Written by Siti Sarah and Shafiq Zafran from the Asian Law Students Association of the University of Malaya.
Edited by Chrystal Foo.
Reviewed by Luc Choong and Celin Khoo Roong Teng.
It is irrefutable that the right to vote is intrinsic to a democratic state. In Malaysia, this right is safeguarded by the Federal Constitution. However, the mere right to vote is not enough to ensure a free and fair election. This article aims to spotlight occurrences that have tainted this inherent right and efforts that have been taken to circumvent such instances.
A. Elections and Electoral Fraud
The power to govern and change the course of destiny gets rewritten after every systemic change of ruling. In the Malaysian political context, the primary form for a change of ruling is conventionally done through an election. Generally, a general election (‘GE’) is hosted around every five years to ensure that democracy maintains as a staple in the Malaysian community. The Malaysian Government comprises three branches: the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature. This article will emphasise the Executive that is spearheaded by the Prime Minister as the primus inter pares. The appointment of the Prime Minister falls under the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s discretionary powers by virtue of Article 40(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution. Malaysia practices parliamentary democracy; thus, the party or coalition with the absolute majority in Parliament will be declared as the government of the day, with its leader conventionally assuming the post of Prime Minister.
Fundamentally, the right to vote becomes imminent to determine a democratically elected government. As safeguarded under Article 119(1) of the Federal Constitution, a resident registered in the electoral roll as an elector and above 21 years old is entitled to vote in his or her constituency. The right to vote is well-established in the realm of international standards, as exemplified in Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which recognises and protects the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, the right to vote and be elected and the right to have access to public service. Additionally, General Comment 25 adds that any condition that applies to exercising the rights protected by Article 25 should be based on objective and reasonable criteria. It also provides that elected representatives who exercise governmental power are to be held accountable through the electoral process according to constitutional provisions. To add on, state reports should indicate and explain the legislative provisions that would deprive citizens of their right to vote. However, this deprivation should be objective and reasonable. Elections must be conducted freely and fairly on a periodic basis within a framework of laws to exercise voting rights effectively.
What then, is electoral fraud? Essentially, electoral fraud is unacceptable, unethical and illegal conduct that interferes with the electoral process and offends electoral standards determined through legal guidelines. A more radical outlook towards electoral fraud is to equate it with a coup d'état, as both oust the democratic right of the rakyat to elect their own leader.
B. Importance of Elections to Democracy
The right to a fair and free election is part and parcel of a democratic nation, pivotal to guarantee quality governance. Over the years, Malaysia has never met any kind of systemic reformation until recently. Prior to such, the ruling party had always influenced both political and economic power, as seen through acts of constitutional amendments, political strategies, suppression of rights and exertion of control over organs of the government and the press.
Democracy essentially refers to a representative democracy whereby officials who were elected by the public through an electoral system make decisions on behalf of the people. Henceforth, the electoral system is an essential ingredient in representative democracy. When democracy becomes a broken machine, elections become arenas for elite contestation for power. This can be seen in authoritarian regimes, where elections are purely a farce with no actual competitive or democratic nature. For example, in Egypt, elections were held with no other candidates being allowed to run — and when they were allowed to run in subsequent years, some would be jailed. Similarly, in Belarus, opposition candidates in the 2010 elections were allowed on the ballot, just to be jailed on election night. In 2015, the main opponents were again not allowed to run in the election.
Apex courts have been keen on highlighting how democracy is entrenched in the Malaysian legal landscape. In Public Prosecutor v Kok Wah Kuan, it was extensively elaborated that the concept of democracy is ingrained in the minds of the framers of the Constitution, evident in the provisions for the essential democratic process of elections. In Maria Chin Abdullah v Ketua Pengarah Imigresen & Anor, the court elaborated on how Malaysia should adhere to the concept of constitutional supremacy — which governs all branches of the government — on the basis of democracy.
II. HOW ELECTIONS ARE RIGGED
A. Voter Suppression
Voter suppression aims to stop certain people from voting or impose a disadvantage onto them, either directly or indirectly. This method manifests in many forms and is often employed to lower voter turnout without triggering a major red flag.
