#Highlight* Heat on EC as irregularities become a dime a dozen

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The Election Commission's (EC) independence and fairness and the conduct of its officers have been questioned for as long as I can remember. I covered my first general election (GE) as a journalist in 1999, and 14 years later the allegations and complaints have become more profound and disturbing. Varying from unknown voters registered at a certain address; phantom voters; foreigners voting with Malaysian identity cards; incentives to mark 'X' in the box of a particular party; legitimate voters discovering someone had already voted on their behalf; postal voters being told by superiors whom to vote for; results at the counting centre changing after so called additional "ballot boxes" appearing, especially after some mysterious blackout. These are among the long list of alleged discrepancies heard over the years. And over the last week, they have been the topic of conversations at every other breakfast, lunch, dinner, wedding and birthday gathering. The difference in the 13th General Election (GE13), however, is that the public, seemingly fed up with EC's lack of will to resolve these problems, decided to take matters into their own hands, resulting in ugly incidences, and innocent people getting hurt. An acquaintance was made to sing Negaraku to prove he was Malaysian, and not a Bangladeshi, while another voter told me her first person's account of how two men, suspected of being Bangladeshis, were roughed up by a crowd at a polling station in Klang. There was even a commotion outside the Lembah Pantai counting centre to stop what the public thought were "suspect" ballot boxes from being brought into the centre. In Jerantut, Pahang, counting agents for Damak state seat independent candidate Koh Boon Heng, refused to allow the EC to move ballot boxes from the counting centre as they suspected foul play during the vote-counting process. While I do not agree with the high-handed methods adopted by some, especially with regards to the manhandling of suspected dubious voters/foreigners lining up to vote at some centres, it is obvious that this stems from too much mistrust and suspicion following a rising number of irregularities. To be blunt, people are just plain fed-up and frustrated. The flaws in the system are beginning to hit closer to home with many discovering their names or that of friends and family are on the electoral roll despite having never registered. Naturally, the perception is that the EC and National Registration Department are working hand in glove in support of the ruling government. Many were riled up upon seeing this, and other national issues, thus feeling the need to speak up and fight a flawed system through their ballots. Allegations of electoral fraud and discrepancies to the electoral roll were posted and re-posted extensively over social media channels. Occasionally, there were pictures and videos of the alleged documents and incidences concerned. And fed up with the biased mainstream media reporting, many - young and old - turned to social media to voice out concerns, share their experiences and to seek and disseminate all sorts of information (even unverified ones). One 26 year-old KL-ite related that he believes what he reads on social media more than the newspapers, simply because the content of mainstream media is "just too one-sided". I will admit that was a slap to the face for someone like me who spent almost 14 years reporting for the mainstream media. But he does have a point which I cannot refute, sadly. If only he and so many others knew of the constant battles in the newsroom between journalists, editors and media owners, but let us save that matter for another day. So, the voices are getting louder, and let us hope the EC and those holding its reins hear it loud and clear too because it is obvious that the mistrust for EC is reaching a boiling point when the public decides to right the wrong themselves. So, instead of busying itself with launching legal action to refute allegations, it is high time for the EC to address and fix the flaws in its system. With election watchdog Bersih setting up a tribunal to address reports of irregularities and fraud in the GE13 – among other efforts to address alleged electoral fraud - things can only get uglier for the EC. And if nothing is done to resolve the irregularities, I dread to imagine the backlash in GE14.