To build trust in the Election Commission, review accreditation of observers and membership of the EC, as well as the process of registering political parties and delineating constituencies.
THE Election Commission (EC) has now finished their public display of the draft supplementary electoral roll for the first quarter of the year. This step allows the public to check the roll, making sure it is accurate.
It is impossible for the draft to be checked at the EC premises itself. Some lists are almost 500 pages long. There is one list for each one of the 222 parliamentary constituencies, and the public review period is only for 14 days.
When Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof was chairman of the EC, the drafts were given to key stakeholders in an electronic format so that they could check the list from their offices. But this time, the EC forced stakeholders to review only the printed papers they display at their premises.
The EC also refused to provide photocopying facilities, which means you need to take pictures or bring a photocopier.
But you would need to bring your own diesel-powered generator, too, because the EC would not let you use their electricity.
Abdul Aziz retired in January 2016. His successor Datuk Seri Mohd Hashim Abdullah is making it difficult for discrepancies in the roll to be traced, and this will certainly destroy some of the trust in the EC.
In the last General Election (GE13), the EC accredited the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs as an official election observer. I headed a team of 325 volunteers to observe GE13 across the peninsula, plus six overseas voting stations. We produced our report three days after GE13, outlining six recommendations.
Our first recommendation was that the EC should appoint election observers early so that they have ample time to recruit and train their volunteers.
The process and criteria to accredit observers must be made more transparent and consistent. Any organisation interested in being observers should be allowed to apply so that the opportunity is available for all interested groups.
The terms and conditions of appointment should be benchmarked against international standards. These conditions should not be easily amended, to prevent the EC arbitrarily imposing new conditions during the observation process.
The appointment of independent observers should also be accompanied by sufficient funds. In GE13, we received only RM50,000 from the EC but our cost was RM297,000. We had to beg for donations from domestic and foreign funders to do the job properly.
Second, we recommended that the EC itself should be improved with a view to earning more trust from the public. We wanted members of the EC to be made accountable to, and be appointed by a permanent and bipartisan special parliamentary committee.
This parliamentary committee should have the power to provide inputs to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the appointment and removal of EC members.
Members of the EC should be recruited transparently from among experts in the field, preferably employing a competitive application and headhunting process. The key criteria for EC membership should be the individual’s core competence and his or her ability to command public confidence.
The EC should not be made a civil servant retirement club.
I once joked with Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar, when he was still deputy chairman of the EC, that if they appointed me to the EC, the average age would drop quite significantly. I am not sure if they took that joke well.
The EC should also have the powers to recruit and manage its own staff, independent from the civil service. The current approach of seconding staff from the civil service should stop, though former and existing civil servants should not be barred from applying to join the EC.
Third, the EC must open its doors to specialist groups who have undertaken in-depth studies about the electoral roll. The groups themselves should take a cooperative and non-confrontational approach so that they can work together with the EC, rather than being perceived as coming from the “other” side. But for civil society to change our tack, the EC itself must be more welcoming, too.
Fourth, the method of registering political parties must be reformed. One method is for the Registrar of Societies to be freed from political influence, with matters related to registration and administration of political parties overseen by a cross-partisan body.
Fifth, we proposed that the next delineation exercise must ensure equal representation of votes. At the moment, the constituency sizes vary too widely, with some constituencies being many times bigger than others.
Our suggestion was for the size variation to be limited to no more than 15% from the average size of constituencies in each state.
And sixth, we believe a more transparent system for political financing must be developed. This is the only proposal that has been acted upon and I am glad that the political financing committee formed by the Government has already completed their job.
But while actions have been taken on our proposal regarding political financing, none of the six recommendations has been fully implemented. If we want our electoral processes to be more trusted, then those in power need to act quickly.
Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my). The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.