During the 13th GE, it was found that some 60 voters were registered against their accord and residents complained of being registered as a voter without consent under the same address in the Klang constituency. Some reported that they were not only registered without their consent but were even registered without their knowledge or notice. Furthermore, various witnesses reported that they had been removed from the roll without a fair hearing. Mr Charles Anthony Santiago, Member of Parliament for the Klang constituency, claimed that 3,457 electors were removed from the electoral roll despite many still being able to vote.
Subsequently, during the 14th GE, the Election Commission (‘EC’) announced that the election would be held on 9th May 2018, falling on a weekday. This decision was severely criticised by the public, as it was seen as an attempt to halt voters who work, study or live in urban areas from returning to their constituencies. According to reports, voters based in urban areas are more likely to vote against the incumbent government. The public outcry led the then Prime Minister to declare the day as a public holiday. Aside from that, the EC allows only 11 days for the campaigning period, giving less than sufficient time for postal votes to be dispatched and returned, thus severely inconveniencing overseas electors who wish to cast their votes. However, it was fortunate that many Malaysians coordinated in bringing back votes, with citizens collecting foreign ballots and flying home in time to distribute them to their respective constituencies.
Regarding voter suppression, Bersih 2.0 — a civil society movement that calls for a reform of the electoral process — criticised the September Sabah state election last year mainly due to the burdensome 14-day mandatory quarantine discouraging voters from returning to vote. It was said that the failure to allow postal or absentee voting amounted to a form of voter suppression. Foreign jurisdictions are also pervious of voter suppression. In Burk v Ducey, the petitioner — a protected address voter — was denied her right to vote when she was unable to register as a voter due to being hospitalised. She was not informed of her initial cancellation of voter status, to which she was only notified shortly before the 2020 election. However, the Supreme Court had denied her petition for certiorari.
The 21st century deceptive practices of voter suppression tactics can also be embodied in the form of disinformation. Anonymously reaching such large numbers of people at once has never been easy. On an international scale, disinformation occurred in the 2016 United States presidential election; the Internet Research Agency has allegedly attempted to sow resentment towards the candidates through trolling, making fake accounts and propagating false information in an attempt to reduce voter outcomes.
Digital disinformation is not a foreign tactic in Malaysia either. The Oxford Internet Institute found that Malaysia possessed a formally trained medium-capacity cybertrooper team with an estimated staff of 50 to 2,000 people. Cybertroopers are defined as government or political party actors tasked with manipulating public opinion, which is accomplished online, to amplify hate speech or other forms of manipulated content and automate suppression. In terms of voter suppression, arguably, the denial of youths from voting may very well defeat 7.8 million new voters from exercising their democratic duty during the next GE. The Undi18 initiative, concreted by Qyira Yusri and Tharma Pillai, lobbies the promotion of youth representation in the political arena, which will be further elaborated in this article.
B. Redelineation, Gerrymandering and Malapportionment
Redelineation is a process of determining electoral boundaries to ensure that each constituency has an approximately equal number of voters. This will allow for equal representation of each constituency in the Parliament. The power, therefore, falls onto the EC to exercise redelineation as provided under the 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution. The EC conducts these exercises no less than eight years from the last one.
According to the Federal Constitution, there are several criteria for redelineation:
When redelineation causes distortion that results in unequal vote values across constituencies, malapportionment ensues. This undermines voter quality that redelineation rightfully should have rectified. For example, in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s smallest electoral district, one vote is worth nearly ten times more compared to one vote in Kapar, the largest electoral district. During the 13th GE, malapportionment handed the incumbent Barisan Nasional (‘BN’) its win despite the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, winning the popular vote by a 4% margin. Through the manipulation of electoral boundaries that created malapportionment, it became possible to form a federal government with around 38-39% of total votes. During the 14th GE, malapportionment was attributed to why Pakatan Harapan managed to form the government despite not securing more than 50% of the popular vote.
On the other hand, gerrymandering is the practice of drawing boundaries based on the voting pattern of constituents to dominate those constituencies. Whilst malapportionment concerns electorate size, gerrymandering concerns electoral composition. Essentially, this allows politicians to choose their voters by arranging the constituencies. Again, BN’s win during the 13th GE had been attributed to gerrymandering, other than malapportionment.
