UPDATED: Pakatan polling agents were unable to witness the casting of ballots by over a thousand postal voters who were said to be located outside the Sibu police headquarters and two main army camps.
That’s the assertion made by an experienced Pas polling agent familiar with the process, which revealed glaring weaknesses and loop-holes in the Sibu by-election.
Back at Wisma Sanyan, the main coordinating centre for postal ballots, the agents for the Sibu by-election exercised unprecedented scrutiny over the counting and verification of the ballots.
As the agents spotted more and more discrepancies in the postal ballots, the pile of spoilt and rejected ballots grew higher and higher. (The agents had been thoroughly briefed on what to look out for.)
One official snapped, “At this rate, we will be here until midnight!”
To which, a DAP rep retorted, “Fine, we are willing to stay here all night, but we want to make sure everything is properly done.”
The Sibu by-election put the spotlight on postal votes as never before. An entire nation waited with bated breath for the outcome of the postal ballots. The DAP’s Wong Ho Leng was leading by 2,651 votes (excluding postal ballots) but that majority was about the same number as the postal ballot papers, which usually goes overwhelmingly to the BN.
Much confusion arose during the live coverage on this blog: were there 2,500-plus postal votes (as earlier reported) or 2,800-plus?
I was determined to try and cast more light on the process. For far too long, the conduct of postal balloting has been carried out in secrecy and most Malaysians know very little about what takes place. This continuing opacity has great implications for future elections, including the coming Sarawak state election.
In fact, what puzzles me is that if individual postal voters can cast their ballots at army and police polling centres in and around Sibu, why can’t they vote like everyone else – perhaps early on polling day or a day earlier if they are going to be on duty on polling day? Why do they need “postal ballots” if most of them are based in Sibu anyway?
Let’s look more closely at what transpired behind the scenes:
Postal votes – the numbers
Official number of army/police postal voters: 2,537
(according to Election Commission press statement on 16 April)
Second layer/ad hoc postal voters: 290
These are Election Commission officials from Sibu who were on duty. (In the same press statement, the Commission said they would have a total of 1,149 workers on duty for the by-election.) Who controls how a Sibu resident can become a EC worker, right up to polling day?
Ballot papers issued: 2,827
BN – 2,323
DAP – 70
Independent – 36
Spoilt – 208
Not returned (did not vote) – 190
Those who didn’t vote/return their ballots comprised:
Election Commission workers – 179 (62% of the 290 election workers who were issued ballots did not turn up to vote after Pakatan polling agents were alerted to watch out for them.)
Army – 8
Police – 3
Total – 190
11 ballot boxes in all for postal votes:
Police – 3
Army – 7
Election Commission workers – 1
Now, here’s a chronology of what happened. This chronology will be further updated/revised based on feedback I receive:
Ballot papers are issued at Wisma Sanyan:
Envelope A – contains ballot paper.
Envelope B – contains Form 2, which provides details of voters and the serial number of the ballot paper, to be signed by the witness, usually a senior officer.
Polling agents check the serial numbers, names and IC numbers against the electoral rolls.
Both these envelopes are placed in a larger brown envelope.
There are four postal ballot polling centres: Wisma Sanyan (election workers); police HQ in Sibu, and two army camps around Sibu (Kem Oya Batu 14 and Kem Rescom Batu 10).
Officers from these centres turn up at Wisma Sanyan to collect the ballots for the personnel at the respective centres.
Now this is where things get a bit hazy.
Party polling agents are present at the Sibu Police HQ and the two army camps on polling days (13-14 May). Army and police officers sign Borang 2 as witnesses. (Why do these officers need to be witnesses? Why do you need a witness form with the voter’s details and the ballot paper serial number on it?) And many of the postal voters cast their ballots there and then at the centre.
But there is an apparently serious lack of independent oversight over 1,040 postal ballots for which the voters are not based in the police HQ or at the army camps but are apparently stationed at locations outside Sibu, according to an experienced Pas polling agent. These ballots are cast at unknown locations with no polling agents present. “There is a lot of room for abuse and manipulation,” suggests the agent.
As for Election Commission workers, they are allowed to take their ballots home and return them by 16 May – another big loophole. How do you prevent ballot papers from being sold or given to others to vote? And what is the check and balance to ensure that the same workers cannot vote again in the normal way? The Assistant Returning Officer, their spouse or anyone else can sign as witness. Individual postal voters drop off their envelopes at Wisma Sanyan from 13-15 May.
All ballots papers are returned to Wisma Sanyan from the camps and police HQ at around 10.00am. Voting officially closes by 5.00pm, but most of the voting is completed by the afternoon anyway.
The forms are then separated from the ballot paper envelopes. Officials hold up Form 2 and Envelope A at the point of separation for polling agents to witness.
Polling agents quickly check the voters and witness (usually a superior officer) particulars on the form: name, address, IC number, signature, date. Eagle-eyed agents look out for about eight different particulars and memorise them especially the witness signature (as they are not allowed to refer to earlier forms to double check the consistency).
It is at this point that ballot papers may be rejected as spoilt.
The usual reasons for rejection in Sibu:
– no signature
– wrong date (a few were dated in March or early May!)
– IC number doesn’t contain the pre-fix ‘T’ (for Tentera).
– the same witness but signature differs from that in other Forms bearing the same witness name.
In all, 208 votes are agreed to be spoilt.
Before the ballot papers are placed in the boxes, another round of checking takes place: the folded ballot paper serial numbers are matched against the serial numbers on Envelope A.
6.00pm – Counting begins at Wisma Sanyan
8.30pm – Counting ends
Ballot papers packed into boxes ready to move to polling centre.
At this point, the DAP’s Wong Ho Leng is leading by 2,651 votes ahead (by a 50:42 margin) of SUPP candidate Robert Lau, with only postal votes remaining.
But returning officers and EC officials are reportedly holed up in a room engaged in discussions and “tabulating figures”. DAP agents claim tabulating should only take about 30 minutes.
10.00pm – EC officials bring down the boxes – but where is Form 15, which the polling agents have to sign?
DAP polling agents are told not to touch the boxes. Police are called in to yellow-tape the area where the boxes lie.
The form is finally produced but not signed by polling agents. DAP agents are still not happy but let it pass as their candidate is going to win anyway.
10.30pm – Boxes arrive at Dewan Suarah, the main counting centre.
Wong Ho Leng is declared the winner by 398 votes (2,651 majority before postal votes – 2,323 BN postal votes + DAP postal votes 70). The winning majority is exactly the same as the total of the spoilt (208) and unreturned postal ballots (190).
Had the Pakatan polling agents been less vigilant the result could have been a stalemate!
If you spot any inaccuracies above, do leave your comments and clarifications.