KUALA LUMPUR, 28 April 2009: The Election Commission (EC)’s decision to ban pondok panas or voters reference booths on polling day is unreasonable and contradicts the commission’s previous stance, according to Pakatan Rakyat (PR) representatives.
“They are not following their own past stand,” said Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) vice-president Sivarasa Rasiah at a press conference in PAS headquarters, today. He cited a letter from the EC allowing such booths during the 2004 general election.
The letter, dated 20 March 2004, allowed “candidates/agents” to erect “party offices” 50m from polling stations. This was in accordance with Section 24 B (2) of the Election Offences Act (EOA) 1954.
The only prohibition was against erecting new “party offices” on polling day, in line with Section 26 (1) (c) of the EOA.
“The EC has given the impression that there is a legal reason for them to outlaw pondok panas. We have looked into the matter and reject this,” Sivarasa said.
Section 26 (1) (e) of the EOA states that no one may “solicit or persuade” voters “to vote or to abstain from voting” for a candidate, “within a distance of fifty metres from the limits of any polling station”.
Sivarasa argued that pondok panas outside the 50m area would be legal.
“It is unusual that the EC has now taken a stand that contradicts the law,” he said.
At the press conference, from left: PAS’s Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud, DAP’s Fong Kui Lun,
Datuk Mustapha Ali, Sivarasa Rasiah, and PAS’s Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad
Responding to the possibility that pondok panas encouraged rowdiness during elections, Sivarasa suggested that uniformed police officers be stationed at polling stations, to enforce order.
“A smaller number of police, properly deployed, will be able to control the situation,” he said, adding that these shouldn’t be Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) officers, as that would spook voters.
“If the police play their role, there will be no problem. Issues of crowd control will be handled.”
Asked to speculate on the EC’s intent to ban pondok panas, Sivarasa revealed that studies prove that a small percentage of voters are influenced at the last minute during elections.
“This is a move to cut back that last-minute effect on voters,” Sivarasa said, adding that in the previous few elections, the PR booths were the ones surrounded by voters.
PAS elections operations director Datuk Mustapha Ali stressed that it was right of political parties to verify voters’ identities independently.
“We cannot trust the EC 100%, as they sometimes make mistakes,” Mustapha said, adding that pondok panas functioned as a service both to voters and to the party.
Mustapha expressed surprise at the EC’s announcement, revealing that representatives from political parties had met with the commission to discuss the issue on 23 April, and that EC officials had been receptive to their arguments.
“We will arrange and appointment with the EC, on Thursday (30 April) or next week, to clarify this issue,” he said. “We want elections to run smoothly, and the democratic process to be free and fair.”