The Malaysian Election Commission has just issued a staggering list of seven countries which they say have taken up its offer to come and monitor the up-coming elections to ensure they are free and fair – and free from fraud.
The list includes three of the world’s most authoritarian regimes; two countries described as ‘Hybrid’ (part-authoritarian) by The Economist Democracy Index and two ‘Flawed Democracies’ under the same index. One of the countries has just come out of a state of emergency following a blatant coup against the rule of law and is not even rated on the index.
Malaysians will be left wondering if this is an idea of a bad joke on the part of Najib and his flunkies at the EC or whether he has set out to humiliate his own country in a misguided attempt to rebuff the apparent insult by Britain, Europe and Australia, who have expressed concerns about the conduct of GE14?
As every Malaysian knows, Prime Minister Najib Razak has described Malaysia as a ‘perfect’ democracy and has in the past resisted the idea that the country should be insulted by the imposition of external election monitors, a measure urged by NGOs and the opposition.
Despite numerous reports and judicial complaints about bribery, coercion and blatant cheating at previous elections Najib stated in January, for example, that”the chances of cheating are non-existent”. Over the weekend his Foreign Minister retorted to the UK’s suggestion of election monitors by thundering:
Malaysian democracy is to be monitored by the Malaysian electorate, and the Malaysian electorate alone. To assume that anyone else has the right, ability and competence is an insult to each and every Malaysian voter. [Anifah Aman]
In fact, Malaysia is rated as a far from perfect democracy in the international independant rankings, and all denizens will know why. It comes 59th on the list of 168 countries in The Economist’s list, just above Mongolia, and it is placed in the category of a ‘Flawed Democracy”.
The message is therefore clear. If Malaysia was willing to bring standards of better practice to the monitoring of GE14, there are 58 countries above it in the rankings to which the Election Commission could turn for support.
These include 19 countries from around the world, which are described as ‘Full Democracies’ in the rankings. However, instead, Najib and his Election Commission cronies have, in this semi-Uturn, resorted to some of the world’s most repressive governments to profer their monitoring support.
These include authoritarian regimes, whose expertise lies more in the stage management of pretend elections, rather than the holding of genuine elections. Is that the sort of advice and supervision that Najib is actually looking for?
If so, Malaysians have even more reason to be worried about the conduct of GE14 than before.
So, let’s look at the list of countries that the Election Commission has invited to observe GE14, according to today’s reports.
Firstly, you have Azerbaijan and Cambodia, which come 148 and 124 out of the 168 countries on the Democracy Index respectively and are described as Authoritarian Regimes.
Next, you have Thailand, which suffered an army coup in 2014 and remains under martial law. The army have been signalling they will hold elections again at some point, but they have kept arbitrarily delaying that date – a planned election last year has been postponed till this year, with no guarantees.
On that basis the country comes 107 on the index and is described as a ‘Hybrid Regime’.
The other Hybrid Regime is Kyrgyzstan. This deserves some plaudits for being the only country in post-Soviet Central Asia that has achieved any form of democracy, but this is by virtue of having held its first ever peaceful transfer of power involving elections (if suspect) just last year. Good on Kyrgyzstan, but has it got guidance on democracy to support Malaysia?
We then have two so-called ‘Flawed Democracies’, including nearby Indonesia, which these days looks near to beating Malaysia on the Democracy Index (it was a much reversed situation a decade or so ago), standing at number 68.
Following that, an relatively impressively placed, if tiny, Timor Leste, which has put to one side former years of dreadful fighting and repression to stand at number 43 on the list, well above Malaysia.
What tips Najib and the Election Commission may be hoping to gain from the emissaries of these countries; how many observers each will send or how these folk will be deployed and managed remains a mystery. One thing is certain there isn’t much time to organise them.
However, it is perhaps the final country on the list that is most baffling, but perhaps most telling.
The Maldives have been in a State of Emergency since the start of the year as, beset by corruption allegations, President Abdulla Yameen pitched himself into an outright confrontation with his own justice system and Supreme Court.
January 29, 2018 the Supreme Court received a petition from the opposition alliance in the Maldives to temporarily remove President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and appoint investigators to look into allegations of corruption and misrule.
Following on from this, on February 1st, the Court ruled that the trial against the former President Nasheed, which began in 2012, was unconstitutional and also ordered the release of nine opposition MPs, resulting in an opposition majority in the Maldives.
Nasheed responded with a 45 day State of Emergency in February (that was then extended for another 30 days) and not only that, he ordered the arrest of two Supreme Court judges, including the Chief Justice, as heavily armed troops stormed the country’s top court.
He also arrested his half-brother the former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
According to Amnesty International Yameen has also outlawed peaceful protests, and has been imprisoning people solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.“While some protestors have since been released, many of those arrested during the state of emergency remain under detention.” [Amnesty]
Why, one wonders, did Najib’s Election Commission think it was appropriate to ring up the Government of President Yameen, under such circumstances, to ask if he could help with supplying observers for the upcoming election?
After all, Yameen must be pretty preoccupied.