Gerrymandering may exist in the form of racial gerrymandering. It intends to dilute the voting power of racial minorities by either splitting up voters into disparate districts to dilute their vote or concentrate their vote into a singular district, which will ensure they have fewer representatives in office.
In the 14th GE, the results confirmed that opposition voters were packed into under-represented super-constituencies. However, voters for the incumbent were highly over-represented and more spread out throughout smaller constituencies. The former EC Chairman — Tan Sri Che Mohd Hashim Abdullah — admitted that the constituency boundaries were drawn along racial lines, which had been highly criticised by Tindak Malaysia as an act that purportedly amplified ethnic segregation. However, in Kerajaan Negeri Selangor v Suruhanjaya Pilihan Raya & Ors, proposed recommendations of the EC’s review of the division of the federal and state constituencies were held not to be amenable to judicial review. The court added that acts of the EC, notwithstanding the allegations of malapportionment and gerrymandering, were not susceptible to judicial review.
C. Vote Buying
Vote buying is the act of promising, offering or giving money, goods, services and/or other inducements to voters during the run-up to an election. This is often done during the campaign or after the election by a political party, candidate or representative agents with the intention of influencing their voters. Other similar terms include clientelism, economic exchange and even bribery. This is governed under Section 10 of the Election Offences Act 1954, where it is an offence to buy or sell votes. Vote buying creates electoral fraud by allowing the chosen representatives to be elected not by their ability to lead and represent the people, but by their frequency of one-off handouts.
Politicians and political parties performing such actions tend to target swing voters and poor, rural voters. The logic behind targeting the former is simple — they are on the fence, and therefore, a financial push would easily buy their ballot paper. This differs from hardcore fanatics of certain political parties who tend to stay loyal no matter the circumstance. However, the bigger chunk of vote buying comes from the latter group, with these individuals usually more willing to exchange their votes for direct and instant rewards to fulfil their needs.
The purchase of votes can also be viewed from a micro or macro angle. The former sees handouts in the shape of rice, cooking oil or transportation allowance. In Donald Lawan v Mong Ak Dagang & Third Party, the High Court declared an election in the Bukit Begunan constituency null and void as there was extensively prevalent general bribery amounting to corrupt practice, with pictures of individuals handing out cash to voters whilst verbally encouraging them to vote for one specific party.
Projects aimed at ‘developing’ the community fall under the macro level. Poor voters in rural parts of Malaysia emphasise developmental and local politics over national issues of corruption and transparency. Hence, more are willing to vote for politicians who aid in their community’s development despite any allegations of corruption. The line between aiding the rural citizens and using development as a tool of buying votes is a fine one. For instance, the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (‘BR1M’) — a cash handout for those in the low-income category — was alleged by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Bin Mohamad as a method of the government in buying votes. It was countered by the then BN government that BR1M was a part of their manifesto and was a method for the government to fulfil their duty of helping the people, particularly the poor.
With the practice itself being debatable, it is clear that vote buying is a considerable and never-ending issue in Malaysia. However, the allegations continued to soar as electoral watchdog Bersih alleged over 400 election offences involving bribery, treating and gifting both before and during the election period. These allegations, though not to be taken lightly, bore little ramifications to the alleged parties, as many petitions crying vote buying have been dismissed.
However, when establishing whether corrupt practices have occurred throughout the course of an election, the courts have never adhered to one standard of proof, i.e., either beyond reasonable doubt or on a balance of probabilities.
In Hamad bin Mat Noor v Tengku Sri Paduka Raja & Ors, the court ruled that since acts enumerated under Section 32 of the Election Offences Act 1954 would not be visited by some form of punishment, the standard of proof required must be on the balance of probabilities. However, in Wong Sing Nang v Tiong Thai King which concerned bribery under Section 32 of the Election Offences Act 1954, it was held that an allegation of corrupt practice is of quasi-criminal nature, seeing that a finding of corrupt practice would entail penal consequences. Therefore, such an allegation must be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
D. Phantom Voting
The ninth edition of the Concise Dictionary was referred to in Harris Mohd Salleh v Ismail Bin Majin, Returning Officer & Ors when discussing the definition of ‘phantom’; it means a form without substance or reality, a ghost or a spectre. In the context of a phantom voter, it means the voter is a non-citizen in an electoral roll under a fake identity card or an illegally-obtained identity card.
