Is Malaysia Ready for E-Voting

Is Malaysia ready for e-voting? Electronic-voting or e-voting has been implemented in campus elections since 2004. Hemananthani Sivanandam looks at whether it should be expanded to cover national elections. THOUGH e-voting has been successfully implemented in some countries such as the United States, Europe and even in parts of India, issues of trust, integrity and infrastructure must be addressed before Malaysia can do the same, say analysts.

According to Monash University lecturer and political scientist Wong Chin Huat, the problem with e-voting was not a matter of it being feasible or convenient for voters, but rather that of integrity and technicality to prevent tampering. Likening e-voting to internet banking, Wong said the vital issue is trust. “The keyword here is trust. You trust online banking because you believe in the system. If you have questions about the bank’s integrity, will you be banking with them? Similarly, Malaysia is not ready for e-voting because we (Malaysians) can’t trust the authorities. We’re not rejecting technology but we have problems with the authorities,” Wong told theSun. Wong, who is also with the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih), said while e-voting is convenient and empowers voters, there should be transparency and deeper commitment from the authorities.

He stressed that the Election Commission (EC) should first sort out problems such as phantom voters and cleaning up the electoral list to regain the public’s trust.E-voting system has been implemented in campus elections in local universities since 2004, garnering mixed reactions from students, and there is concern that the EC may be thinking about widening its use. Last year, it was reported that six countries including Malaysia wanted to obtain Indian electronic voting machines made by Bharat Electronic Ltd for use at elections in the countries. The report by Press Trust of India said officials from Mauritius, Malaysia, Singapore, Namibia, South Africa and Sri Lanka had approached the company for the purpose.Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s (UKM) Institute of Ethnic Studies Prof Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin believes there are no technological reasons to stand in the way of e-voting. “I see no reason why it (e-voting) can’t be implemented; unless the basic questions such as facilities and connectivity are not addressed, e-voting will always remain a challenge. “Half of the (people in the) country can’t use the computer nd in some places like Sabah and Sarawak, there is no electricity, so how can we implement e-voting when these vital issues are not addressed,” he asked.

Malaysian Voters Union co-ordinator Ong Boon Keong said there wasn’t a real need to implement e-voting in Malaysia as the number of voters here pales in comparison with other countries such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. “Countries like India benefit from e-voting because it involves a large electoral roll and the votes take many days to be counted. Why would we need e-voting when our election results are out in a matter of hours? We don’t have many voters so why spend so much (in implementing the system),” he told theSun.Instead of e-voting, he suggested that the EC should improve the existing system and come up with a more comprehensive electoral roll that does not require eligible Malaysians to register with them first. When contacted, the EC Deputy Chairman Datuk Wira Wan Ahmad Wan Omar said the commission had no plans to introduce e-voting “at this point of time”. No, we’re not thinking about that (e-voting). After we came back from India, we discussed with the government but the political parties were not keen (on the idea).

“We went to India to observe the Indian elections. We did that in 2005 and we saw how they conducted the e-voting. But of course we decided not to implement it in the near future. It’s not necessary. Our voter population is very small and our rakyat is more comfortable with the present system. “

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