(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The Election Commission is to be commended for putting the 9.3 million-voter electoral roll on its homepage to allow online check of voters 24 hours a day, whether from office or home.
This will remove all the hassle that voters face just to check whether their names are still on the electoral roll and whether they need to re-register as voters during the current voters' registration exercise. This service is very important as many voters found to their cost during general elections that their names had been arbitrarily and mysteriously removed although they had not changed residence, but there was no redress as they had lost their right to vote and had to wait until the next voters' registration exercise before they could reinstate their names on the electoral register.
The Election Commission's innovative use of information technology should be an example to all government departments and public agencies, as this is one of the rare occasions where a public agency in Malaysia has made use of information technology and the Internet to provide better and faster services to the people although there had been so much talk about introducing IT to provide more people-friendly public services in the past few years.
It may be a good idea for the National Information Technology Council (NITC) or some other private organisation to organise a Monthly Best and Worst Award of Government Homepages to ensure that government departments and public agencies introduce innovative, meaningful and interactive public services on their websites and not just meaningless chunks of information.
There are however considerable room for improvement in the new Election Commission website. Firstly, there are widespread complaints that online voter check service is very slow as it takes a long time to make an online verification of the voter status.
Secondly, the Election Commission should not just provide a "search" service to provide for online check of voter status, the entire 9.3 million-voter electoral roll should be placed online, which would facilitate the public to verify whether there are phantom voters in their residence of offices so that they could be weeded out.
Thirdly, the Election Commission should put on its homepage the proposed list of new voters registered during the current voters' registration exercise to invite public objections and representations before final incorporation into the electoral roll.
Fourthly, the Election Commission should reconsider its URL, which at present is: http://www.spr.gov.my/web/. This is because http://www.spr.gov.my is the website of the Microsoft Internet Server, and there should be a clearer distinction between these two websites.
Although the introduction of on-line check of voters is a step forward, one should be realistic that it would not resolve the problem of how to ensure maximum registration of eligible voters in the current registration exercise, especially as there are more signs of a likely general elections this year.
One of the latest indications is information which I have just received that some printers have been given confidential orders for printing of election materials to be ready for general elections this year.
During the first week of the current voters' registration exercise, only some 7,000 people had registered. This is a far cry from the one million eligible voters who could be registered. Although the pace of registration will pick up in the remaining three weeks, I do not think there would be time to register at least 50 per cent of the one million eligible voters by March 10, especially as there had been inadequate pre-publicity of the registration exercise before its launch on Feb. 9.
For this reason, I would seriously urge the Election Commission to extend the 30-day voters' registration exercise to 42 days to ensure that there is highest possible percentage of registration of voters to make the democratic process in Malaysia more meaningful and vibrant.