Malaysia rejects foreign observers for elections

KUALA LUMPUR, June 23 (AFP) - Malaysia does not need foreign observers to monitor its general elections due by next year, the new poll watchdog chief said Wednesday.

The election commission is ready to conduct the voting anytime and will strive to ensure the process is transparent and clean, said its chairman Omar Mohamad Hashim.

"The commission has a good record in carrying out the previous nine general elections and many other by-elections successfully since independence," he told a news conference.

"There will also be 20 million people in this country observing the election process. We don't see why we should need any foreign observers.

"The election commission will work hard to carry out its mandate responsibly to ensure that forthcoming general elections can be conducted honestly, efficiently and with transparency," he added.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has kept everyone guessing about the election date -- he has until mid-2000 to hold it -- but is widely expected to do so within months as the economy recovers from recession.

Mahathir, who has been in power for 18 years and is seeking a fresh mandate, said last week that Malaysia did not need western observers as it was "well-versed" in conducting elections, unlike Indonesia which held its first free election this month.

Omar said 55 million ringgit (14.5 million dollars) had been allocated for the election, up from 42 million in the 1995 polls.

The commission is "always in a state of preparedness" to conduct the general election and will face no problem in the event of a snap poll, he added.

Following a registration exercise in May, Omar said some 650,000 new voters are expected to be added to the electoral list by next year.

But if polls are declared within the next few months, the list will stand at 9.7 million, still up from nine million in the 1995 polls, he said, describing it as a "bumper crop."

"It's a nice surprise, a record (number of voters), the biggest ever. It's good for the country," he added.

The commission expects the election to attract "special attention" from everyone inside the country and abroad following recent economic and political crises, Omar said.

"There is a lot of consciousness about the elections this time around. This is a good development, especially among the young voters," he said.

He brushed aside criticism from opposition parties over the independence of the commission, appealing to all parties to cooperate and build public trust in carrying out the election.

"We are forever trying to correct and improve ourselves," he said.

Opposition lawmaker Lim Kit Siang meanwhile, urged the commission to ensure that the 650,000 new voters could exercise their right even if polls are held this year.

"If the commission faces problems of expertise, it should be prepared to invite consultants from the private sector to ensure that the new voters could be placed on the new electoral roll," he said in a statement.

"It must make every attempt to ensure that the maximum number of eligible voters are capable of exercising their constitutional right to determine the political future of Malaysia in the 10th general election."

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