Legalising phantom voters again?
By: Kim Quek - 06.02.2002

The pall of massive phantom voters once again has descended to haunt Malaysians. Not from the recently completed Indera Kayangan by-election. But from a major amendment to election laws, whereby all phantom voters that have existed in the past to play havoc to our electoral process will now be legitimized and legalized for good.

De facto Law Minister Rais Yatim has just announced that extensive amendments to election laws will be tabled in Parliament in coming March. Hidden in the multitude of amendments is one vital clause which states: "The gazetted electoral roll will be deemed as final and cannot be challenged in court as to its authoritativeness, exhaustiveness or correctness." As can be expected, the conniving local press has either blacked out the news of these amendments entirely, or deliberately diverted attention to this vital amendment by highlighting other lesser issues.
Regrettably, this vital amendment also seems to have escaped the attention of the Opposition, who appear to be embroiled in lesser issues such as the quantum of election deposits. Readers will recall that Minister Rais made a similar attempt to introduce this amendment in the midst of a parliamentary session in July last year, but had to postpone it due to the lack of time to complete the drafting. That attempt was an urgent counter measure to neutralize the intense heat that was generated by Justice Muhammad Kamil Awang's annulment of an election in Sabah (Likas).

In that Judgment, Justice Kamil stunned the Nation by revealing the presence of a massive electoral scam in the form of tens of thousand of phantom voters, and the subsequent efforts by the former Chief Justice to thwart attempts of election appeals arising from these phantom voters. The phenomenon of these phantom voters, consisting entirely of illegal Philippine and Indonesian immigrants (mainly Muslims), is so pervasive that Justice Kamil described these tens of thousand of voters particularized in his Judgment, as merely a 'tip of the iceberg'. These illegal immigrants have been illegally incorporated into the electoral roll in a massive undercover campaign in a deliberate attempt to bolster the electoral strength of UMNO.

It is due to the influx of these illegal voters that UMNO managed to wrest political power in Sabah in recent years from the previous incumbent PBS, which are largely non-Muslim. UMNO's grip of power in Sabah looks set as long as these phantom voters remain securely embedded in the electoral rolls. And the significance of political dominance in Sabah to national politics cannot be overestimated, as the substantial block of seats in that State may well decide who the winner is in a close contest for power in a national election.

However, UMNO's source of strength in Sabah can also be turned into a cause of weakness, as these phantom voters can be identified and purged. This prospect can be worrisome, especially when a hitherto submissive (to the Executive) and corrupt judiciary appears to be undergoing transformation to restore its constitutional role, as in the present case in this Country. For if this transformation were to be eventually successful, then the Opposition may stand a reasonable chance to have the electoral roll cleansed of illegal voters through judicial intervention, thereby altering the status quo of political power in the State.

UMNO's sinister motive in introducing this amendment can hardly be concealed. If UMNO's conduct has been honourable, why hasn't the UMNO controlled government taken action to purge the phantom voters and punish the culprits, following Justice Kamil's revelations? What conceivable justifications can UMNO have to make the authority of the Election Commission so sacrosanct that it should be elevated beyond the reach of law? If frauds or defects are discovered in an electoral roll, why can't it be challenged in court? And if a party suffers injustice as a consequence, where can he seek justice if he is denied access to the court?

This amendment is so incomprehensively unreasonable, that it defies any logical explanation, other than for self-serving purpose to the incumbent power to gain unfair advantage over the opponents through a subservient election commission, as in this case in Malaysia. This kind of barbarous legislation should have no place in a democratic society, as its concept is incompatible with the principles of the rule of law and democracy, and is totally repugnant to the grain of natural justice.

Proponents of this amendment may argue that the public is given the opportunity to raise objections to the electoral roll within a prescribed period. But this provision has been proven to be a farce, as evident from Kamil's Judgment, which detailed how numerous documented complaints of phantom voters had been simply brushed aside by the UMNO government with perfect impunity. The experience is so frustrating that one is inclined to view such election complaints under the UMNO administration as analogous to reporting crimes to the Mafia.

Without legal redress to deal with the phantom voter scourge, the people of Sabah will forever be doomed to be ruled by a power against their choice. Before any one living in Penisular Malaysia starts to count his lucky star for not having to suffer the same fate as the Sabahans, he is well advised to take a close look at the statistics of illegal immigrants in this Country.

Observers have reliably estimated that there are 3 million illegal immigrants in this Country, one third of whom are in Sabah (many of whom have now been illegally incorporated as locals in a an undercover campaign designed to decisively tilt the balance of political power in favour of UMNO). (That there are one million illegal immigrants in Sabah is an inescapable conclusion from the fact in the late 70s, the population in Sarawak was much larger than that in Sabah; but the ratio is now reversed, with 3 million in Sabah compared to 2 million in Sarawak, while all this time, there have been no net migration of people from Peninsular to Sabah.

Where have the additional one million plus people in Sabah come from, if not from the neighbouring countries of Philippines and Indonesia?) The fact that there is no discovery of large concentration of phantom voters from the illegal immigrants (mainly Indonesians) in Peninsular Malaysia does not mean that they don't exist, albeit scattered thinly over the Peninsular. Nor can any one be sure that they will not become phantom voters in large numbers, if this is deemed necessary for the political survival of the incumbent power. Knowing the ruthlessness of the UMNO election machine, the staggering numbers of 2 million illegal populations can present nightmares to the Opposition, if only a fraction of this group is exploited Sabah style to tilt the balance in favour of the incumbent in tightly fought elections.

Once this proposed amendment to the election laws is legislated in Parliament in March, the Opposition will have no constitutional avenue to redress the wrongs, even if there is an independent judiciary, for the latter will have no jurisdiction over any dispute on the electoral roll. There are already enough autocratic powers that the ruling party readily exercises to render elections bereft of democratic meanings such as arbitrary arrests without charges and blanket banning of political gatherings. By placing the electoral roll beyond judicial review, the ruling power may have plugged the remaining opening that could have given the people the option to change a government constitutionally.

- Kim Quek

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