Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto sums up the fiasco surrounding the so-called indelible ink that was easily washed away by many.

The scandal gives us a glimpse of the real state of the Election Commission today and how public confidence in the institution has nose-dived.

This is Kasthuri’s take on the ink saga:

The issue of the non-indelible ink may be the saddest thing for the chairperson of the Election Commission but the saddest thing for Malaysians is that we have fallen victim to the deprivation of clean, free and fair elections as seen in the 13th GE

For more than a month now, Malaysians had to bear witness to the infamous finger-pointing charade between the chairperson of the Election Commission Abdul Aziz Yusof and the newly minted Minister of Health Dr S Subramaniam on a very pertinent issue that has plagued and ‘stained’ the electoral process in what was deemed not just the mother of all elections, but depressingly, the dirtiest to date in Malaysian history – the indelible ink.

On the 11th of April 2013, the BERNAMA news agency had reported through the assurance given by the EC chief Abdul Aziz Yusof that the use of the indelible ink by Muslim voters has been approved by the National Fatwa Council and that the Health Ministry and the Chemistry Department have also certified that the materials used to make the ink are not harmful to people’s health. 

On 2nd May, the secretary of the EC, Datuk Kamaruddin Mohamed Baria had stated “that the indelible ink smudged on the finger of a person before voting in the coming general election would not disappear for between five and seven days”. He also said that that the ink had been tested and approved for use by the health ministry, chemistry department and National Fatwa Council.

On 3rd May in an article carried by The Star entitled “Indelible Ink Just Won’t Come Off’, an Indian company, Rayudu Laboratories Pvt Ltd that manufactures the indelible ink, claimed the chemical compound silver nitrate contained in the ink, stains the skin upon exposure to natural light hence acting as a “fixing-agent”
 
However, it was an entirely different story on the 5th May 2013, the D-Day for Malaysians who had been waiting in anticipation to cast their ballots to determine the future of this nation in the long awaited, overdue General Elections. To their dismay, the indelible ink had proven to be somewhat a myth when it was so easily washed off with soap, toothpaste, dishwashing liquid, bleach and in some cases, even grass, contrary to the so-called assurance given by the EC chief and his men that the ink would last a period between 3 to five days.

With that, hundreds of police reports were made from all over Malaysia by voters whose fingers had been stained by the much anticipated indelible ink only to find that it could be easily removed, a glaring contrast to the ‘assurance’ given earlier by the EC.

When confronted by Pakatan Rakyat leaders, NGOs and the civil society on this shocking discovery, Abdul Aziz, in an interview with The Straits Times of Singapore on May 12, was quick to knowledgeably point out that the reason the ink did not last was due to the low content of silver nitrate, a fixing agent in the ink and had conveniently dragged the Ministry of Health into this travesty by boldly claiming that they had received a letter from the Health Ministry stating that in the event more than 1% of silver nitrate is added into the ink, it could damage the kidney and cause cancer.

This statement must have caught Dr S Subramaniam by surprise, as to date the Health Ministry has apparently not provided any safety report on the indelible ink, neither has the Election Commission asked for such a report. He also expressed his uncertainty if the silver nitrate in the ink could actually lead to kidney problems. To add insult to injury, on May 17, UMNO Information Chief, Ahmad Maslan had also claimed that the silver nitrate content of the indelible ink had to be reduced to the point where it would last only 10 hours because it would increase the risk of cancer if it was any higher. This blatant statement coming from the Information Chief of UMNO, in all its righteousness is a mockery to himself and his party and, without a doubt an insult to the intelligence of Malaysians. 

Till now, all we hear is the thunderous silence by the Ministry of Health on this accusation.

A United Nations Development Programme document offering recommendations on the conduct of elections said it was considered a best practice to use indelible ink with between 5% and 25% silver nitrate. So the begging question now is, where and how did the 1% cut-off for the amount of silver nitrate in the indelible ink come from and was there any empirical tests done to prove this or did the EC take the easy way out by passing the buck to the Ministry of Health?

It appears that the Election Commission have aptly taken the role as spin doctors along with their UMNO cohorts pointing their guilty fingers at the Ministry of Health on the flip-flop statements regarding this non-indelible ink? How many more times must Malaysian voters be taken for a ride with a simple request that the elections be carried in a respectable, reputable, upright manner?

On 9th June in a column of the media portal Malaysiakini, one writer under the pseudonym of LittleGiant clearly and boldly made a statement that reflects what all peace-loving responsible Malaysian citizens want: “On the indelible ink matter, all that is expected of its chairperson, Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, is to show the letter that EC wrote to the Health Ministry and the reply received by the EC from the ministry”. Mr EC, it is as simple as that.

