Home 2012: 1 Electoral reform: Towards fairness and a level playing field

Electoral reform: Towards fairness and a level playing field

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Though elections have been largely free, there remains a major problem: they have not been conducted fairly or cleanly, writes Francis Loh.

From the outset, we wish to clarify that Aliran is a member of the Bersih 2.0 coalition and one of our Exco member sits in its Steering Committee.

In this regard we fully endorse the Eight Demands of the coalition to usher in free, fair and clean elections in Malaysia. We support Bersih 2.0’s call that these Demands should be addressed before the next elections are held. We have also gone through Bersih 2.0’s submission to the Select Committee and fully support its recommendations.

For Aliran, elections in Malaysia have been generally free although there have occurred instances when voters have complained that they were denied their right to vote on polling day because their names had been removed from the rolls, or that they had been transferred to other polling stations or districts without their awareness. In the last election there were also allegations that some had not had the opportunity to vote because the stations had not remained open long enough for people to cast their votes. However, there have rarely occurred instances when ballots boxes have gone missing or that large numbers of people have been prevented from voting.

That said, there remains a major problem with Malaysian elections: they have not been conducted fairly or cleanly. Malaysians are well aware of the non-level playing field that characterises our electoral process. As elections approach, we see clearly the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s near monopoly and manipulation of the mainstream media, its access to and abuse of federal government facilities and funds, and its possession of huge electoral war chests, which allow the BN component parties to outspend its challengers.

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In this submission, we would like to highlight some of these instances of unfairness as they relate to the so-called 3 M’s (media, money and machinery). We shall offer some recommendations on how these can be overcome.

A related problem of unfairness is how these votes are translated into seats. We shall not elaborate on this aspect of unfairness except to emphasise that we agree with the points raised in Bersih 2.0’s memorandum submitted to the Parliamentary Select Committee. Clearly, if the principle of one-person one-vote is to be maintained, the electoral constituencies must be apportioned among the 13 states according to the population size of the various states.

Subsequently, the total number of seats within each state should be delineated such that the disparity among constituencies be not more than 15 per cent from the average constituency size as recommended by the Reid Commission and which was apparently followed by the first head of the SPR in 1959, prior to the introduction of the Constitutional Amendment of 1962, which also introduced Schedule 13 that, among others, restored the 2:1 weighting given to rural constituencies, before its removal altogether in the 1973 Constitutional Amendment. We believe that this point has been well made by Bersih 2.0 and by others. It remains for Parliament to have the political will to put this matter right and to ensure fairness in the translation of votes into seats.

Pending this major exercise, we therefore highlight several issues of unfairness.

Dr Francis Loh is president of Aliran

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