The Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms (“PSC”) recently completed its Report on the improvement and reform of the parliamentary process in Malaysia. This Report was tabled and passed by the August House on 2 April 2012, alas, without any debate due to a commotion caused by the opposition during the proceedings. The main grievance of the opposition was that the Speaker had rejected their motion to table a minority report on the PSC. Sadly, despite various international precedents on this procedure of presenting a minority report, the Speaker decided to ignore this motion.
What perhaps started as a new hope for Malaysians when the establishment of the PSC was announced by the Prime Minister in August 2011 as part of his political transformation programme has turned out to be a huge disappointment. Immediately, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) dismissed the Report, inter alia, on the ground that only one out of their eight demands was addressed.
BERSIH also announced that it will organise a sit-in protest on 28 April 2012 across the country, and in various locations worldwide. The main venue for the sit-in protest will be at Merdeka Square with the title “Duduk Bantah”.
It is pertinent for us to revisit election history in Malaysia before we discuss the democratic process of choosing the government of the day. Barisan Nasional (BN)(previously known as Perikatan) has ruled this country for over 50 years without ever losing a General Election. The 12th General Election in 2008 was also the only time that BN lost its customary two-thirds majority. It may sound incredulous that a coalition can win every election in a democratic country, and BN is in fact the longest serving Government in world history.
With the advent of a new opposition coalition known as Pakatan Rakyat (PR), Malaysia is suddenly facing the possibility of a change in Federal Government for the first time. PR also provides the backdrop for a new two-party system which will provide a real alternative for public to elect a new government. The impact of PR is acknowledged by the Prime Minister, who declared that the 13th General Election will be the mother of all elections. Hence the apprehension by the opposition specifically, and the public in general, that the 13th General Election may be fraught with issues to ensure that BN will retain power.
There are many issues with regard to the electoral process in Malaysia and its organiser, the Election Commission (EC). Chief amongst these are the cleanup of the electoral roll and the alleged existence of phantom voters. Postal votes are also in the limelight due to strong suggestions by some to replace it with the implementation of early voting to cater for security personnel and EC workers. The uncertainty regarding the time to call for the election and campaign procedure, together with access to public all add up to heavy concerns on behalf of the Malaysian public.
Another interesting issue is the apathy of the young generation to register as voters. It has been reported that more than three million have yet to register as voters despite the efforts by the EC and political parties. Could it be the low quality of the parliamentary debates and wayward behaviour of parliamentarians that has resulted in them being disinterested? Or perhaps civic awareness is low and they have not fully understood the responsibility of casting their votes to select leaders who will chart the future of this country. Aside from the non-registration of voters, among those registered, only about 70% to 80% will cast their votes during any election. Where are the rest?
Various proposals have been put forward to improve the electoral process. Automatic registration is surprisingly still ignored, and the voting age remains at 21. So, in Malaysia, people can legally get married and have kids but cannot exercise their democratic right to vote.
What Malaysia needs is confidence in the electoral process. There is no point in having various committees, minor changes to the system or amendments to the procedures if at the end of the day, the Malaysian public still have doubts about the electoral process itself.
The first step to democracy is a proper electoral process. Without this, the government of the day will lose its credibility. Abraham Lincoln’s famous phrase “government of the people, from the people and for the people” shall be the guiding principle. Let us ensure that Malaysians truly believe that the winning party is elected fairly in a clean contest for power.
To vote or not to vote? It is your future at stake.