Before the 2013 Elections, the spate of political violence began before the announcement of the dissolution of Parliament. Tensions were heightened by allegations that the Home Ministry and the police took a lackadaisical approach to reports of violence. The then-Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein blamed the opposition for the rise of violence and the lack of police officers on the ground.
The 2013 General Elections in Malaysia was considered one of the most violent elections in Malaysian history. Prior to the beginning of the campaign period, political harassment was primarily limited to blocking access to meetings, loud noise, stone and egg throwing, and paint smearing on trucks and houses. However, some violence between party supporters has taken place. Then, the violence escalated to the harassment and violence against candidates, party supporters and even media workers. According to James Chin, a professor of political science at the Malaysian campus of Australia’s Monash University, he said the main reason was that in the past five years, there had been tremendous growth in the number of right-wing groups.
Hundreds of cases of election violence have been reported since campaigning for tightly contested 2013 polls got underway. A total of 387 incidents were reported in the first three days of the two-week campaign, and at least 15 people have been arrested over the violence. They were in possession of weapons such as machetes and suspected of slashing rival party supporters and criminal intimidation, mostly while putting up flags and banners. Hundreds of more incidents had been reported earlier, between the 13 April dissolution of Parliament and the official start to campaigning.
Two of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s campaign offices were attacked amid reports of increasing violence ahead of the 2013 election.
Apart from the physical violation, well-planned attacks on the websites of several Malaysian news services and online newspapers providing coverage of opposition candidates also raise serious freedom of speech concerns before Election Day.
Malaysiakini, a popular online newspaper that is often critical of the government, has experienced technical interference that has prevented users from accessing its website from inside Malaysia. Readers have experienced slow-downs or sudden drops in service when browsing the website, which has been unpredictable and varied in time. Malaysiakini has been the target of distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks in the past. On 28 April, the newspaper reported that several of its Twitter accounts had been hacked and taken over; the accounts were recovered on 30 April.
On 11 April, a major DDOS attack brought down three London-based radio web portals – Radio Free Malaysia, Radio Free Sarawak, and Sarawak Report – that have regularly been critical of the Malaysia federal government and the state government of Sarawak. The attack, emanating from computers around the world, generated over 130 million hits on the three websites in three-and-a-half hours, rapidly overwhelming them. All three websites were only able to return to full operation on 16 April.
Radio Free Malaysia, which began operations in March 2013, delivers election-related news to Sarawak’s urban population and openly supports Pakatan Rakyat. Radio Free Sarawak and the Sarawak Report, which broadcast primarily to indigenous people in Sarawak’s rural areas, frequently report on government corruption and criticize government policies affecting rural residents. In addition to the DDOS attacks, since the start of the election period Radio Free Sarawak broadcasts in the Iban language over shortwave radio lost clear transmission after jamming with noise transmitted on the same shortwave frequency.
Malaysia election violence spikes, News 24, April 24, 2013, http://www.news24.com/World/News/Malaysia-election-violence-spikes-20130424.
Manirajan Ramasamy and Liau Y-Sing, Attacks mar Malaysia’s election campaign, The Sydney Morning Herald, April 25, 2013, http://www.smh.com.au/world/attacks-mar-malaysias-election-campaign-20130425-2igdj.html.
William Cornforth, Malaysia: Violence, Cyber Attacks Threaten Elections, Human Rights Watch, May 1, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/05/01/malaysia-violence-cyber-attacks-threaten-elections.
Clean and Fair? An Election Observation Report for GE13, PEMANTAU, 2013, http://www.bersih.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/PEMANTAU-Report-FINAL-10-Sept-2013.pdf.