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Bersih demands transparency on GE14 international observers

GE14 | Electoral reform coalition Bersih wants the Election Commission to be more transparent and provide more information about the international observers they have invited for the 14th general election.

“Transparency of the process is very important.

“It’s not enough for EC to say we’ve invited other countries and NGOs to observe, but don’t tell us how, or the conduct of the observations,” said Bersih outreach officer Chan Tsu Chong in a press conference at their office in Petaling Jaya today.

Bersih secretariat member Mandeep Singh also had a host of questions for the EC about the international observers.

“When are you (international observers) coming, what are the terms of reference?

"Why was the Asian Network for Free Elections (Anfrel), a body that is a known independent NGO, not invited? Why was Carter Center and the Commonwealth secretariat not invited? These are bodies that are known internationally for making election observations.

“How many polling stations are they going to?” he asked.

Read more: Mystery shrouds 'Cambridge-based' polls monitor for GE14

Yesterday, EC chairperson Mohd Hashim Abdullah announced that they had invited 14 countries as international observers for GE14.

Seven countries had accepted the invitations – Indonesia, Thailand, Maldives, Timor Leste, Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan.

'How much good will it do?'

Bersih acting chairperson Shahrul Aman Mohd Saari applauded the effort to invite international observers, but noted that it would have been better if they originated from more established democracies. 

“It’s good. We have been pushing for international observers, but we hope more countries, more established democracies would come. 

“If the countries’ own democracy can be questioned, then how much good will it do?” he said. 

With the exception of Timor-Leste, The Economist’s Democracy Index 2017 and Freedom House's Freedom in the World 2018 reports show that Malaysia fared better on their democracy scale than the six other countries invited to be international observers for GE14.

The Economist considered Cambodia and Azerbaijan to be authoritarian regimes, while the Freedom House referred to Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan as "consolidated authoritarian regimes."

Observe the entire process

Mandeep also drew from his own experience as an international observer for elections in Nepal and Sri Lanka, saying that he spent close to a month observing the entire electoral process. 

As such, he expressed his hope that the observers would be in Malaysia soon - given that the election is scheduled for less than a month from today - instead of waiting for the 11-day campaigning period. 

Mandeep added that international observers are commonly allowed to meet local observers.

“When we observe international elections, we are allowed to meet local groups to get reports from local groups.

“Bersih is ready at any time to share all our reports and finding with all these (international observer) groups.

"Whether they will be allowed to meet us, that’s another question,” he said.

Chan also stressed the importance of the final report that these international observers are supposed to produce. 

"The report of the election observers are very important, because the whole purpose is we want people to know at the end of the observation missions, what are your findings and recommendations,” he added.

The EC did not provide a full list of the invited observers nor their exact mandate.

Normally, electoral management bodies (EMB) from the European Union, Carter Center or Anfrel would provide a full list of election observers and their backgrounds for transparency.

These EMBs would monitor the elections unhindered, prior to nomination day, up until after voting day, and make their observations and recommendations public.

The EC said that international and local observers will have access to nomination centres, early polling centres, polling centres, counting centres, as well as the process of tallying the ballots at the official tallying centres.

There are no details on restrictions imposed.

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