SPR appears to be laying the ground to dismiss any winning candidate at Penanti who may decide to challenge the latest ban on "pondok panas." Will this be the first directly-elected Deputy Chief Minister in Malaysia? Will PKR defy the ban? Will SPR risk public outcry and dismiss the winning candidate on any pondok panas "violation?"
Update 2009 May 13: SPR has reversed its position and will now allow the set up of pondok panas as long as they are more than 50 metres from voting centers. The question remains: Will SPR be competent enough to clearly set out the border from which the 50 meters are counted, so that political parties have clear ideas to instruct their contractors to place the booths where they should be?
Update 2009 May 31: MAFREL continues to oppose the permission for pondok panas, now that SPR backs down and dilly-dally by not allowing pondok panas but allowing "information booth."
PKR continues to push the ambiguous limit. MAFREL continues to demand complete halt to campaigning. All See continued debate at:
- In the news: MAFREL stick to no-party booths demand
- Penanti heralds ‘a new election culture’
- EC/SPR reply to MAFREL’s no-party tent stand
- How far do PKR want to campaign on polling day?
No less than the new chairman of SPR (Election Commission) has set the new and strict condition that candidates in the Penanti by-election may not erect "service booths" or "pondok panas" outside polling centers on polling day in Penanti on May 31. This is in addition to the warning that parties and candidates may not campaign on polling day (a rule that is widely understood but as widely violated without consequences in the past). Bernama quoted him as saying the penalty may be the forfeiture of the by-election victory.
However, Parti Keadilan Rakyat has vowed to defy the new no-pondok-panas rule, while observing the existing no-campaign-on-polling-day law. It reasons the law allows for pondok panas provided there is enough distance from the polling center and there is no canvassing activities.
PKR also cited the 2004 history when SPR banned pondok panas but reversed the ruling during the last hours without informing, and thereby disadvantaging, the opposition coalition.
PKR has also promised to install its candidate as the Deputy Chief Minister of Penang state government, which gives rise to these interesting questions:
- Will this be the first directly-elected Deputy Chief Minister in Malaysia (albeit by only one of the 40 state seats)?
- If PKR went ahead with erecting pondok panas (which is likely) and SPR went ahead to disqualify the winning candidate (also likely), what will be the reaction from voters and political parties?
- How will be it affect the Penang governing structure?
- The precise wording of the existing election laws,
- The enforcibility of any additional guidelines by the SPR, and
- a good read of this SPR-published rule in a PDF file here: Penguatkuasaan Larangan Berkempen Pada Hari Mengundi Seksyen 26(1) Akta Kesalahan pilihan Raya 1954 ( 7 May 2009 )
A problem of border definition for "Voting Place/Station" (Tempat Mengundi)
A key problem with "pondok panas" is really the unclear or lack of definition of the border of the voting station, from which SPR counts 50 meters where no "pondok panas" is allowed. SPR has been vague historically, causing a vicious cycle of political parties competiting to be "close to the voters."
Does the 50 meters zone start from:
- the voting streams (typically classroom)? This would be a very small no-go zone, thereby even allowing pondok panas inside the fences where the school has large compounds.
- the yellow-tape zone inside the school area, behind SPR's own voter assistance booths, just outside the general areas of voting streams/classrooms? This would be clearly marked with yellow tape, but is still a narrow zone.
- the main gate of the schools typically used as voting place/station? This would allow pondok panas to be set up still close to the school gates.
- the whole length of the fence of the school? This will set a large and safe zone, but will make the political parties unhappy for being placed across the street and many houses away.
- And how about voting places that are not schools, such as public hall above a market place, and without clear natural borders such as fences?
- What if political parties' careless contractors just "dumped" the pondok panas overnight right next to the shool gates (right picture) - which unfortunately happens too often?
- What if some schools have very large compoungs, and some virtually no compound?
This would require the SPR to mark the "inner zone" at least one or two days before voting day, because if pondok panas are to be allowed in the future, the contractors will have set them up before polling day, and will need to measure 50 meters from the inner-zone markers.
Below are SPR and PKR statements. Emphases are added in red:
Strictly No Campaigning On Polling Day In Penanti - EC
April 27, 2009
PUTRAJAYA, April 27 (Bernama) -- The Election Commission (EC) is to strictly enforce regulations prohibiting campaigning on polling day in the Penanti state by-election in Penang next month.
EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof said the prohibition covered canvassing for votes as well as setting up "pondok panas" (party kiosks) close to polling centres.
He disclosed this after announcing May 23 and 31 as the dates for nomination and polling, respectively, in the by-election.
Political parties should make full use of the eight days of campaigning from May 23 until midnight of May 30, he said.
"I want to begin strictly enforcing the prohibitions in Penanti. Voters must be able to go to the polling centres without any hindrance. If possible, we want to make this the culture in future elections," he said.
Abdul Aziz said there was no necessity for the party kiosks where voters checked their voting streams as the EC already provided such a service.
"It's redundancy. We will provide additional counters for this," he said.
Abdul Aziz said the EC would have meetings with the police this week on the enforcement of the prohibition and on the limiting of the number of supporters on nomination day and during the announcement of the election results.
