very well. We were used to arguing things out. But when the whole system is against you, I finally understood what it was like to be the underdog. Thousands of residents were depending on me to ensure that the vote went on ahead as usual in a fair manner. At that point, my spirits were raised a bit. Because I knew that I was doing my best.

I'll admit, there were points in there where I just felt like crying, dropping things and running away. But I realised that I cannot and must not do it. The rage in my blood was beyond boiling. I was seething at how unfair things were. Despite providing the presiding officer that there was evidence that some voters were most likely phantom, he brushed me off. He accepted my objections but gave me a hard time when I asked him to sign documents to acknowledge receipt of the complaint. He allowed all the suspected phantom voters to vote without even requesting them to take an oath that their identities were valid by filling an identification form (form 11).

More than 10 of these voters from the same house showed up in various other rooms. But I wasn't surprised anymore. If he can let a man vote when the registration clearly showed that the individual should be a woman, what else was I to say? I was so disappointed with the EC that it was beyond comprehension. It is as easy as listing the roll on the Excel sheet and finding the phantom voters. That was how our guys did it. But the EC has long insisted that the roll was clean. This is a factual fallacy and I saw it with my own eyes. It was so obvious that the officer who were in the room were biased. All I asked was for a fair go at things.

How I felt on elections day was a situation that I have never really dealt with in my lifetime. Total and ultimate helplessness when doing the right thing. You know what was worse? We were the only guys who actually knew what we were doing and why we were doing it. Some opposition representatives from other parties for example, did not know what to do as a polling agent. They were there because somebody had told them that they had to cross out names on the voting rolls. The BN polling agents were individuals who were paid to effectively come and find voter demographics by race. No complaints were lodged by any of the BN polling agents in my room despite the fact that I shared information about phantom voters.

The whole elections process seems so tainted to me that I really do not know what to do. But there were people who were backing us up. One PAS polling agent who talked to one of us "noisy" ones said that we had done a good job. He said the reason he didn't raise objections was that he knew that it wouldn't make any difference. The system had wore him down. The system had failed the ordinary Malaysian citizen who wanted to uphold the law. And you know what's worse? This situation is being perpetuated by other Malaysians. By Malaysians who believe that it is okay to play unfair in the elections to win.

At the end of polling I was tired, depressed and didn't know what to do. But I realised, that I have to be part of the new Malaysia that shapes things according to what is right - not what is required to win an election. I guess I can be happy with one thing. That I actually did something about my dissatisfactions with the democratic process in this country. I walked the talk unlike the Election Commission or Pak Lah. Nobody in his right mind will be able to say that the elections were free and fair.

I am a disappointed and frustrated. I feel cheated. The rakyat has been failed. -zs

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