Towards a better democracy

  • Along The Watchtower
  • Wednesday, 16 Sep 2020

AS a political battleground, Sabah is bursting at the seams. Never has there been such a crowded election in Malaysia as the one scheduled to be held on Sept 26 in the Land Below the Wind.

A total of 447 candidates – 56 independents and nominees from 16 parties – will vie for the 73 seats in Sabah’s 16th election. It looks like a high stakes free-for-all with multipartite contests in all seats.

A record number of 11 candidates are standing in the Bengkoka seat while three other constituencies will see nine-cornered fights. Eight candidates will face each other in six seats, and seven will fight in 13 seats. Twenty-six of the constituencies will involve six candidates, and 15 will comprise five each.

Parti Cinta Sabah is the only party contesting in all 73 seats, 19 more than the caretaker Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal-led Warisan Plus, which is standing in 54 consti- tuencies. Usno is contesting 47, LDP 46, Barisan Nasional 41, Perikatan Nasional 29, PGRS 28, PPRS 24 and PBS 22.

Regardless of the many parties in the scramble, the main fight will be between two alliances: the newly formed Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) and Warisan Plus.

GRS, announced by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on nomination day last Saturday, is made up of Perikatan, Barisan (Umno and MCA), PBS, SAPP, PSTA and PBRS; and Warisan Plus comprises Parti Warisan Sabah, Upko, DAP, PKR and Amanah.

To add to the jumble, some parties from within the rival coalitions have opted to use their own logos for campaigning and on ballot papers.

As tangled as it may be, there is no doubt that the Sabah election will significantly impact the political direction of the country. For one, it would act as a referendum on the issue of party hopping by elected representatives.

Two weeks before the nomination for Sabah polls, another important development towards the betterment of Malaysia’s democracy occurred, albeit without much fanfare: A comprehensive review of Malaysia’s electoral system and related laws came to an end. It was the first such review after 63 years of independence.

After a two-year study, the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) chaired by former Election Commission (EC) chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman submitted its report containing 49 recommendations to the prime minister.

The changes are in five main areas: empowerment of the EC, providing a level playing field for all political parties in elections, enabling voters to exercise their rights, and enhancing the system and also the election process.

The ERC’s proposals cover the roles of the election management body, delimitation process, voters’ registration, supervision of political parties, political funding, election campaigns, media and elections, process and procedure during elections, code of conduct for parties, laws and regulations relating to observers, enforcement of elections, caretaker government, coordination of agencies, and voter education on elections and democracy.

Among the most significant changes proposed is the introduction of a proportionate representation system for the Dewan Rakyat

Under the system, political parties would submit a list of candidates based on the number of Parliamentary constituencies in each state, currently totaling 222.

However, the ERC has recommended maintaining the existing first-past-the-post system for state polls and also that candidates be allowed to only contest one seat – either the Dewan Rakyat or state assembly.

Two days ago, I had the opportunity to ask ERC chief executive Amerul Muner Mohammad about the rationale behind recommending different systems for state and Parliament representation.

His response: “Malaysian voters expect their wakil rakyat to attend to their problems, whether it involves roads, water supply or other local matters. As we do not yet have local council elections, retaining FPTP (the first-past-the-post system) at state level is a good solution to enable people to vote for candidates who could resolve these matters or highlight their needs.

“As for Parliament, it should be about the quality of MPs and their role in formulating laws and policies. Parties would have a free hand in nominating MPs based on their abilities to raise pertinent issues.

“And voter education is vital. Voters should be able to evaluate the proposed names for ability and integrity, for example, and ask if these are the people they want as representatives in the Dewan Rakyat.”

Since the submission of the ERC’s report, questions have been asked about the lack of a proposal for an “anti-party hopping law”. Apparently, the proposed system has a built-in solution for this issue.

“No, it is not mentioned specifically in the recommendations but it comes under the system proposed. Any MP can jump to another party, but the seat will still belong to the party which won,” explained Amerul.

As for the state-level first-past-the-post system, a proposed “recall election” regulation could be used to remove an elected representative outside of the traditional electoral cycle for specific cases, such as party hopping, for instance. So there is no need for an anti-party hopping law.

What the ERC has proposed instead is the integration of several statutes – from the Federal Constitution, Election Offences Act 1954, Election Commission Act 1957, Election (Postal Voting) Regulations 2003, Societies Act 1966, to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009, among others – into a single, inclusive election law.

Among the other main proposals is one about distributing electoral functions among three different bodies: the Election Commission and two new agencies, Election Malaysia and the Electoral Boundary Commission.

The ERC has also recommended that the dissolution date of the Dewan Rakyat and state assemblies be announced six months in advance of elections and the nomination period be extended to at least five days.

It has also proposed that 30% of seats be allocated to women candidates.

Will our MPs adopt the recommendations? For the good of the nation, they should.

Media consultant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this nugget of wisdom from Plato: One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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