Phantom voters ruin the democratic process as they display the wrong statistics as to whom the people want as their representatives, with the numbers being manipulated by non-existent electors. In Harris Mohd Salleh, the court ruled the Likas constituency during the 1998 election to be null and void due to the existence of phantom voters vis-à-vis:
The opposition leader, Dato’ Seri Anwar Bin Ibrahim, also alleged another instance of phantom voting when flights were arranged to bring at least 40,500 people from Borneo to Peninsular Malaysia to cast illegal ballots in the 2013 elections. The then UMNO Secretary-General Tengku Adnan Mansor responded that this was a legal effort by friends of the ruling party as a way of encouraging enfranchisement, as they were registered to vote there. The then Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak, also argued that none of them were foreign citizens, as alleged by some opposition members.
Another instance includes UMNO’s Sungai Besar division chief Dato’ Sri Jamal Yunos openly claiming to allegedly discover 7,000 new voters for the Sekinchan state seat and intending to move said voters from their home constituencies, even if it cost the party millions of ringgit. In addition, Bersih found the EC to have transferred the voting registration of military men and their wives to three army camps that are still under construction. This led to an increase of votes for the seats of those constituencies, all of which were won by the government at the time. This is attributed to the individuals voting in said constituencies instead of their previously registered constituency.
Despite these allegations and evidence alike, the EC Chairman — prior to his resignation in 2020 — Tan Sri Mohd Hashim Abdullah has squashed the idea of phantom voters, saying the term is used to provide a negative impression of the Commission.
E. Miscellaneous Forms of Electoral Fraud
There are reports and examples of other electoral offences in Malaysia. The lack of media freedom is a prominent factor where political parties partly own parts of mass media. For instance, Media Prima — the owners of popular newspapers like New Straits Times and Utusan — is partly owned by UMNO, a BN coalition member. Even though UMNO plans on monetising their ownership, no law prevents them or any political party from purchasing any rights to ownership. Studies have shown that this caused little to no coverage of the opposition political parties, thus making it difficult to showcase their manifestos or promote other incentives to vote for them.
Bloggers were also arrested under vague laws which allow arrest and detention without trial for ‘inciting hate’. In such cases, the now-repealed Internal Security Act 1960 previously allowed the Minister to ask a police officer to arrest and detain individuals for two years without a warrant to prevent that person from acting in ways that are ‘prejudicial to the security of Malaysia’. Section 8(7), however, allows the detention to be extended indefinitely in increments of up to two years. Its repeal introduced a new version of the Act, which is arguably still as draconian and oppressive as its predecessor, under the name of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (‘SOSMA’). Arrests and detention without warrants are still allowed and last up to a maximum of 28 days.
Evidence showed a detainee reporting that the detention was cruel and inhumane. She claimed that she was confined in a windowless cell alone and had to sleep on a concrete floor supported only by a plank of wood with no mattress, pillow or blanket. The crimes that permit such arrest and detention are in abundance, as evident in Maria Chin Abdullah v Supttham Lai Kuan & Others where there was an attempt to commit activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy under Section 124C of the Penal Code. The detainee, Chairperson of Bersih, believed the purpose of her arrest to be politically motivated and to scare off the public in supporting Bersih’s cause, despite such motive being disallowed under Section 4(3) of SOSMA.
Acts like the Sedition Act 1948 have been used to silence criticism of the government, as exemplified in Public Prosecutor v Azmi bin Sharom where Associate Professor Dr Azmi Sharom commented on the legal wrongs during the 2009 Perak Constitutional Crisis. Although the former law lecturer was acquitted, many politicians and journalists were arrested and charged under the Sedition Act for preventing freedom of speech. There have been ceaseless vows of repealing this act, but so far none have materialised.
The Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (‘CMA’) has also been described to have a chilling effect on the freedom of opinion due to inciting fear and threatening to silence Malaysians. The CMA has been defended by the Judiciary as being effective in protecting national interest and harmony. However, critics believe that the law’s vagueness can and has been abused, with Section 233 using subjective words like ‘offensive’ and ‘annoy’. When freedom of speech is limited, political influence is bound to occur, which would in turn influence the mass media’s will and subsequently impact the election, as voters will be voting based on ignorance. Malaysia’s press freedom, or lack thereof, can clearly be seen when we were ranked an abysmal 119 out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
In Mohd Fahmi Reza bin Mohd Zarin v Pendakwa Raya, the appellant appealed against the Sessions Court’s decision holding him liable when he made a Facebook post that was deemed offensive. The appeal was, however, denied. The court ruled that the parody created by the appellant was intended to injure others, and such conduct violated Section 233 of the CMA. Upon critical analysis of this case, one could argue that the appellant was threatened to be silenced despite only producing creative works of art to criticise the government. One could also criticise the CMA, through the reflection of this case, to be exercised unfairly in favour of the government to silence critics with widespread influence.
In ensuring elections are held fairly, the EC requested for the conduct of elections to be observed by countries, organisations and groups. During the 14th GE, the elections were observed by foreign national election commissioners from, inter alia, Indonesia, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and even as far as Uzbekistan. Local observers include the Malaysian Youth Council (‘MBM’) and the Persatuan Orang Kota Bharu (‘POKB’). However, critics were dissatisfied with the choice of observers, with some claiming to be mere visitors endorsing the EC. Criticisms extended to countries like Thailand and Cambodia, with beliefs that they should have been excluded due to having subpar democratic institutions which can affect their credibility. Bersih also dismissed both foreign and local observers, stating the former to be doing this for courtesy whilst questioning the latter’s impartiality, with MBM having seen campaigning for BN. The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia’s (‘SUHAKAM’) application to observe was also rejected, as the EC said there were already sufficient observers.
The independence of the EC has also been disputed, with most of its appointments made by the King after consulting the Conference of Rulers. However, Article 40 of the Federal Constitution states that the King shall act on the advice of the Prime Minister, which means that such appointments are to be made by the government of the day. The requirement of public confidence when appointing members in the EC under Article 114(2) is also said to be vague as the phrase has no set definition, nor are there checks provided to determine if such public confidence has been achieved. This is seen in the appointments of a Malaysian Chinese Association and a Malaysian Indian Congress member respectively to replace the Chinese and Indian members of the EC in the 1960s.
It was recently announced that the EC would be released from the clutches of the Prime Minister’s Office and instead answer to the Legislative branch. Yet, nothing has been done to showcase such promise. Section 5 of the Election Commission Act 1957 also protects the communication of any member of the EC, government, Minister or public officer in the exercise of or in connection with the exercise of the functions of the EC from being disclosed in legal proceedings except with the King’s approval. This legal prohibition gives the government and Minister immunity from the courts in the event of influencing the EC.
III. EFFORTS THAT HAVE BEEN TAKEN TO CURB ELECTORAL FRAUD
The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections — better known as Bersih — is a movement consisting of various non-government organisations that aim to reform the electoral process in Malaysia. It was first launched in 2006, consisting of opposition political leaders. After a reform in 2010, Bersih 2.0 was free of all political influences.
Essentially, Bersih 2.0 calls for eight demands, namely:
What started out as a local initiative quickly sprouted international support from Malaysians worldwide, and rallies have appeared quickly across the globe in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, France, Canada, Singapore and many others. However, the movement encountered many challenges and repercussions. Foremost, Bersih 2.0 was labelled as an illegal organisation by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Roads being closed for the day before planned rallies was not an uncommon occurrence. Despite facing the riot police with tear gas and water cannons, marchers still flooded the roads towards the Merdeka Stadium in support of the movement — which ended with the arrest of the marchers and the leaders.
Nevertheless, the support poured out from the community was unprecedented and unrelenting. During the first rally, 40,000 people joined the protest despite a ban on the rally and road closures. The growing public support for Bersih initiated subsequent rallies, i.e., Bersih 3, Bersih 4 and Bersih 5. It can be said that efforts led by Bersih that empowered the people to vote and participate in the political process propagated awareness and ensured that their voices were heard through the ballot.
