by Maria J.Dass
PUTRAJAYA (April 27, 2009) : The Election Commission (EC) is gearing up for the sixth by-election to be held just a little more than a year after the March 2008 General Election in Penanti a constituency on Penang mainland. Nomination day is slated for May 23 while polling will be held on May 31.
The seat fell vacant following the resignation of its assemblyman Mohamad Fairuz who was also Penang Deputy Chief Minister I on April 16.
Mohamad Fairuz who was last week cleared of corruption allegations pertaining quarry operations in that state cited continuation of post graduate studies as his reason for leaving.
EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof who announced this at the EC headquarters in Putrajaya today, said this time around, the commission means business in enforcing election regulations and laws- which if broken could lead to the winner losing his seat or a campaigner losing their voting rights for five years.
Abdul Aziz said police are empowered to arrest campaigners who do not adhere to the law.
“We are giving ample campaigning time from May 23 to 30 but on the eve of polling day - Stop it!” he said.
“This will allow for a conducive environment for voters to go out and vote in a calm and peaceful atmosphere and not worry about tense situations at polling centers,” Abdul Aziz said adding that election workers can still speak to passengers being ferried in their cars to polling centers.
“We cannot control this, and messages being sent through SMS and over the internet,” he said.
Abdul Aziz said this time around the EC will be strict in enforcing regulations pertaining campaigning on polling day and said that “pondok panas” or voters reference stations set up by political parties just outside polling centers will be banned.
Abdul Aziz’s deputy Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar said: “If this law is breached- the candidate is responsible, and EC through the Returning Officer (RO) can charge the candidate for going against the law.”
“This is serious because it can nullify a victory for the candidate involved, while a campaigners can lose voting rights for five years,” he said.
“We have informed political parties of this ban in our recent meetings with them,” he added.
These “pondok panas” have become a campaigning hubs which have resulted in tense and chaotic atmospheres around polling centers,” Wan Ahmad said.
“The police and RO will be tasked to ensure no “pondok panas” are set up, we can stop them and this is provided for by law,” he said.
Abdul Aziz earlier admitted that the commission had been lax in enforcing this in the past though this is a regulation in the Election Act.
“Because in the past we don’t see the number of people getting bigger and bigger and the behaviour of people… I don’t know how to describe it- sometime they are like possessed, not conscious, in a trance,” he said.
When we chide them they say we are being emotional, but this happens because they are in high spirits and in large numbers, Abdul Aziz said that the general perception was that a large crowd demonstrated the strength of a party.
“The whole country turns up at these constituencies to campaign causing traffic congestion in the area and inconvenience to genuine voters,” he said.
Abdul Aziz earlier said it was not necessary for the “pondok panas” to be in existence as the EC had ample avenues for voters to check their details and polling stations.
He said the electoral roll will be out on May 8 and voters can check their details on the EC website at www.spr,go.my or via SMS by typing: SPR SEMAK (MyKad no) and send to 15888.
Alternatively they can call the EC office in Putrajaya at 03-88856500 or in Penang at 04-2617692.
Abdul Aziz also dismissed insinuation that the delay in announcing the dates was to accommodate the decision and outcome of the Umno Supreme Council meeting held on Friday.
“There was no postponement to accommodate the outcome of this Umno meeting, we just needed time to make sure that the arrangements with the Returning Officer (RO) and his assistants were settled and then we met with the political parties and had to work on securing the needed venues and facilities,” he said.
Our announcement today has nothing to do with the Umno supreme council meeting, he added.
“The Election Act states that a writ on the vacancy of a seat is to be produced no earlier than four days and no later than 10 days from the official date of the vacancy, thus the timing of our announcement is permitted and provided for by the law,” Abdul Aziz said.
Seberang Perai Tengah district officer Roslan Yahaya has been named as the RO. He will be assisted by assistant district officers Masirah Che Ani, Hisan Abu Bakar and Kamarul Haizal.
The 2008 electoral roll with 15,384 registered voters as at April 16, 2009 will be used for the by-election. Of these 72.68% are Malays, 24.22% Chinese, 2.39% Indians and 0.71% other races.
Approximately 15,360 are ordinary voters and 24 are postal voters.
The Dewan Besar Institut Kemahiran Belia Negara (IKBN) in Bukit Mertajam has been named as the nomination and vote tallying centre.
Abdul Aziz said the estimated cost incurred by the EC alone for the by-election is RM500,000, while other agencies like the police will decide on how many personnel they need to send, and money to be spent based on their intelligence report.