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M’sian voters wary of general election stunts

Why are there so many controversies during election season?

By Sulaiman Daud | May 8, 2018

A video recently went viral on Whatsapp and other social media platforms in Malaysia.

An official from Malaysia’s Election Commission (SPR) can be seen holding a ballot paper outside a polling station. Another man is berating him, claiming that it is an offence to do so.

Fake video

However, the SPR made a public statement to clarify that the video was first uploaded to YouTube on May 4, 2013, before the last general election held in Malaysia.

SPR chairman Mohd Hashim Abdullah said on May 6:

“Based on the Election Commission’s investigation, the incident occurred during the GE13 in 2013. The video clip has also appeared and spread through YouTube and a few Facebook pages between May 4 until 7 in 2013. Now, it has reappeared and worried the rakyat (public).”

However, it’s not known when or where the actual incident took place, or whether the official was the subject of an investigation by the SPR.

GE13 controversies

Election season shenanigans are not unheard of in Malaysia.

During the 2013 general election, there were rumours of power outages, or “blackouts”, occurring at vote-counting areas.

A photo of election officials purportedly having to count the ballots by lamplight was widely shared online.

This caused fears of vote-tampering, although the SPR came out to say that the photo was faked.

GE13 was also the first time that indelible ink was used for ballots, as a way to ensure that people could not vote multiple times.

However, reports later emerged that voters could easily remove the ink stain from their fingers with common materials like toothpaste and washing detergent.

Fake news law

These GE13 incidents might have been on the minds of legislators as they passed the Anti-Fake News law in the Dewan Rakyat (lower house of Parliament) in March 2018.

However, there have not been reports on whether the authorities will take that step of holding anyone accountable for sharing the old 2013 video claiming it is connected to the current GE14.

M’sia tables its own Fake News law, can impose 10-year jail term on people outside M’sia

Lack of trust?

But the widespread prevalence of such rumours hints at an underlying tension between the Malaysian electorate and the authorities.

After all, people would be less inclined to spread rumours if trust in the democratic process and integrity of the election officials was strong in the first place.

If the result on polling day is very close, it’s likely that the supporters of the defeated party will allege that there was vote-tampering or other kinds of cheating that prevented their side from winning.

Even if those allegations turn out to be false, there would still be an air of mistrust that would make it difficult for the winning party to convincingly claim to have the mandate of the people after the election.

Election day observers

Perhaps this is why the SPR has invited international observers to take part in the election proceedings.

Mohd Hashim confirmed that observers from nine different countries, including India, Indonesia and the Maldives have been invited.

The SPR have also appointed 1,236 election observers from 14 local non-governmental organisations in addition to the international observers.

But will their involvement be enough to prevent the spread of more rumours?

That remains to be seen.

Top image from JIMIN LAI/AFP/Getty Images

About Sulaiman Daud

Sulaiman believes that we can be heroes, if just for one day. His favourite Doctor is Peter Capaldi's Twelve. In his spare time he writes about film, pop-culture and international politics, which you are very welcome to read here.

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