B. Current Laws Governing Elections
Another effort in aiding the fight against electoral fraud is the creation of the very laws that govern our elections, such as the Federal Constitution, electoral acts, regulations under electoral acts and other acts relevant to this fight. More specifically, Part VIII of the Federal Constitution covers elections in Malaysia. Since the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, any inconsistencies will deem said law void and no legislation could override it. As the drafters of the Federal Constitution realised the importance of impartiality and fairness in electoral administration, they entrusted the electoral functions to an independent Election Commission of three members. The Reid Commission also requires appointments be made to ensure the Commission enjoys the confidence of all democratic political parties and communities, which was later changed to public confidence. Members of the Election Commission would retire at the age of 65 and were accorded the same safeguards to tenure as judges to further guarantee their independence.
The Election Act 1958 was then enacted to constitute the duties and powers of the EC, the appointment of their officers, the conduct of elections — such as using public places as polling centres — and to introduce aiding subsidiary legislations, namely the Elections (Conduct of Elections) Regulations 1981 and the Elections (Postal Voting) Regulations 2003, among others. Another legislation would be the Election Offences Act 1954, which prescribes the dos and don’ts in managing elections. The provisions of the Act, inter alia, are meant to prevent electoral offences along with corrupt and illegal practices at elections, establish enforcement teams, control election expenses and provide petitions to voters who feel aggrieved by any alleged breaches of election rules.
Other acts of Parliament which support the fight includes the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 (‘MACC Act’) which established the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (‘MACC’). MACC aspires to eradicate corruption, abuse of power and malpractice in Malaysia, as well as to strengthen integrity and enhance expertise through human resource development programmes concertedly and continuously. Section 67 of the MACC Act allows the application of the legislation on electoral offences, as per Section 2(d). This was recently displayed when the MACC detained security personnel alleged to have been involved in vote-buying activities.
While it was stated earlier that the CMA provides a chilling effect, the Judiciary has defended its use. In Syarul Ema binti Abu Samah v Pendakwa Raya, the court ruled that the prohibition of freedom of speech via Section 233 of the CMA remains constitutionally valid as Article 10(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution allows such prohibition for national security and public harmony. As seen in the case, the appellant had published derogatory words about the former Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak and used unnecessary and excessive profanities on his decision to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
Criticisms against our policymakers should be made respectfully and constructively. If allowed to stand, vulgar and unconstructive forms of criticism will serve to cloud the public’s judgment on said policymakers unfoundedly. This would directly impact the poll booth by swaying electors to tick the box of whom their minds have not yet formed an unfounded negative impression on.
A. Combatting Voter Suppression
In 2019, the House of Representatives — the lower house of the Parliament — passed the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019 to reduce the voting age to 18 years old. The Bill received 211 votes out of 222 total seats. The Bill also amended the minimum age of members of the House of Representatives to 18 years old. This new change is rooted in an initiative called Undi18. Unfortunately, the EC delayed Undi18 to 1st September 2022, which means that youths under 21 are still unable to vote in the upcoming election expected to be held this year despite the constitutional amendment. The EC claims that this was due to the Movement Control Order (‘MCO’) that affected preparations towards the implementation of Undi18 and the execution of automatic voter registration.
Such outcomes have led to a lawsuit initiated by 18 youths against the Federal Government and the EC, including a declaration that this delay amounts to voter suppression — for there to be a representative democracy, all parts of society must be included. Empowering the youth in formal political processes is key to building a stable and peaceful society. By suppressing their voices, these youths rapidly felt disempowered. They do not make up a small portion of society, but rather a considerable amount of 7.8 million voters. Delaying Undi18 may not be the most explicit form of electoral fraud, but it amounts to vote suppression nonetheless.
2. Blockchain for voting
Technology could also be brought in to help cure the disease of voter fraud. A form of new technology includes the use of blockchain while voting. This digital process would remove the likelihood of double voting, phantom voters and voter suppression. As blockchains ensure that the votes are kept online and the history of the data remains unchanged, people would be barred from voting twice. Since the system is manned by technology and not by people, human mistakes where individuals with invalid identification cards can be stopped. Additionally, voter suppression will be reduced as this would entice the younger generation to vote. Voting can also be accessible anywhere, which aid further in encouraging the act of voting.
