Election Commission (EC) deputy chairperson Wan Ahmad Wan Omar reiterated that the EC is just a "management body" under the law to manage elections, rather than an enforcement agency."We are guided by the Attorney-General's Office. The laws given to us are management laws," he said.
He was speaking today at a forum 'The Election Laws, Election Commission and Electoral Reform' organised by the Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham).
Conceding that electoral reforms lie heavily on the political will of the BN government, the Election Commission (EC) however refused to use en bloc resignation as a way to pressure the ruling party to accept its reform proposals.
“You are asking too much. You've got to be reasonable here. We are working within the system,” said EC deputy chairperson Wan Ahmad Wan Omar during a public forum at Petaling Jaya today.
He was responding to the challenge of the Bar Council's Human Rights Committee chairman Andrew Khoo which demanded all the commissioners to resign if their proposals were rejected by the government.
His reply was met with a loud “no” from some 300 members of public who attended the forum entitled 'The Election Laws, Election Commission and Electoral Reform' organised by the Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham).
“If you put a former judge in the EC, maybe he can push for whatever reforms. But with the current system, he needs to work within the system,” Wan Ahmad said.
Like the electoral reform forum held on Tuesday, in which Wan Ahmad was booed and heckled by a hostile crowd, the role and power of the EC in ensuring clean and fair elections was again hotly debated in today's forum.
The EC number two reiterated that his commission had submitted various proposals to the government but whether they will be translated into laws will still depend on the government's policy.
“Please understand this is the system and we can have no way to go against the system.
“This is the system in Malaysia... the attorney-general will draft the bill only when they get the signal from the government,” he stressed.
'We don't have seats in Parliament'
Comparing the EC in Australia, which was given a seat in the Parliament to present its bills and views, Wan Ahmad said that it is the minister who tables the bills in Malaysia.
“We don't have seats in Parliament to debate our proposal. Definitely they (government) won't allow it because this is our system.”
His statement did not go down well with the crowd including Proham executive committee member KC Vohrah, who argued that the law amendment process should be the other way round. The former judge, who once served in the AG's Chambers, said that it should be the EC that drafts the bill and lobbies the AG's Chambers to accept it. “When I was in the (AG's) Chambers, they (government agency) came and argued, and sometimes we agreed with them,” he said.
'Untrue EC powerless'
Responding to Wan Ahmad, Ambiga as the second speaker cited section 27E of the Election Offences Act to prove that the EC has actually broader powers than it conceives. According to Ambiga, the section empowers the EC enforcement team during the campaign to "ensure that written laws relating to election are being complied with".
She argued that the EC also has the power, under the current laws, to call other authorities to assist the commission in carrying out its duties. Therefore, although the EC has no prosecution powers, it has the responsibility to lodge police reports or request other authorities to take action, when faced with cases of irregularities.
The former Bar Council president also quizzed Wan Ahmad on the issue of postal votes for Malaysians overseas, who are being denied a chance to vote.
"From the feedback we received, it is impossible for them to go to the Malaysian embassies to vote," said Ambiga.
She reminded Wan Ahmad that 50,000 to 200,000 Sarawakians in the peninsula were disenfranchised during the state election in April because they did not qualify as postal voters.
Automatic registration 'doable'
While on the subject, Ambiga also requested Wan Ahmad to explain whether the members of the territorial army (Wataniah), that the government has suggested to form in every parliamentary constituency nationwide, will be registered as postal voters.
Wan Ahmad responded that the EC is looking into replacing the current postal voting system, which has been criticised for not transparent and vulnerable to abuse, with an advance voting systen, where all police and military personnel will cast their votes before the polling day, but the voting process will be exactly the same as ordinary voters on polling day.
He also said that all full-time students and civil servant abroad, together with their spouses, are eligible to be postal voters but the current number of overseas voters only stands at 2,500. Hence, he added that the EC had appointed assistant registration officers at Malaysian missions overseas to facilitate the overseas voting process.
