APRIL 14 — The Malaysian Bar denounces the Election Commission (“EC”)’s decision that polling day for the 14thGeneral Elections (“GE14”) will be on Wednesday, May 9, 2018, which falls squarely in the middle of a work and school week.
Of the seven days of the week available, a midweek day — particularly Wednesday — creates a severe and unnecessary barrier to voting, and will be a deterrent to voters. The choice of date is counterproductive to facilitating the highest possible level of voter participation, which should be the prime consideration of the EC. The EC’s decision also speaks volumes regarding its lack of recognition of, and commitment to, a fundamental principle crucial to a well-functioning democracy, namely maximising effective access to the ballot box.
The EC’s rationale for selecting a Wednesday remains unknown, as the EC has kept tight-lipped. The EC appears to have given little consideration to the ramifications of its decision. The decision is a departure from the pattern of fixing polling day on a Saturday or Sunday, as was the case in the past three general elections. There is no known impediment for GE14 to be held on a Saturday or Sunday. The last time a general election took place on a Wednesday was 40 years ago, in 1978.
A Wednesday polling day imposes serious hardship, causes complications, and increases the financial burden on voters. Voters who need to travel long distances to return to their constituencies will be especially inconvenienced. The combined barriers that arise as a result of the Wednesday polling day will significantly hinder the ability of many persons to cast their ballots, and the net effect will likely be a substantially reduced voter turnout.
The Prime Minister’s Office has since declared May 9 2018 to be a public holiday. The Malaysian Bar welcomes the announcement, which recognises that the polling day chosen is burdensome and problematic. Many problems and difficulties that voters will face could have been avoided if the EC had decided to hold GE 14 on a Saturday or Sunday.
The Malaysian Bar is aghast by the reported statement of the caretaker Deputy Prime Minister that Malaysians working in Singapore need not return to vote in GE14 if they are unable to obtain leave on May 9. Such a statement gives the impression that the caretaker government is unperturbed by the real possibility of a low voter turnout for GE14, and may even be encouraging it.
The Malaysian Bar urges the EC to play its role as an independent institution with the highest degree of professionalism and integrity. The EC must do its utmost to ensure that eligible voters are able to exercise their right to vote. To not do so is to fuel public perception that it acts not in the best interest of electoral integrity and democracy, but serves other masters.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.