BY RAMON NAVARATNAM
I WOULD like to congratulate Datuk Seri Mohd Hashim Abdullah on his recent promotion to the prestigious but onerous post of Election Commission chairman.
I am sure voters will also laud him loudly for giving his fresh and independent insights on how we can modernise the electoral commission and the electoral process. We need radical reforms to our somewhat stale electoral system.
Indeed, Mohd Hashim has started on the right foot by stating publicly that he might be introducing some electoral changes to put us on par with systems enjoyed by more mature developed countries!
And why not? After all, we are on the threshold of becoming a developed nation – if we achieve our target date of 2020! Thus, we have to reform our election system accordingly.
The time and timing for electoral reforms and the revamp of the Election Commission (EC) and election system are excellent. Firstly, we have a new EC chairman who is blessed with the challenge, opportunity and amanah (trust) to improve the image and public perception of the EC.
Secondly, the next general election is due by 2018 which is not too far away especially given the enormous preparations required by the EC and all its branches throughout the country. Electoral reforms must be subject to careful and expeditious studies early enough. The more sophisticated Malaysian electorate will want to participate actively and comprehensively in the introduction of any proposed reform.
Some proposed fundamental changes are as follow.
1. Compulsory voting: It is disconcerting to note the EC chairman’s statement that although we have 13.3 million voters in our country, only 11.3 million or 85% exercise their right to vote! That is, I think, irresponsible and apathetic on their part. These indifferent and careless registered voters must be taught that good citizenship entails rights as well as responsibilities.
Hence, the proposal to introduce compulsory voting will, I believe, be most welcomed by the vast majority of right-thinking Malaysians. I would urge the EC chairman to give this issue top priority.
2. Automatic registration: Again, it is frustrating to learn that over four million eligible Malaysians have not registered to vote. They constitute a large proportion of our youth who should know better. They will be the first to complain about one problem or another but they themselves do little about helping to solve them.
These four million potential voters should be required to register as voters and become better citizens – or pay a penalty if they do not register to vote. We cannot allow about 25% of eligible voters to undermine our electoral system and democratic development and progress.
3. Delineation of constituencies: This constitutional requirement has been fulfilled in Sarawak. Sabah and peninsular Malaysia should do the same as soon as possible. The people will soon want to know why they have not been consulted and when the delineation process will roll at the grassroots level. I understand from past experience that the delineation process can be very challenging and can take at least six months to unwind. The next general election need not wait for 2018. They can be held earlier, taking into account the political turmoil, uncertainty and disunity that we are now facing.
Rallies, demonstrations and signature campaigns have their respective roles in any lively democracy but there are serious limitations. Hence, the earlier the next general election is held, the better.
Thus, it is paramount that the new chairman, and the EC as a whole, decide to start the delineation exercise for Sabah and peninsular Malaysia.
This is a golden opportunity for Mohd Hashim to:
i) Revamp the EC to improve its public perception and claims that it is independent and that it conducts free and fair elections;
ii) Help Government to prove to our people first and then the world that we are indeed a mature democracy that encourages free and fair elections for all its citizens; and
iii) Prove to all Malaysians and the rest of the world that our Government is truly voted into power by the people and for the people and therefore enjoys the full confidence of the rakyat. This will enable the Government and our beloved country to progress with peace, prosperity, stability and genuine national unity for the long term!
TAN SRI RAMON NAVARATNAM
Asli Center for Public Policy Studies