On the issue of automatic registration, one of the Bersih 2.0 demands, Ambiga dismissed the EC's excuse that it would force people to vote, and that it would lead to a low voter turnout rate. She argued that if the people are automatically registered as voters when they reach 21 years of age, they still have a choice whether to vote or not.
As for the problem of lower turnout, Ambiga countered that the outcome of automatic registration would result in the opposite, as it overcomes people's laziness in getting themselves registered under the current system. She added automatic registration is highly doable if the National Registration Department (NRD) database, that is linked to the EC, is clean and has high integrity.
However, Wan Ahmad insisted that “in a functioning democracy, people should be given a choice and you don't force people to register if they are not interested in politics”.
Another reason against automatic registration is that 40 percent of the population do not change their registered address in their MyKad to their current residential address, therefore they would have to travel to another constituency to vote if the automatic registration system is based on the information in their MyKad.
Wan Ahmad also disclosed that the EC had submitted the proposal to the government but the latter was not convinced. On the proposed biometric verification system, many of those present had raised their doubts including the high probability of failure in recognising finger print especially when one grows older.
Ambiga Sreenevasan further pointed out that the federal constitution allows the election commissioners to enjoy the same status as a federal court judge.
“They are in a special position... but they don't believe it themselves. That's the frustration we have,” she said.
Ambiga explained that it was the frustration and disappointment with the EC's passiveness, coupled with its inaction on the many cases of irregularities occurred during the Sarawak state election, that prompted Bersih 2.0 to march on July 9.
“We don't have the luxury of time. The 13th general election is not far off,” she added.
Even the moderator of the forum, Ramon Navaratnam, another Proham executive committee member, commented that the 'civil-servant mindset' of the election commissioners is one of the factors behind the EC's conservativeness.
“I think we must realise when you have former civil servants (appointed as election commissioners), most of them after 30 years in the civil service, tend not to displease the government of the day,” said Navaratnam, who is also a former civil servant.
Therefore he suggested that prominent individuals not from the civil service should be appointed as election commissioners.
All the seven current election commissioners appointed by the Agong under the advice of the prime minister are former senior civil servants.
These are among the other issues touched on at the forum:
Minimum 21 days campaign period
* Longer campaign period is crucial especially for postal voters residing overseas, as the ballots take a longer time to arrive at polling stations.
* We not only want to know what the party's manifesto are but we also want to know the candidate's portfolio.
* It will also allow candidates more time to disseminate information to rural areas and work the ground.
* 21 days of campaigning period may be too much but seven days too little and the EC is seriously considering extending into a reasonable period.
* Police personnel on duty during elections have said that they don't have enough manpower to stand-by for 24 hours.
* longer campaign period it incurs additional cost.
* Malaysia is very advanced in information and communication technology, as there are rarely any new political parties, the manifestos of the party can be download off the Internet.
Free and fair access to media
* Malaysian mainstream media fails to practice proportionate, fair and objective reporting for political parties of all divide.
* EC must exercise to press for all media agencies, especially state-funded media agencies such as Radio and Television Malaysia (RTM) and Bernama to allocate proportionate and objective coverage for all political parties.
* The government argues that RTM is official broadcast station and they are worried if it is opened up to all other parties it will be abused to confuse the public.
* The are no such predicament for other private stations and we have written to them and encouraged for equal coverage be given.
The EC members are appointed in such a manner that it sole purpose is to serve their 'masters' in Putrajaya.
SPR berdepan krisis kepercayaan?
PSM 6 released...
Meanwhile, The Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) 6 have been released today after they were detained since July 2 for undefined charges during the Bersih 2.0 crackdown.
It is understood that they were released at 5.30pm at the Jinjang police station, following public outrage and sustained protests over their arbitrary detention.
The six PSM members - Choo Chon Kai, Sarat Babu, M Sarasvathy, M Sukumaran, A Letchumanan and Sungai Siput parliamentarian Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj - were initially detained on suspicion of planning to wage war against the King.
It was learnt that the charge was however changed several times, at one point accusing them of being ringleaders of the Bersih 2.0 rally on July 9.
Semua enam tahanan EO dibebaskan
Jeyakumar and 5 other PSM leaders freed: Police must apologize