Nevertheless, there are still possible issues that may stem from the usages of blockchains, such as the cost of needed expertise and possible discouragement of the older generation and electors from rural areas who have limited or zero technological voting experience. Its lack of use for electoral purposes should also be taken note of, but its prevalent potential arguably outweighs these issues. As such, we should not completely discourage its use. Blockchain is currently being used in crowdfunding as well as healthcare and has been utilised in the Utah County election and Sierra Leone’s presidential election. As a starting point, blockchains could be used in state elections instead of GEs in Malaysia. Education could be provided to those ill-equipped in using technology.
B. Consolidate Laws into One Governing Act
Most Commonwealth countries such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia, amongst others, have their legal provisions relating to every single aspect of elections — ranging from registration of political parties and voters to the administration of election management bodies — combined into one law. This may make the administration of the electoral process more efficient. Currently, the laws covering such areas come in different forms, such as the abovementioned regulations.
C. Independent EC
It can also be argued that the root of the problem lies in the lack of independence of the EC. The gaps in dependency ultimately cause the offences stated above, and fixing it would consequently solve — or at the very least — aid in solving said offences. This is due to the EC being able to freely do their jobs, exempt from any form of restraint.
One way for independence is for the appointments to be free from any external influence. This can be done by the Legislature, namely the House of Representatives, via a two-thirds majority. This allows the body governing the country’s elections to have members that are of the Executive’s choice and that of the opposition. Another method is to have certain members be appointed by the leader of the opposition party, similarly to the UK, whereby four commissioners are appointed by said party.
In Australia, the Australian Election Commission is headed by a former judge. As judges have the best knowledge of the laws of the country and are trained to be impartial, their expertise would be extremely beneficial to the autonomy of the country’s electoral body. In terms of legislation, abolishing Section 5 of the Election Offences Act 1954 ensures that influence, if any, can be heard in a court of law where legal consequences will follow. Legislating complete freedom from the Executive can be done to ensure that the EC is no longer under the purview of said branch.
However, independence does not mean immunity. Ambiguities have arisen in recent cases whereby a big question mark surrounds the argument as to whether the EC or the Returning Officer could be sued. In Dewan Undangan Negeri Kelantan v Nordin bin Salleh, the Supreme Court recognised that the Election Commission could be sued. However, in Dr Lee Chong Meng v Abdul Rahman bin Hj Abdullah, Returning Officer & others, in light of the enactment of Section 6 of the Election Commission Act 1957 which bestows protection and privileges onto members of the EC, the court opined that it must not have been the Parliament’s intention for the EC to be made a party to an election petition.
D. Legislative Reforms
Removing draconian acts like the Sedition Act 1954 and the SOSMA helps prevent political abuse. Advocates argue their necessity to protect the nation’s harmony, such as the position of the Sultans in our democratic country, yet the ability of the government of the day to use them for their own gain far outweighs the nation’s interests considering there already exists sufficient laws protecting said harmony in the form of our Penal Code.
As aforementioned, their power for abuse has been exploited by our premiers again and again. Therefore, a repeal of such laws would help protect our freedom of speech and expression, hence reducing any opportunities to mishandle the elections. This guarantees a free and fair election — where fear does not rule, where the voices of all sides are fairly heard and where political opinions and ideas are put forward and listened to. Such a society would be capable of deciding its next representative with minimal political influence, if any.
To conclude, electoral fraud remains to be very prevalent in Malaysia. Although efforts were made by both the people and the government, the adequacy of such efforts must be questioned. Electoral fraud comes in the various shapes of voter suppression and vote buying, non-existent or illegal votes, biases towards certain political players and non-credible election observers.
When fraud exists in the process of electing our representatives, a chaotic reality is created — one where abuse of power lives and subsists. The 1927 Liberian Presidential Election was held to be the most rigged election in history, with votes amounting to 200,000 when registered votes boiled down to less than 15,000. Charles D B King, the then President, was allowed to maintain his Presidential title through these fraudulent measures for 10 years before resigning to avoid impeachment. His abuse of power saw that the position of Head of State and Government was forcefully filled by his own hand for himself. Such abuse worsens when one is revealed to be involved in inhumane practices, such as selling his own people as a form of slavery.
Most importantly, fraud in elections takes a toll on democracy. Studies show evidence of electoral fraud that creates less democratic satisfaction among the people, as voters are affected by such procedural unfairness. Take allegations by former United States President Donald Trump for example, where he alleged voter fraud even prior to polling day, undermining not only the voting process and democracy, but also the voter turnout.
