Global Bersih are extremely concerned over the conduct of the Sarawak state elections on 8th May 2016. A total of 72 out of 82 state seats were ‘won’ by the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, despite the mounting political crisis engulfing Prime Minister Najib Razak and his regime following multiple allegations of grand corruption involving billions of dollars.
In the lead-up to polling day, there were numerous reports and allegations of electoral fraud, vote-buying and money politics. Bersih 2.0, the Malaysian coalition for free and fair elections, had Pemantau (election observer) teams on the ground, which lodged police reports on incidents of direct bribery and misappropriation of government funds and property for campaigning during the election1.
Serious concerns were raised over the recent hasty and controversial delineation of 11 new seats by the Election Commission (EC), all of which were won by BN candidates. BN Candidate for Tanjong Datu and Chief Minister Adenan Satem claimed that he personally influenced the EC in the delineation exercise1.
Biased seat delineation, malapportionment and gerrymandering enabled the ruling government to manipulate the election results to their advantage2,3. The new seats were disproportionately in rural and semi-rural areas, where results have tended to favour the ruling coalition. Considerable movement of polling stations
outside of established boundaries was also seen, aimed at making it harder for opposition parties to win in these constituencies. Recent election trends suggest that seats with fewer voters tend to be safer seats for the BN3. Malaysia is considered among the worst in the world in terms of the practice of malapportionment4 and this subterfuge has been used systematically by the BN coalition to continue 6 decades of uninterrupted rule.
Last-minute political allocations in the form of lucrative development projects were rife. Prime Minister Najib, Chief Minister Adenan Satem and numerous BN ministers openly promised big election rewards and mega projects in return for votes. In the final days of the election campaign, Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi promised RM 20 billion (US$5 billion) in funds towards education, defence and rural development, including RM 16 billion towards construction of the Pan Borneo highway3. The EC chairman Mohd Hashim Abdullah refused to comment on these allocations. On the campaign trail, Zahid, who was also BN election director, announced the allocation of hundreds of thousands of ringgit to local longhouses and promised further funds if the BN government were to win ‘big’ with a two thirds majority5.
Bersih 2.0 has also raised questions about the peculiar spike in voter turnout, which despite a recorded low of just 52 per cent at the end of polling, jumped to 70 per cent in an announcement at midnight3.
The Malaysian federal government also continued its crackdown on freedom of expression, with the barring of British Channel 4 News journalist Jonathan Miller from a post-election press conference attended by the Prime Minister5. Government- controlled media showed a lack of critical analysis and independence in its coverage.
We urge the Election Commission to take these reports of irregularities seriously and conduct an independent and thorough investigation urgently. We also call on the international community to examine these serious alleged violations, and remind Prime Minister Najib and his government to abide by international standards and norms of the electoral process and the rule of law.
These alleged violations are part of a worsening trend that is likely to continue in Malaysia’s 14th General Election, which some expect will be held as early as later this year, before the economy deteriorates any further. This could see 60 years of uninterrupted rule by one coalition. We call on the international community to pressure Prime Minister Najib and his government to allow independent election observers to monitor the 14th General Election and ensure it is conducted in line with international norms. We call on Malaysians and friends of Malaysia everywhere to stand in solidarity with Malaysians in Sarawak, who for decades have seen their human rights, native customary rights and ancestral lands plundered as a result of greed and mass corruption. Urgent democratic and human rights reforms are needed, and these must begin with the most basic tenets of a true democracy – free and fair elections enabling ordinary citizens to exercise their democratic rights through the power of the ballot box.
1.BERSIH 2.0 Urges Action by the Election Commission on Election Offences and False Claims http://www.bersih.org/bersih-2-0-urges-action-by-the-election- commission-on-election-offences-and-false-claims/
2. Welsh B. Malaysiakini, 7th May 2016. ‘A ‘fixed’ result – Sarawak’s electoral distortions.’ https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/340635
3. Malaysiakini, 8th May 2016. ‘Sudden leap in S’wak voter turnout – Bersih wants EC to explain’ https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/340734
4. Samuels D, Snyder R. ‘The Value of a Vote: Malapportionment in Comparative Perspective’, British Journal of Political Science 31, 2011, pp.651-671, Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom. http://www.polisci.umn.edu/~dsamuels/BJPS2001.pdf
5. Malaysiakini, 22nd April 2016. ‘Zahid promises more money for Sarawak if Adenan wins big’ https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/338793
6.Malaysiakini, 7th May 2016. ‘UK journalist barred from press meet after asking Najib if he’ll quit’ https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/340692