EC deputy chairman Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar said the party kiosks close to polling centres were a centre of tension as party supporters campaigned there.
He said the police, returning officers and EC officers could stop anyone from setting up these kiosks.
Election candidates and agents would be held liable for the party kiosks and individuals themselves would be held responsible for campaigning on polling day, he said.
Offenders could be fined RM5,000 and, by virtue of the offence, cannot be registered or listed as an elector in any election or picked as a candidate in any election for five years from the date of the offence.
"If the individual has been elected on that date, then the seat must be vacated," he said.
PKR to defy EC's ban on 'pondok panas'
Apr 30, 09
PKR will adhere to the Election Commission's condition to bar active campaigning on polling day, but will still erect electoral booths (pondok panas) near all polling stations during the Penanti by-election in Penang.
The party also disagrees with the EC's rule to restrict the electoral campaign period for eight days from nomination day on Saturday May 23 until midnight on May 30, the eve of polling day.
PKR national election machinery director Saifuddin Nasution slammed the eight-day campaign period as ridiculous, insufficient and inadequate for any contestants to prepare the election machinery, mobilise workers and supporters and disseminate their messages across to electorates.
"A short campaign period is unjust and unfair," he told reporters after speaking at a public forum organised by the party Bayan Baru division's Youth wing in Penang last night.
He said the party would start its campaign soon, well before nomination day, but would stop canvassing votes on polling day on May 31, to provide the cool off period for electorates.
He said pondok panas were erected by political parties not to canvass votes but to compliment EC and provide an electoral service to voters to cast their ballots without much hassle.
"It's a free service provided by political parties to all voters. I don't understand why the EC wants to stop this," said Saifuddin, the Machang parliamentarian.
He also recalled that EC banned pondok panas in the 2004 general election, only to lift it before the polling day without informing non-Barisan Nasional parties.
"Then Barisan Alternatif did not erect any pondok panas but BN did. We are going ahead with our pondok panas," he said.
EC head Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof said political parties and their supporters will be prevented from canvassing for votes and campaigning on polling day in the Penanti by-election to allow a cooling-off period for voters to make their choice.
"We have allowed a campaign period from the nomination day until midnight eve of polling day on May 31, and all parties will have to campaign within that (period),” he added.
He also did not rule out the possibility that the number of supporters accompanying candidates on nomination day would be limited to a "sensible" number, so that the police strength can also be reduced.
To this, Saifuddin pointed out that it was the duty of the police, not the EC, to maintain law and order during election period.
"An election is a democratic fun fare for Malaysians. What's wrong in political parties mobilising its supporters by the thousands to accompany their candidates during nomination day?
"EC should stick to its job of conducting a fair and just electoral process for all parties and people," stressed Saifuddin, who said the PKR election machinery was well oiled and geared up to secure a big victory in the Penanti by-election.
Looking at a big win
Disclosing that the party had identified its position, prospects, issues and problems it would face in the campaign, he said his team had drawn out a comprehensive and aggressive election strategy to tackle all obstacles to secure a big win.
"We are prepared and up to the challenge in Penanti. I believe our winning prospect is good although we have to work hard to secure it.
"We are looking at a big win," said Saifuddin who will head the Pakatan Rakyat election operations in Penanti.
The seat fell vacant when former Penang deputy chief minister I Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin resigned on April 16
The state seat comes under PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim's Permatang Pauh parliamentary constituency - a PKR stronghold.
In the Permatang Pauh by-election last August, Penanti voters gave Anwar a thumping majority of 3,276.
PKR's Abdul Rahman Abdul Kadir won the state seat in 1999 before losing it to Permatang Pauh Umno chief Abdul Jalil Abdul Majid in 2004. He in turn lost to Mohammad Fairus last year.
First-timer Mohammad Fairus took the seat with a majority of 2,219. He polled 7,346 votes against Abdul Jalil's 5,127.
Former academician and PKR state deputy leader, 58-year-old Mansor Othman is the PKR candidate for the by-election.
Although Umno has not decided on whether to field a candidate, Saifuddin believes the rival party would eventually contest due to grassroots pressure.
He expects Umno to play up the issue of 'Mansor the outsider' to stir local sentiments during the campaign, but it would not have much impact on the result.
"There are so many people who have contested and won outside their home state, including myself.
"I am a parliamentarian from Kelantan and previously won the Lunas state seat in Kedah even though I was actually born in Singapore," said Saifuddin.
Fairus issue needs to be addressed
When contacted, Mansor, the PKR Balik Pulau division chief who was born in Bayan Baru, acknowledged that Umno would use the issue to stir local sentiment.
"But I don't think it would work because people are more interested in service-orientated representatives, someone who can deliver.
"Moreover I am not an alien to the area for I have worked for the party in Penanti since I was the state chief in 1999," he told Malaysiakini.
Saifuddin however, conceded that the party needed to address the disgruntlement of PKR supporters and constituents over the "Fairus episode."
An estimated 30 percent of the electorate is said to be unhappy over the manner the party leadership handled the controversy.
"We will explain thoroughly on the reasons for Fairus to resign and the need to replace him with a new leader," said Saifuddin, adding that the former Penanti representative would also join the party campaign.