A couple of news items about developments that could have a major impact on the electoral process went by largely unnoticed.
First, believe it or not, postal votes have been abolished. The Election Commission (EC) has announced that it is abolishing postal voting, except for members of the national security forces operating overseas and at the borders. Himanshu Bhatt of theSun has the story.
We need to pay close attention to see if and how this is implemented in practice. While postal voting may be abolished, what is to prevent security personnel from being moved around in the weeks or months before polling? Where do they cast their votes then?
And what about Malaysian citizens and students living abroad? Malaysian civilians abroad must must be granted postal voting rights too in the same way that security forces overseas are granted these rights.
The other bad news is that political party polling and counting agents will be barred from carrying mobile phone devices to prevent them from reporting ‘unofficial results’ via Twitter and Facebook before the official results are announced, revealed Berita Harian. That’s a pity as anything that reduces transparency in the counting and tallying process can’t be good and would be a step backwards.
Speaking from the experience of following such unofficial results over social media in a string of elections, I can say that in the vast majority of instances such unofficial results have been close to the eventual official results.
The social media may even have led to an extra layer of scrutiny over the counting process in way that independent election observers are unable to exercise. For instance, in the case of the Sibu by-election, social media played a huge role in shedding light over the postal voting procedure and ensured that the results were finally accepted by both sides under the hotly disputed circumstances. Under the glare of social media scrutiny, what happened in Sibu raised numerous uncomfortable questions about the postal voting process and may even have contributed to the Election Commission finally deciding to abolish postal votes for the vast majority of security personnel.