Here’s why Sanusi won’t face any action for publicly showing his ballot paper during PRN 2023

The political climate in our country has turned up a notch recently due to the 2023 State Elections (PRN) which saw six states that didn’t dissolve their respective State Legislative Assemblies (DUN) during or prior to the 15th General Election (GE15) go to the polls. These include Selangor, Penang, Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah.

In the end, the status quo remains the same, as all previous State Governments at the six states being given the mandate again. However, Malaysians are still reeling in PRN 2023’s aftermath as there are many talking points from its results and incidents that remained unresolved.

One of which involves the recently re-appointed Kedah Menteri Besar (MB) Dato’ Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor who comfortably retained the N24 Jeneri seat and might end up being elected MB again. As reported by Malay Mail, when he was casting his ballot papers at the Sekolah Kebangsaan Bandar Baru Beris Jaya polling centre in Sik, Kedah, Sanusi was spotted showing his ballot papers to media personnel.

The act was recorded on video by the media on duty there and a photograph of the incident has since gone viral and reported by the mass media. Sanusi was criticised by social media users for the act but that would be the least of the Jeneri assemblyman’s concerns as the act was touted by local media to potentially yield a far greater punishment than the public’s scolding.

Some even claimed that the former Kedah MB may face up to 1-year jail or RM3,000 fine or both, citing a provision from the Elections Offences Act 1954. However, is this truly the case?

Well, simply put, the answer is a resounding no. Join us as we dive into the relevant laws to find out why.

Offences under the Elections Offences Act 1954

Based on reports by the media, such as this one by Astro Awani, Sanusi’s act of showing his ballot paper can be deemed as a violation under the Elections Offences Act 1954 (Act 5). The report specifically mentioned Section 39 of the Act, which is as below:

Furthermore, the report, which was also quoted by other local news outlets, said that an offence under the provision may yield up to 1-year jail or RM3,000 fine or both, which would potentially make the re-appointed Kedah MB lose the Jeneri seat he comfortably won.

A proper look into the Elections Offences Act shows that this is simply not true, as the quoted punishment is prescribed under Section 5 of the Act, not Section 39. Specifically, Section 5(7) of Act 5 below

Clearly, the media has erred when reporting on the matter by hastily jumping to conclusion without consulting with a legal professional. More so, when Section 39 of the Act clearly mentions that the prohibition of disclosure of vote is only applicable in “any proceeding to question the election”, which makes the provision only operable when an election petition was filed.

Hence, the most relevant section to the Jeneri assemblyman’s action is Section 5 of the Election Offences Act regarding the maintenance of security at elections below:

Based on the video of the incident, Sanusi, who is a candidate for PRN communicated the candidate he is about to vote for by showing his ballot paper to the media personnel. While this may seem like an offence under Section 5(3) of Act 5 above at first glance, reading Section 5 as a whole makes it clear that none of the provisions applies to what Sanusi did.

This is because Section 5 mainly deals with candidates, agents, officers, police personnel, interpreters and any authorised person who obtained information about particulars of votes or voters from disclosing the information, as well as prohibits them from asking voters who they voted for or from disclosing who had applied for a ballot paper during the voting process. Furthermore, they are also barred from disclosing any information they obtained at the counting centre relating to who a voter voted for, among other things.

Accordingly, nothing in Section 5 or the Elections Offence Act as a whole expressly bars a voter from disclosing his own vote voluntarily. Therefore, the Kedah MB has not broken any law when he publicly showed his ballot paper at the polling centre.

As reported by BERNAMA, the former Kedah MB himself claimed that it wasn’t his intention to show the ballot paper but it accidentally opened when he was moving around for pictures. Regardless, based on what we’ve explained above, even if it was intentional, no action can be taken against Sanusi for doing so.

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