By ABC News

A Malaysian armed forces officer has her finger marked with indelible ink before voting early. But there have been claims the ink can be easily washed off. — AFP/MOHD RASFAN

Whoever wins watershed national elections on Sunday, “the political landscape of Malaysia will never be the same again”, says a human rights lawyer and commentator.

But Edmund Bon says fears are rising over the integrity of the polling process.

Malaysia’s election commission is under fire for not acting more decisively about the reported failure of indelible ink to be used on voters’ fingers.

Allegations of planned fraud have been also levelled against the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

An online news site, Malaysiakini, quoted opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim as saying he has documented evidence of chartered flights flying in “dubious voters” who are foreign nationals.

Mr Bon told Sen Lam on Radio Australia’s Asia Pacific program that Bersih, the campaign for free and fair elections, raised such allegations much earlier.

Voter awareness

“I think these allegations (dubious voters) are now being verified by NGOs (non-government organisations),” he said.

The lawyer writes on a socio-political and legal education blog, LoyarBurok. Mr Bon is also a key figure behind several voter-awareness initiatives, including Undi Malaysia.

He said: “The unfortunate thing, of course, is that the (election commission) has lost much of its credibility and whatever it says now, that it (the BN government) is not flying in these so-called foreign people, it’s really something that we cannot accept at face value.

“So it needs to verified, but resources are very thin on the ground, and I think the Opposition is trying to get the (flight) manifests and more details on that.”

The Election Commission deputy chairman, Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar, defended it against the allegations. He said it had put in a lot of work to ensure an honest electoral roll, and questioned how “phantom voters” could cast a ballot if their names were not on the roll.

Datuk Omar said the ink used on voters’ fingers to prevent double-voting could not be entirely removed through washing.

Edmund Bon said that with allegations flying around, “it’s already very tense on the ground, I think, especially among the political parties.

We’ve been going to the ceramahs (political gatherings) as NGOs and talking to different people, and we can see there’s a great amount of anticipation, especially for first-time voters on Sunday.

“We hope that there’ll be no political violence. We’ve seen some instances. We hope that everybody will keep rational.

“But we do not know what will happen because this is probably the first time in our history that the ruling coalition is being challenged to this extent.”

The lawyer said that in the last two weeks of campaigning, “you’re seeing for the first time a lot of young voters coming out, many first-time voters, fence-sitters.

Ethnic identification

“And the issues that we’ve been talking about, about removing ethnic identification from the registration forms, talking about civil and political rights, are really sinking in with them.

“And they’re coming not just to be part of the atmosphere, but they’re coming to really listen and get more information.

“You have numbers from 500 onwards, almost every night, to 1,500 in small centres.

“I think this is the first time you’ve seen people much more aware, due to a lot of different acts of dissent…that (have) ignited the imagination of the youth for a new Malaysia.”

Does he think Malaysians can sense change on the horizon, whether it is under the BN or under the Pakatan Rakyat?

Mr Bon said: “I think the political landscape of Malaysia will never be the same again. It depends on who you speak to.

“Of course, the urban centres have always been talking about this change. And even if they don’t (have) facts to back it up, they’re saying you can’t have a monopoly of one party for over 50 years.

“The rural areas are much more difficult to read because there are a lot of cash handouts, a lot of different tactics and the education levels are a bit lower than the urban centres.”