Raw deal for Malaysia’s opposition, says US report

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PETALING JAYA: The US State Department has criticised the Malaysian government for practices that it says placed opposition political parties at a disadvantage in elections.

The department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016 mentions, among other things, Putrajaya’s control over traditional media outlets and its grip on the Election Commission (EC).

The report on Malaysia said “irregularities” in the record of votes had affected the fairness of elections in the country, as had issues of gerrymandering.

It pointed to NGO reports in June 2016 that the EC had moved the names of more than 100,000 voters throughout the country to neighbouring constituencies without informing the voters or obtaining parliamentary approval.

The EC was reported as saying then that the voters were moved to polling centres closer to them to ease the voting process.

However, the US report said, the over-representation of some constituencies affected the 2013 general election, with many of Barisan Nasional’s victories coming in more heavily weighted rural areas.

The report, released by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, also noted a post-election report by electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0, which alleged that the EC’s lack of independence gave an unfair advantage to BN.

The report noted that the EC reports directly to Prime Minister Najib Razak.

It said the opposition was also hampered by a lack of equal access to media, with news about the opposition restricted or reported in a biased fashion.

It added that registering a new political party was made difficult by government restrictions on the process.