On 17 June, a wounded EC chairperson, Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof has admitted that he was disappointed and upset over the indelible ink used in the 13th general election, which could be washed off easily. He said that the saddest thing in his life would be the indelible ink, he claimed in a Sinar Harian interview.

Today, 52 days after Malaysians had entrusted the EC to carry out a democratic and clean electoral process in which the indelible ink was used for the very first time, Shahidan Kassim, Minister in the Prime Minister’s department made a scandalous and outrageous statement in his Parliament written reply to Lim Lip Eng, MP for Segambut that all the chemicals in the ink were replaced by food colouring and that the Election Commission claimed that there was “no chemicals” in the indelible ink. This statement certainly felt like a bolt from the blue with all the unwavering and firm assurances given by the EC from last year to the eagerly awaiting voters that the ink will, without a doubt, stay on for between 5 to 7 days when it virtually disappeared after a few hours and the fact that the total cost of the indelible ink was RM 7.1million!! For a whole lot of hot air, and food colouring!! Malaysia indeed boleh!!

The EC chief ought to put his money where his mouth is and to set his priorities straight as the saddest thing not for him but for every Malaysian is that we have been robbed of a true golden opportunity to form a new government, a transparent, clean and accountable government in the last General Elections due to a fraudulent electoral process, and not just the (in)delible ink which had been recommended by the parliamentary select committee on electoral reforms last year to improve the electoral system.

The EC must claim full responsibility on the delible ink as all details’ surrounding the ink was in other words “secret” and under lock and key and only known to the EC chief and a few around him. It appears that the colour, texture, composition, supplier(s) and even the whereabouts of the notorious indelible ink was only known to a select few from the Election Commission and what not. Why was the EC chief so quick to point his vindictive finger at the Ministry of Health, the parliamentary select committee on electoral reform, divine powers and now, food colouring on the use of the delible ink when it was him and his men who had been given the authorization and supremacy regarding it? Now, a special team led by the Election Commissioner, Christopher Wan Soo Kee and by other panel members, Md Yusop Mansor and Abdul Aziz Khalidin has been set up to investigate the commotion behind this ink. This team will study all the factors surrounding the indelible ink including the recipe, the method of using, method of transport, method of storage, and whether the hot air in the lock-up where the ink was kept had an effect.

It is most careless and irresponsible of the EC chief to come up with a proposal as such to study and investigate the root cause of the indelible ink debacle after shouldering the full responsibility to ensure that the electoral process would be free, fair and clean. Why wasn’t this team set up earlier to study the conditions of and around the ink prior to the general elections? The findings of this team will inadvertently affect public confidence, as the Malay saying goes “nasi sudah menjadi bubur”. The sheer arrogance of the Election Commission chairperson on legitimacy of the electoral course has made him the brunt of incompetency and the object of ridicule by netizens and Malaysians alike, even some calls for him to resign.

Where is your moral compass as the sole entity that has been appointed and entrusted by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong with the faith and confidence from the rakyat, with the mission as enshrined in the Federal Constitution under Article 114 to ensure that the electoral process be carried out in the full spirit of democracy, without fear or favour of the ruling government?

We are 7 years away from the much ‘anticipated’ Vision 2020 dream of a more developed Malaysia as announced by the former iron-fisted Prime Minister Mahathir in 1991 that Malaysia should not only be developed only in the economic sense but also fully developed politically, socially, spiritually, psychologically, culturally and in terms of national unity and social cohesion, in terms of social justice, political stability, system of government, quality of life, social and spiritual values, national pride and confidence. This coming from the man who was the longest serving Prime Minister who was also most oppressive against freedom, justice and democracy and particularly his penchant against Opposition Leaders during his 22 years tenure.  In 2011, Najib claimed that Malaysia has the best democracy in the world. Where was freedom and democracy in the recent general elections, Mr Prime Minister? Or did you have a hand in your infamous words of “I help you, you help me” in repressively wrestling and wresting back the helm of power to rule this nation with the help of your ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ Election Commission?

The EC has proven once again it is a toothless watchdog in not biting “the hand that feeds it” by failing to ensure the quality of the electoral process is at par with other advanced and democratic countries in the world after the much bragged words of Najib Razak on “the best democracy in the world” but on the contrary, embarrassingly, succeeding to guarantee that the Barisan Nasional regime continue to remain in power for the sole comfort and livelihood of its leaders, and ignoring the cries for political and social reform from Malaysians who dream of a clean, transparent and accountable government that is elected by the rakyat, for the rakyat and one that serves the rakyat in the shaping of a Malaysian Malaysia.
 
Kasthuriraani Patto
Member of Parliament for Batu Kawan

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