John Locke said that men come together in civil society and consent to be ruled by the government in the name of peace, justice and peace of the public. He added that the people set limits to the duration of the legislative body, and if the people are unhappy, such power will be forfeited back to the people to be placed in new hands. This illustrates the concept of elections, and it begs the question of what if the people are fooled into thinking they are happy? What if they are fooled into thinking that the hands they are in are the best hands for them? The answer is — one Locke would be unhappy to hear — that it would be a government fraudulently elected.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Malaya Law Review, and the institution it is affiliated with.
 Federal Constitution (Malaysia) art 40(2)(a).
 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, opened for signature 16 December 1966, 999 UNTS 171, entered into force 23 March 1976.
 UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No 25: Article 25 (Participation in Public Affairs and the Right to Vote), The Right to Participate in Public Affairs, Voting Rights and the Right of Equal Access to Public Service, CCPR/C/21/Rev.1//Add.7 (12 July 1996), para 4.
 See footnote 3 above, para 7.
 See footnote 3 above, para 14.
 See footnote 3 above, para 19.
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 See footnote 1 above, sch 13, part 1, s 2.
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 See footnote 23 above.
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 See footnote 22 above.
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 See footnote 14 above.
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 Kerajaan Negeri Selangor v Suruhanjaya Pilihan Raya & Ors  1 MLJ 459.
 Election Offences Act 1954 (Act 5) (Malaysia) s 10.
 Wagner, M. L. (2019). The Dynamics of Vote Buying in Developing Democracies: Party Attachment and Party Competition in Southeast Asia. (Doctoral dissertation), 81.
 See footnote 33 above, 82.
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 Donald Lawan v Mong Ak Dagang & Third Party  7 MLJ 603.
 See footnote 33 above, 90.
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 Hamad bin Mat Noor v Tengku Sri Paduka Raja Ibrahim & Ors  3 MLJ 533.
 Wong Sing Nang v Tiong Thai King  4 MLJ 261.
 Harris Mohd Salleh v Ismail Bin Majin, Returning Officer & Ors  3 MLJ 433.
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 See footnote 44 above.
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 See footnote 49 above.
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 Internal Security Act 1960 (Act 82) (Malaysia) s 73(1).
 See footnote 53 above, s 8(7).
 Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Act 747) (Malaysia).
 See footnote 56 above, s 4(1) and 4(5).
 Khairah N. Karim. (2019, Feb 18). Maria Chin settles suit amicably over her wrongful arrest under Sosma. New Straits Times. Retrieved from <https://www.nst.com.my/news/crime-courts/2019/02/461199/maria-chin-settles-suit-amicably-over-her-wrongful-arrest-under>. Site accessed on 9 May 2021.
 See footnote 55 above, sch 1.
 Maria Chin Binti Abdullah v Supttham Lai Kuan & Ors  MLJU 1268.
 See footnote 57 above.
 Public Prosecutor v Azmi bin Sharom  6 MLJ 751.
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 See footnote 68 above.
 See footnote 68 above.
 See footnote 1 above, art 114.
 See footnote 1 above, art 114(2).
 Lim, H. H. (2002). Electoral Politics in Malaysia: ‘Managing’ Elections in a Plural Society. Electoral Politics in Southeast and East Asia, 101, 106. Retrieved from <https://library.fes.de/pdf-files/iez/01361005.pdf>. Site accessed on 4 Jun 2021.
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 Election Commission Act 1957 (Act 31) (Malaysia) s 5.
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 See footnote 1 above, art 4.
 See footnote 73 above.
 Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 (Act 694) (Malaysia) s 4.
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 Syarul Ema Rena binti Abu Samah v Pendakwa Raya  MLJU 1128.
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 See footnote 87 above.
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 See footnote 73 above, 140.
 Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (UK) c 41, s 3A(1) and s 3A(3).
 Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) s 6(4).
 Dewan Undangan Negeri Kelantan v Nordin Bin Salleh  1 MLJ 697.
 Dr Lee Chong Meng v Abdul Rahman bin Hj Abdullah, Returning Officer & Ors  6 MLJ 98.
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