KUALA LUMPUR, May 8 — Putrajaya has decided to withdraw all amendments approved by the Dewan Rakyat last month to the Election Offences Act, which include prohibiting party monitors at Election Commission (EC) booths on polling day.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz said the decision was made after consensus was reached among three parties — Cabinet, the opposition and the Election Commission (EC).
He admitted that even Barisan Nasional (BN) lawmakers, despite having voted in support of the amendments during last month’s sitting, were opposed to the idea that their agents would be prohibited from monitoring EC booths during the polling process.
“We are players in this too and we were not happy with that,” he told a press conference in Parliament today.
But Nazri also admitted that when the Election Offences (Amendments) Bill 2012 was proposed by the EC, the government had accepted it in its entirety, out of respect for the commission’s position as an independent body.
The Padang Rengas MP added the Bill had come under fire from too many parties, including those across the political divide, and the government had agreed that the “easiest” way to resolve the matter was to abort the entire Bill.
“During debates (in the Dewan Rakyat), the opposition raised a lot of issues and also the (BN) backbenchers, which in total made the Act look like it was not promoting a free and fair election,” he said.
Opposition lawmakers had raised furore in Parliament last month when the Election Offences (Amendments) Bill 2012 was debated, complaining, among others, against a clause which they said would open the polls process to vote-rigging by EC officials.
The amendment to Section 14 (1)(A) of the Act was to be replaced with a clause allowing the EC to set time slots to determine when party monitors or counting agents may be present at their booths.
Another contentious amendment was the repeal of Section 11(c) to the Act, which ultimately removed the requirement for all campaign materials to bear the names and addresses of its printer and publisher.
The opposition had argued that such an amendment would allow the printing of seditious or slanderous material with impunity as they would not be traced back to them.
The MPs had also railed against the repeal of Section 26 (1)(e) of the Act, which had allowed for candidates or election staff to check of the identity of any person or voter entering a polling centre.
This, said the opposition lawmakers, would lead to the possibility of multiple voting.
Nazri noted that following the objections to several provisions in the Bill in the lower House, the government and opposition leaders sat together and following agreement from the EC, agreed to amend three sections in the Bill.
“But then when this came to the Senate, there were further debates and there is now an attempt to amend two more sections in the Bill,” he explained.
“So, after looking through the blogs and Internet, there was much resistance to the Bill, so the government decided that the best way to do this was to abort the Bill.”
Nazri explained that to allow the two further amendments from Senate, according to parliamentary processes, the Bill would then have to be presented again in the lower House.
“It becomes messy then so the government decided we should abort the whole thing,” he said.
Speaking at the same press conference, DAP parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang expressed Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) support for the move to withdraw the Bill but added that to avoid another similar situation in the future, the EC should first consult all stakeholders before proposing such legislative amendments.
“Even the PSC was kept in the dark on the Bill proposal,” he pointed out, referring to the bipartisan parliamentary select committee for electoral reforms, which had passed its report in the Dewan Rakyat during the sitting last month.
Nazri will move a motion during tomorrow’s Dewan Negara sitting to retract the Bill.