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KOTA KINABALU, May 21 — The number of election offences committed during the recently-ended Sandakan by-election was 19, fewer than those detected during the previous two by-elections before it in Rantau and Cameron Highlands, according to Bersih 2.0.
However, the election watchdog claimed that the coalition in power had made more fouls compared to the Opposition this time even as it admitted that there were no reports filed nor evidence forthcoming from witnesses to back up its allegations.
“The most cases came from the ruling government’s side, which included the use of government assets, campaigning on polling day, treating to food or drinks and using undue influence,” Sabah Bersih 2.0 vice-chairman Beverly Joeman said.
She said there were two incidents in which the DAP candidate for Sandakan Vivian Wong treated voters to food.
The first time was when she treated Sim Sim residents at its community centre just before nomination day on April 25, which marks the official start to campaigning. The second incident happened on May 3, when Wong gave voters a treat at the Al-Furqan surau which was attended by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal.
Joeman also highlighted two incidents of alleged misuse of government assets, accusing Jo-Anna Henley Rampas, Shafie’s political secretary, of riding in a police boat to Pulau Berhala during campaigning in the east coast parliamentary seat.
The second incident, according to Joeman, was when Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok invited Wong to her event organised by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board.
Bersih accused Shafie of using undue influence on May 9 when he announced that he had directed state Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Jaujan Sambakong to review the status of land grants in Kampung Forest and Jalan Buli Sim Sim so that they can build new infrastructure in the area.
“This is exercising undue influence over voters by using his powers as chief minister. If he did it any other time aside from the election, there would be no issue,” said Joeman.
The group also recorded two incidents of inciting racial hatred and rivalry; one by independent candidate Hamzah Abdullah who was telling people that a vote for DAP and Warisan was a vote to house illegal immigrants, and another by former Johor mentri besar Datuk Khaled Nordin who uploaded a doctored picture of Wong showing her wearing a tudung while offering greetings for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
The highest number of offences was allegedly committed on polling day itself ― the group counted eight incidents ― five by DAP together with Pakatan Harapan and Warisan; two from Parti Bersatu Sabah and one by Hamzah.
“Our observers reported that supporters of various parties were heckling voters to vote for their candidates while some buses and cars were seen picking up and dropping off voters, especially in SK Sri Tanjung Papat and SK Sungai Anib 1,” Joeman said.
Of the total 19 offences detected by Berish 2.0, 11 were attributed to the ruling government, five by Independents and three by PBS.
Despite the incidents Joeman said the Sandakan by-election was run smoothly overall.
“The election commission provided services such as building ramps for wheelchair-bound voters and using buggy-cars to ease the movement of the elderly.
“We are also happy to note that the campaigns by all five candidates were clean and did not resort to extreme racist sentiments.”
However, Joeman said the Election Commission should work closer with enforcement personnel to brief candidates on rules and regulations, to raise awareness about the dos and don’ts under the Election Offences Act.
“The police should also play a bigger role in ensuring that no individuals or groups are allowed to heckle or appeal for votes outside of polling centres,” she said.