Seeking a remedy for a troubled electorate

The Malay Mail Online

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 — While the authorities continued to dismiss the allegations of electoral fraud during the 13th General Election, it looked like there was nowhere an unhappy voter could go to argue his/her case.

Enter the People’s Tribunal, an initiative by pro-electoral reform group Bersih, which aims to give a voice to those denied the chance through official channels. This would then drive forward the call for free and fair elections.

At least that is what Professor Gurdial Singh Nijar (picture)  hopes to achieve.

Gurdial, who teaches law at University of Malaya, is leading a team of lawyers who will present evidence at the tribunal, slated to be held in Kuala Lumpur this September 18-22.

The senior lawyer was also the lead prosecutor at the Kuala Lumpur International War Crimes Tribunal, which ruled after a four-day hearing in November 2011 that both former United States President George W. Bush and British ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair were guilty of crimes against peace and humanity and genocide for their roles in the Iraq War.

Gurdial explained that after the courts shot down nearly every one of the over 35 election petitions filed by both Barisan Nasional and Opposition parties, the public have no other avenue other than to sponsor their own probe into the various allegations.

“The judiciary is not keen to allow the thing to be ventilated because they are dismissing almost every petition filed. So what does the citizenry do if they are really concerned about the political process?

“There is no other recourse except a people’s initiative,” he said.

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For the People’s Tribunal, Gurdial and his team of over 30 lawyers will be presenting evidence on various alleged electoral irregularities to a six-member international panel which include former United Nations Special Representative Yash Pal Ghai, former Indonesian Election Commission deputy chairman Ramlan Surbakti and ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) president Kraisak Choonhavan.

The Malaysian members are prominent lawyer Datuk Azzat Kamaludin, University of Malaya associate senior fellow Mavis Puthucheary and Rev Dr Hermen Shastri, the general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM).

This will be the first tribunal of its nature in the country, and Gurdial thinks it could even be the first of its kind in the region.

And to make sure the tribunal can come up to a fair and balanced conclusion, the legal team have also invited any and all who could be affected or mentioned in the evidence to participate.

“There is a very clear regard for the rules of fair play. Maybe institutions like the EC, they already made comments that this is there to castigate them, which is not so,” he said, referring to the Election Commission.

“This is in the nature of an inquiry. It’s not adversarial. We are not here to accuse or prosecute, this is fact-finding to establish the veracity of the numerous allegations expressed by the people, the disquieted, the concerns of ordinary people.

“This is a clear forum for them to present their views and have it assessed by an independent panel of eminent persons,” Gurdial said, while admitting that the People’s Tribunal would not have any legal muscle to implement the panel’s recommendations.

By initiating the tribunal, Gurdial said civil society is already doing the heavy lifting in investigating the truth behind the many claims of electoral fraud, and the onus now lies on the government to start working with the people.

“This will be a missed opportunity if this is treated as an irrelevant sidewind to bash any one particular institution or otherwise, because I think the whole integrity of the democratic process is at stake.

“It is our expectation that the government and other institutions involved like the EC and the police, treat this as a voice of the people that must be heard.”

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