Home Civil Society Voices Azhar’s departure a lost opportunity for electoral reform

Azhar’s departure a lost opportunity for electoral reform

Art Harun - Graphic: syariman/Malaysiakini

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The Association for Community and Dialogue (Acid) is disappointed with the decision of Azhar Azizan Harun to quit the Election Commission chairperson post.

Conviction to a certain cause is what makes an institution meaningful, respected and credible in the eyes of the people.

In the 2018 general election, Malaysians who desired change did not just vote for political parties to represent change; there was also a desire for individuals with courage and integrity to helm important institutions like the Election Commission, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and even government-linked companies so that meaningful check and balance could be initiated and implemented.

One of the areas in dire need of reforms was the Election Commission and its operational culture.

It has been in public knowledge how this institution was manipulated, especially in the boundary redrawing exercise over the years to ensure victory for Barisan Nasional, besides the lack of fair play in the conduct of elections.

The appointment of Azhar was the most awaited appointment done by Pakatan Harapan, as he was set to make historic changes to the Election Commission. He was even studying the anti-‘party hopping’ law, a move that would have discouraged party defections which violate the people’s mandate.

The work that he could have done may be compared to what the late Tirunellai Narayana Iyer Seshan had done in India when he was appointed Election Commission chairperson of India. Seshan single-handedly brought changes that not one of his predecessors could have done. He put his foot down to bring meaningful changes, whch have been felt and emulated globally. He identified more than a hundred electoral malpractices and reformed the election process.

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Some reforms Sesha implemented included enforcement of an election code of conduct, voter IDs for all eligible voters, and a limit on election candidates’ expenditure. He curbed several malpractices like the bribing or intimidation of voters, distribution of liquor during elections, use of government funds and machinery for campaigning, appeals to voters’ caste or communal feelings, and use of places of worship for campaigns.

Unfortunately, the Election Commission chairperson in Malaysia has decided to resign without instituting much-needed reforms. This is a clear repudiation of the people’s aspirations in the last general election.

The question is why has Azhar decided to resign at this crucial stage of the nation’s history, when an unelected government was formed and when Malaysians would want to see institutional leaders with courage who would not succumb to any pressure or waiver from a given cause?

The fact is Malaysia has a historical deficit of such leaders since it has been under BN hegemony for 60 years and now Perikatan Nasional. It seems that leaders with liability exceed those with integrity.

Malaysia has lost a great opportunity for electoral reforms, and now it is in the hands of the young to bring about change.

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