Malaysian Civil Society’s Memorandum on Electoral Reforms in Malaysia 2010
Presented to the Election Commission
Initiated by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections 2.0 (BERSIH 2.0) July 22, 2010
We the undersigned civil society groups hold that the only recipe for stability, progress and prosperity for Malaysia is a rigorous and healthy multiparty democracy.
Since the 2008 elections, Malaysia is at the juncture of transition from authoritarianism to democracy. While the public have benefitted from competition between the BN and PR which brought about some administrative reforms and more inclusive policies, it is worrying that some quarters would employ desperate means to alter election outcome or to shape the future election outcome through defection, abuse of state apparatus and deliberate denial of fresh elections when the old mandate is in question.
Come the next general elections, should some political parties refuse to accept “democracy as the only game in town” and attempt to compete for power by rigging elections or rejecting election outcomes, Malaysia may sink into political turmoil like Thailand or Fiji.
The role of the Election Commission (EC) in ensuring political stability and democratisation is therefore paramount. Article 114(2) of the Federal Constitution stipulates the expectation of the EC to “[enjoy] public confidence”. This means the Election Commission should conduct elections with integrity and impartiality to ensure universal suffrage, a level playing field for all political parties and candidates informed choices and facilitation of informed choices and inclusive representation, following international best practices.
The EC can and must protect multiparty democracy by ensuring clean and fair elections, in their administration and enforcement of law and also through advocacy of necessary changes to the Constitution, laws and by-laws.
Driven by a common desire for a better tomorrow for Malaysia, we urge the EC bring about the following reforms. Shall the EC hold different opinion, we hope it would engage us and the larger public for consultation and deliberation. We also call upon the Malaysian public to advance the reform agenda in their own available channels.
A. Suffrage and Polling
1. Automatic Registration – We hold that all eligible voters should be automatically registered as voters upon eligibility and their status and addresses will be updated via synchronisation of electoral rolls and national registration database. This would do away many flaws in the existing electoral rolls from phantom voters, incomplete addresses, address change to multiple registration.
We are extremely concerned that the EC has not only rejected the idea of automatic registration of voters, but also has recently imposed unreasonable restrictions such as limited forms available to Assistant Registrars in voter registration drives despite that some 4 million eligible voters have yet to be registered. Obstruction of universal suffrage is a cardinal offence against democracy. The EC must immediately remove the resistance to voter registration drive and propose automatic registration to the government, or risk losing public confidence completely and making itself unfit constitutionally.
2 Lowering of voting age – We hold that all Malaysians of 18 years old or above should be entitled to vote and be voted in parliamentary and state elections. They are mature enough to participate in public life and greatly affected by government policies in education and employment. Nearly 90% of the countries in the world now – including our neighbours Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia – have adopted 18 years or lower as the voting age. There is no reason we should be left behind.
3 Absentee Voting for All – We hold that the current separate postal vote list should be abolished but all voters – civilians or members of security forces, whether home or abroad – may opt for absentee voting if they have valid excuses and apply before nomination day. This is perfectly possible with automatic registration and a longer campaign period. The abolition of separate postal voter lists means the police and military voters can now choose to vote like civilians if they are not on duty on polling days. This will eliminate fears and allegations that secrecy and free will are violated in postal voting.
4. Indelible Ink – We hold that indelible ink should be used in all elections to prevent multiple voting. The Cabinet had in fact made the decision to do in 2007 and the rumour of sabotage that was used to justify its cancellation had been proven to be completely baseless. The EC risks being seen as covertly allowing multiple voting should it insist to oppose indelible ink.
B. Constituency Redelienation
5. Minimising gerrymandering – We hold that constituencies should be delineated based on the communities of interests, amongst others defined by administrative boundaries. Therefore, no parliamentary and state constituencies shall cross the boundary of local authorities or administrative districts. Similarly, no local communities shall be partitioned by electoral boundaries. The Thirteenth Schedule of the Federal Constitution stipulates that local ties should be respected.
6. Minimising malapportionment of constituencies – We hold that all constituencies should be equal in electorate size as far as possible as stipulated by the Thirteenth Schedule of the Federal Constitution. The disparity between constituencies must be strictly based on transporational difficulty, as explicitly provided by the Constitution. That nearly one-third of Selangor state constituencies have more electorate than the Sabak Bernam parliamentary constituency in the same state in the 2008 elections shows that the EC has blatantly violated the constitutional provision in the last constituency redelineation exercise. We demand that in the coming redelineation exercise, the EC should ensure that in no instance can any state constituency have an electorate larger than the 50% of electorate of the smallest parliamentary constituency in the same state.
C Contestation and Media
7. Meaningful Campaign Period – We hold that the EC should ensure that the campaign period should be 21 days in minimum and propose a change to the Election Act to this effect. Longer campaign period would not only allow voters more time to gather information and deliberate on their choices, it would also reduce the election tension as the parties would have to stretch their resources for a longer period. Twenty-one days is not unreasonable as the British Colonial Government granted a campaign period twice as long, 42 days, on the first national elections in 1955.
8. Legal provision for Free and Fair Media Access – We hold that the EC should propose for the Elections Act to be amended to compel state-owned media to provide free and equal coverage for all major political parties; and private media to provide fair access. As for the next elections, the EC must press for the national broadcaster, Radio and Television Malaysia (RTM) to allocate airtime proportionally for all political parties that contest more than three seats and organise a televised prime-ministerial debate as what was held in the United Kingdom last May.
D. Election Finance
9. Control of Party Expenses – We hold that the EC must propose for the Election Offences Act to be amended so that expenses such as advertising cost incurred by political parties will be accounted for on pro-rata basis as part of the candidates’ election expenses.
10. Public Finance of Party Expense – We hold that the EC should call upon the Federal and State Governments to financially support all political parties based primarily on vote share in the previous elections.
E. Multiparty democracy
11. Right to Contest Election after Resignation – We hold that the EC should propose to the Federal and State Governments to remove obstacles in the respective constitutions so that elected representatives may recontest in elections after resignation. Most elected representatives are elected on party tickets. Should they change their party affiliation, they have the duty to resign and seek new mandate if they wish. Changing these obstacles would take away the excuse of elected representatives to defect but not resign.
12. Administrative Neutrality – We hold that the EC must propose for the Election Offences Act to be amended such that no major and non-urgent decision including development projects and funding can be made by Federal, State and Local governments concerning the nation, a state or a parliamentary or state constituency after the Parliament/ State Legislature is dissolved or the seat is declared vacant.
13. Restoration of Local Government Elections – We hold that the EC should cooperate with any interested state governments to restore local elections in the spirit of Article 113(4) of the Federal Constitution. The EC must not act in violation of what the Constitution demands of it.
F. Electoral Administration
14. Full Judicial Scrutiny on Election Petitions – We hold that the EC should propose for the Election Offences Act to be amended so that election petitions can be filed on all grounds of electoral manipulation. The Act was amended in 2003 that the integrity of electoral rolls can no longer be challenged in the court of law.
15. Right to Observe Elections – We hold that the EC must prepare a transparent and inclusive guideline for domestic and international observers to be registered for the coming elections. The EC should also propose for the Election Act to be amended to provide for the right to observe elections.