Dirty tactics politicians use to win elections

Malaysia’s GE14 is already shaping up to be the dirtiest and most bitterly divisive election in the country’s history. Incumbent PM Najib Razak is facing his biggest electoral challenge yet – a reinvigorated opposition led by former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Before a single vote has been cast, Najib has already been roundly criticised for “downright cheating” and resorting to “dirty tactics”. While it remains to be seen what lengths Najib will go to secure his electoral victory, he is by no means the first politician to play dirty in an election. There is a plethora of dirty tactics politicians can use to win  steal an election.



Gerrymandering is the commonplace practice of drawing electoral districts in a distorted way for partisan gain. With the right information on voter demographics and “connections” with the electoral commission, an incumbent politician can tap on distorted support arising from a redrawing of his constituency. On a larger scale, electoral boundaries can be redrawn to dilute opposition votes by congregating them in a single district. Historically, gerrymandering has been known to create lopsided election results. It’s little wonder that gerrymandering is a popular tactic employed even in Liberal Democracies like the United States. In late March, Najib put forward a highly controversial proposal that would redraw Malaysia’s electoral boundaries, giving his ruling Barisan Nasional coalition an unfair advantage. The redrawing of boundaries grouped large amounts of opposition voters into fewer constituencies and divided constituencies along racial lines. Assuming Malaysian voters voted the same way as they did in 2013, the new electoral boundaries would give BN an additional 8 seats.

Dead voters


It goes without saying that if you are dead, you can’t cast your vote. Yet, dead or “phantom” voters make regular appearances during elections. Although the person may be deceased, their name lives on through illegal voter registration or voter impersonation. Individuals who can’t vote (non-citizens, resident workers) register under the deceased person’s name and cast their vote for a particular party or candidate. Malaysia’s last general elections were plagued with allegations of so-called “phantom voters” which helped boost BN’s margins in hotly contested seats.

Voter disenfranchisement


Disfranchisement is the revocation of the right to vote of a person or group of people, or through practices, prevention of a person exercising the right to vote. In the United States, disenfranchisement is often tied to felony convictions. An estimated 2.2 million of the nearly 6 million Americans barred from voting because of prior felony convictions are black. Given that the conviction rates for Blacks are disproportionately higher than that of Whites, felon disenfranchisement is a popular means of denying would-be opposition voters the right to vote. In Malaysia, Global Bersih, an independent electoral watchdog raised several concerns with the electoral commission’s rules on overseas voting. Pos Malaysia Berhad will be fully managing the sending and return of ballots. But there is a risk that thousands of eligible voters will be disenfranchised if their ballots do not reach them or if they’re unable to return their ballots in time. An estimated 1 million Malaysians reside in Singapore, Southern Thailand, Brunei, and Kalimantan. Yet, these voters are unable to cast their ballots overseas and must return home to Malaysia. These Malaysians risk being disenfranchised for logistical and financial reasons.

Location of polling stations


Even the location and number of polling stations can be highly politicised. Conveniently situating polling stations in neighbourhoods known to support the incumbent candidate or party would inevitably confer an unfair advantage. Conversely, deliberately situating polling stations further away from pro opposition neighbourhoods increases the opportunity cost of voting for opposition voters. The logistical challenge and time spent travelling may compel some voters to stay home instead. In Malaysia, former PM Mahathir Mohamad claimed that 1,000 Langkawi voters were registered to vote in Alor Star, a 2-hour journey by ferry and car. The long journey may dissuade many from voting, he said.

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