Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Allow judiciary to review roll

                              
YOU get home after a long day in the office. You notice a stack of envelopes on top of the letter box. Perhaps the postman left it there because he couldn't have fitted them in the small box outside your home. The envelopes are all similar. You count them and there are 26 in all. Each is addressed to a different person whom you do not know. They could not have been previous occupants as you had lived there since it was built.
Out of curiosity, you open one of them. It is a message from a political party extending New Year greetings and other "feel good" messages. You have misgivings of having opened them by which time you had concluded that the names and addresses were from the voters' register. Then, you ask yourself: How come so many people are using my address to register as voters? Don't those in authority ask any questions?
Elsewhere, a man logs on to the website of the Election Commission. He keys in his identity card number and is provided the address of his voting centre. He does the same for his wife and is provided the same information. Out of curiosity, he keys in the identity card number of his daughter who is domiciled in Dublin. Hey presto! She's registered to vote.
But she has been in Dublin for 16 years. She never registered as a voter and how did she end up being on the register? He calls her and she says she never registered as a voter.
In Klang, there are 62 people registered as voters in one postal address – a house in Pandamaran. How is it possible? It must be a muhibbah house where people of three races are living together. But how do you put 62 people in a double-storey house? The irony is that the owner of the house knows none of them and has provided a statutory declaration that he never authorised any one of them to use his address.
This is no longer politics or phantom voters as some have chosen to identify it. It's much more. The integrity of a sacred institution of the government – the Election Commission – is being questioned. We as citizens cannot sit back in silence or pretend the problems do not exist.
And the stand that the commission has taken – "we need not even reply to queries like the above" is further aggravating the situation. While we pride ourselves as a democracy, how can such barefaced issues be not addressed at all?
Where can one seek some form of answers? Even the hands of the judiciary are tied when it comes to matters related to the electoral roll.
Two weeks ago, the Shah Alam High Court, while acknowledging a review of the electoral roll is of public interest, it took the stand that the court has no jurisdiction to order such a review.
"(It) is clearly prohibited under Section 9A of the Election Act," said Justice Vernon Ong who cited the case of Mohd Sanusi Mohd Noor bin Abdullah, where the Federal Court in 2001 ruled that a gazetted electoral roll is final and cannot be questioned in court.
Section 9A of the Election Act reads: "After an electoral roll has been certified or re-certified, as the case may be, and notice of the certification or re-certification has been published in the Gazette as prescribed by regulations made under this Act, the electoral roll shall be deemed to be final and binding and shall not be questioned or appealed against, or reviewed, quashed or set aside by any court."
The Election Act was amended by the government to disallow the judiciary from reviewing the gazetted electoral roll after that landmark ruling.
The court further strengthened the commission's authoritarian role by affirming that under existing legislation, the commission is not compelled to respond to queries raised by anyone on the discrepancies in the electoral roll.
"There's no legal duty for the respondent (EC) to answer," the court held.
If that is the case, the ordinary citizen has no recourse if his name is removed from the electoral roll and the commission is not compelled to even respond to provide plausible answers for such removal. There is also no remedy for Joe Public if an entire contingent of people uses his house address to register as voters.
Let it be reiterated that this issue is non-political and is related to the issue of good governance of which accountability and transparency are the cornerstones.
The commission cannot hide behind the "protective" clauses in the Act and sit back and refuse to address such blatant errors and omissions in the electoral rolls, especially when the elections are round the corner.
R. Nadeswaran says the mechanism for redress in any legislation via the judiciary should never be removed. Comments: citizen-nades@thesundaily.com

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