Once under fire for the reversal of the decision to use the indelible ink in the 2008 polls, former Election Commission chief Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman has come out to say he was all for the use of the ink.
In fact, he said, the reversal of the decision days before the election had hit him so hard that he considered it “the biggest failure” in his 26 years as an “election man”.
“I was toying with the idea of resigning, but advised against by a lot of trusted friends not to do so to avoid a kind of constitutional crisis,” he revealed in an email interview with Malaysiakini last week.
Supporting the use of the ink, not because there has ever been evidence of cheating, but to convince the public of the integrity of the polls, Abdul Rashid said the EC was then all set to implement it.
As such, he said, the fact that the EC today is claiming to be “studying the use” still, is a “big joke”.
Camera shy, perhaps (having turned down a request for the interview to be recorded on video), and reluctant to make enemies in his years as a retiree, Abdul Rashid is still mostly candid in his answers to Malaysiakini, particularly on the topic of electoral reform.
He said that the attitude of some sectors of the government who contributed to the reversal of the decision to use the ink was “uncivilised and stupid”, and contributed to the protests spilling onto the streets last July.
Abdul Rashid, was, however, reluctant to elaborate when asked about more controversial issues, like the sudden spike of citizens, and thus voters, in Sabah during his term.
He comments on this “hot potato”, and what he sees as emerging hope for electoral reform in Malaysia in the two-part interview. The content has edited for language, clarity and brevity.
Malaysiakini - What demands were made to you as EC chief by civil society, and how far did you accommodate such demands? What challenges did you face in accommodating this, especially from governments leaders and agencies?
A.Rashid - I could not recall any form of demand coming from the government or government agencies. Representations were made by political parties such as DAP, PAS, and PKR. Upon requests, several meetings were held and their grouses were keenly noted.
Two issues stood out, ie, the electoral roll and the indelible ink. As for the former, they demanded a complete revamp to the registration and the electoral roll systems. That demand involved structural changes within the context of our electoral laws.
It involved the amendments to the (Federal) Constitution, the Elections Act and last but not least, the registration regulations. While concurring with some of their views, the process would be very long-winded, unless there existed some form of political will to straighten the path.Our advice was that in the meantime the current roll which was continuously being cleaned should continue to be accepted and used.
On the question of the use of indelible ink... it was accepted by the commission although no one had ever come forward with a proof of cheating in any of the six general elections during my 26 years’ tenure. Nevertheless, we wanted to really convince every one that there has never been any case of cheating in the election, particularly (during) polling.
It has been public knowledge that the government had a different view over the matter, and it had to be abandoned at the last minute. If it can be considered as a failure on my part to deliver an important duty, this is about the worst in the whole of my career as an election man.
The (decision to disallow indelible ink) came on the April 13, 2008, the day parliament was dissolved.
I was toying with the idea of resigning, but advised against by a lot of trusted friends not to do so to avoid a kind of constitutional crisis.
The whole of the dissenting population was after me. They even discolored my house fence with red paint as they were stupidly being coerced and convinced by political activists that I was the culprit behind the decision to abandon the proposed indelible ink system.
Now that the electoral body talked about the indelible ink again and with the backing of the government, so they say...
To me it sounds a bit weird when someone in the EC pronounced that they are undertaking a study on that something, which had obviously been thoroughly studied and considered before.
What a big joke this is.
Looking back to your time as EC chief, did you expect to see such events like the Bersih rallies and the parliamentary select committee on electoral reform to take place?
I have long expected that such agitation would spill on to the streets. That was why I persuaded the election panel to at least accept the indelible ink proposal, although one or two quietly resented and even tried to influence the powers that be against it. A very uncivilized and stupid move, I consider.
My principle has always been that we should not defend something which is defenseless, especially when the matter involves public interests.
There has been a lot of attention on electoral practices. How do you see this progress? Do you see this as a sign of a maturing society? Will it help the government take a more active role in reform?
I have clear thoughts on the major weaknesses of the electoral system. That aside, democracy in whatever form it takes, is very much alive in Malaysia. Democratic elections conducted for about 12 times had resulted in the establishment of legitimate and responsible governments since the country achieved its independence in 1957.
Protests and rallies happening lately signaled the entry of a new era in the political outlook and vision of our maturing society. The country has to wake up and intelligently try to accommodate and not to confront in an abject and arrogant manner. The demand to strengthen democratic practices are done in the public interest, although politically-initiated or even politically-motivated.
They are the requirements of a modern society. Gone are the days when a crying baby can be pacified by just a piece of chocolate. I believe that with enough political will, the powers that be will set a proper pace to introduce some reforms. We need not be in a hurry. We can do it brick by brick. We will come to the end of our journey in democracy development under the present regime.
What is your view of the way the EC responded to Bersih 2.0?
I have no knowledge on how the EC responded to Bersih. No comment.
You were EC secretary for 17 years. How do you view the report claiming that the current EC secretary spoke against the opposition at a government event? Is this something which fits the code of conduct of an EC secretary?
I have no knowledge or information on the alleged incidence. I will not comment.
Recently, deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that he does not rule out the possibility of a royal commission of inquiry on the matter of illegal migrants in Sabah. What is your view on this, vis-a-vis your experience of the influx during your time as EC chief?
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