Press statement by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee on “Voice of the People” Survey Findings
There are many reasons to doubt the accuracy and validity of the “Voice of the People” survey conducted in Malaysia which found that most Malaysians feel that elections in the country are fair and free. First of all, perception surveys are acknowledged to be unscientific and their findings are sometimes regarded as suspect. Secondly, such surveys if conducted by inexperienced or relatively untrained staff carry a very wide margin of error. It should be noted that the organization that conducted the survey – TNS – is more a business market research group rather than a specialized social and political research organization. If another more professional organization were to conduct a similar survey, we could very well have different results. Finally, although Gallup is associated with the study – and Gallup polls are quite respectable – it could be that the work in Malaysia has been contracted out to an organization that is lacking the resources and ability to do a credible job.
Quite apart from these concerns, at the end of the day, the thinking public – and hopefully the Government too – should be aware that the issue of freedom and fairness of elections and the quality of the democratic system in Malaysia is not simply a matter of voter perception. It is in fact based on what actually takes place within the electoral system and the associated institutions and processes that govern political parties and political activity. Is the media allowed to report freely and without political pressure? Are electoral boundaries drawn up fairly and justly? Are those that run the elections independent? Are government resources and the government machinery neutral or is there unfair advantage? Are the electoral rolls clean or is there an unacceptable incidence of phantom, postal and absentee voters?
It is not public perception as measured by any survey that will answer the question of whether Malaysia rates more highly in the quality of its democracy than other countries. Rather, it is substantive issues and concerns such as those brought out by the BERSIH movement that will show whether the country measures up to or is way behind true democratic standards and norms. Any attempt to portray the findings of the TNS survey more than what it really is – a one time perception polling of a small number of people – is an exercise in political propaganda aimed at concealing the true story of whether our elections are free and fair or whether they have been systematically rigged and manipulated.
Kuala Lumpur, 7 Dec 2007
Dr Lim is Director of the Centre for Policy Initiatives