by Steven Choong
The Election Commission (EC) has just announced that they have received a total of 40,715 applications for registration as voters during the voter registration exercise in the second quarter of this year from April to June.
Of the total, 31,998 applications were for registration of new voters while 8,717 were for a change of address for the voting centre.
The first quarter of 2014 saw only 11,565 new voters registered.
In the first quarter of 2013, there were 104,959 newly registered voters, and this number was reduced to 49,789 in the second quarter, when the 13th General Elections was held.
It worsened to 18,693 and 21,754 in the third and final quarters of 2013, respectively.
The causes for the significant drop in newly registered voters may be due to:
• Cooling down after the excitement of the 13th General Election in May 2013;
• Discontinuing the appointment of Assistant Registration Officers (AROs) from the political parties; and
• Fewer registration drives for new voters initiated by the EC.
Many political parties, NGOs and individuals have voiced their concerns either by writing to the EC directly or via social media and mainstream media, about the growing number of unregistered eligible voters.
Despite these efforts, the EC has yet to come out with any solid plan to overcome this concern.
In October 2013, the EC said they are reviewing the current channels of registration of new voters.
However it is already August 2014, a good 10 months later, and the EC has not come forward with any cost-efficient way of tackling this problem.
Various politicians and NGOs have suggested implementing automatic voter registration as well as the sharing of databases between the National Registration Department and the EC to reduce the incidence of double registration, outdated residential addresses, deceased voters, non-citizens in the electoral roll and other such issues.
However all these seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.
Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak told Parliament on June 25 that the government will consider registering voters automatically. He however shot down any hope of compulsory voting being considered.
Then on June 30, minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Shahidan Kassim hinted that automatic voter registration was a long way off when he said that until an in-depth study was done, the government would not implement automatic voter registration.
Shahidan said this in reply to Senator Syed Ibrahim Kader who asked about the government’s stand on the proposal for automatic voter registration of citizens who reach 21 years of age.
Both Najib’s as well as Shahidan’s statement does not in any way indicate a strong commitment from the government to implement automatic voter registration any time soon since the PM did say the government would only ‘consider’ the move.
Najib did not give a time frame and Shahidan spoke of an in-depth study yet gave no indication if the study had begun, who was in charge or when the study would be completed.
One can safely assume that automatic voter registration will not be implemented any time before the 14th General Election for obvious reasons.
New voters are internet savvy and can access news from many sources, which allow them to be better judges of the actions and words of any politician.
This could be the reason as to why the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration and the EC have suspended the appointment of AROs from political parties and are dragging their feet to improve the system of registering the five million eligible voters that may very well end BN’s 57-year reign.
If the suspicion of a conspiracy between the BN administration and the EC is not true, the EC should do the following:
• Re-appoint AROs from political parties or NGOs;
• Launch a nationwide door-to-door campaign in the outskirts to register new voters;
• Launch a nationwide advertising campaign to invite eligible voters to register at post offices, District Officer’s offices, EC’s offices and at registration booths set-up at specific venues on specific dates;
• Introduce e-Daftar and e-Tukar on the EC’s website for eligible voters to register as well as allow existing voters to change their addresses for the voting centre.
Steven Choong is the National Deputy Secretary-General of PKR.