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Electoral reforms for GE14

  • The EC Chairman has not had any meetings with Bersih 2.0 or any Pakatan party, and his office did not reply to letters on electoral reforms for GE14.

By Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah

On 16th May 2017, together with other Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders, I accompanied the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) Chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah at the launch of the Electoral Reforms for GE14 programme in front of the Election Commission (EC)'s head office in Putrajaya.

Later, the group proceeded into the EC building to hand over the electoral reforms memorandum to the EC Chairman Datuk Seri Hashim Abdullah, hoping that there would be a meeting with him. A letter requesting for the meeting was sent earlier by Bersih 2.0 to his office. But, unfortunately (though not unexpected), we were received only by one of his officers. The officer informed us that the chairman was not around and that he will pass the memorandum to the chairman.

I was informed that the EC Chairman has not had any meetings with Bersih 2.0 or any of the PH component parties, and that his office did not reply to the numerous letters on this subject.

Two days later (18th May 2017), PH held a press conference and publicly ask the EC Chairman for a meeting, stating that the PH delegation to the meeting will be led by former EC Chairman Tan Sri Rashid Abdul Rashid who is currently Vice President of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM). At the time of writing, we have not heard anything from the EC Chairman.

In the meantime, we have two court cases involving the EC, where the State of Selangor (in an ongoing case at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur) and a group of seven Melaka voters (the case management at the High Court in Melaka is scheduled for 14th June 2017) are applying for a Judicial Review to seek a declaration that the current redelineation exercise by the EC is invalid and null.

On the Electoral Reforms for GE14, Bersih 2.0 stated that Malaysians face the prospect of another GE that is mired in bias, fraud and corruption. So, it is now a matter of urgency that the EC and the Federal Government take steps to restore the faith of the public in our most basic democratic right. The memorandum highlights reforms that can all be implemented within 10 months, before the necessary dissolution of Parliament in June 2018.

Corruption in Elections: There are no existing laws or structures governing political parties' income and expenditure; and no clear election laws that forbid the use of government machinery for election campaigning. Bribery and money politics continue to be widespread during elections, with little enforcement by the EC or the police.

Reforms

• The (independent) EC should take over the role of registering and regulating political parties.

• A political funding law (campaign contributions, limits on expenditures and mandatory disclosure and reporting)

• Asset declaration by elected representatives.

• The Enforcement Teams established under Section 27 of the Election Offences Act must be fully equipped with the resources, training and power to enforce election laws.

• A Code of Conduct for Caretaker Governments.

Electoral Roll: The Royal Commission of Inquiry on Immigrants in Sabah confirmed there were non-citizens on the electoral roll and the Malaysian Electoral Roll Analysis Project (MERAP) has found thousands of inconsistencies in the electoral roll.

Reforms

• Repeal Section 9A of the Elections Act to allow challenges to the electoral roll in court.

• Illegal alterations of the electoral roll or attempts to add voters to the electoral roll illegally should be made an election offence.

• Establish an Independent Electoral Roll Auditing Committee.

Absentee Voting: There has been limited information on how overseas Malaysians can register and apply to be overseas voters. There are concerns relating to the eligibility of absentee voters, storage and transportation of ballot boxes in advance voting, access for polling and counting agents and the possibility of voters appearing both as advance voters and ordinary voters.

Reforms

• Absentee voter must be military and police personnel, on-duty civilians, out-of-region civilians and overseas voters.

• Postal voting will be available only to overseas voters in countries without any designated overseas polling stations or voters that are 1000km away from the nearest polling station.

• All advance voting will take place one day before the national polling day.

• Polling Agents, Counting Agents and Booth Agents shall have free access to all advance polling centres.

• Counting of votes will be done at the close of advanced polling at the polling station. For overseas votes, advance and postal ballots will be counted at the overseas polling stations designated by the EC.

• All domestic advance voting will be conducted in civilian polling stations, not in military and police camps.

• The gazetted electoral roll will indicate advance voters' status. Military and police personnel will have their civilian IC numbers listed in the electoral roll alongside their service IC numbers.

Fair Election Boundaries: The Federal Constitution has clear provisions for the drawing of election boundaries to ensure fair boundaries, including constituency sizes in a state being ‘approximately equal' and the maintenance of local ties (to prevent gerrymandering). Currently, constituencies within the same state can vary from 37,000 voters to 150,000 voters.

Reforms

• The EC should re-do its delineation proposals in line with the Federal Constitution, requiring all constituencies in a state to be approximately equal in size.

• With an allowance given for rural constituencies, there should be a maximum deviation of +15% and -33% from the state average for constituency size.

• Article 46 of the Federal Constitution should be amended so the number of seats allocated per state is reflective of the number of voters in those states.

Independent EC: The appointment of Election Commissioners is made by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, but on the binding advice of the Prime Minister. This brings into question the independence of the appointees.

Reforms

• An EC Nomination Committee be formed to select appropriate candidates. The candidates must be approved by Parliament and the Agong.

• No EC Commissioner can be a member, employee or registered donor to a political party.

• The EC should report directly to Parliament and have control over its own budget. A Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform should be established, to receive reports submitted by the EC.

Election Observation: In GE13, election observation was considerably restricted. Accredited observers were not able to view the postal voting process in its entirety.

Reforms

• There should be open and public applications for accredited and non-partisan observers, both international and domestic.

• Observers should have adequate time and resources to fully monitor the elections.

• Observer reports should be made available to the public.

Automatic Voter Registration: As of March 2017, there are still over 4 million eligible citizens that have not registered to vote. Qualified citizens should be automatically registered to vote upon reaching the age of 21.

Minimum 21-day Campaign Period: A longer campaign period would allow voters more time to gather information and deliberate on the candidates.

Free and fair access to the media during the campaign period: A Code of Conduct for Media during elections should be developed by the EC, in consultation with media outlets, civil society and journalists.

This code should include granting equal opportunity and treatment to the various candidates, the dissemination of news based on concrete facts, impartiality and independence and refusing gifts, favours or special treatment from candidates or their representatives.

(Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (@saifuddinabd) is Chief Secretary of Pakatan Harapan and former Deputy Minister of Higher Education.)

 

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