(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad should consult with the Opposition before appointing the new Chairman of Election Commission to replace Datuk Harun Din, who is to retire on June 21 after nine years as head of the election body on reaching the retirement age of 65.
The Election Commission is one of the most important institutions in the country to ensure the conduct of free, fair and clean general elections without which there be no meaningful parliamentary democracy in the country.
Article 114 (2) of the Malaysian Constitution provides that "In appointing members of the Election Commission the Yang di Pertuan Agong shall have regard to the importance of securing an Election Commission which enjoys public confidence".
The time has come for the development of Constitutional conventions to uphold the spirit and letter of the Constitution, in this case, for the Opposition to be consulted before the Prime Minister forwards his recommendation to the Conference of Rulers and the Yang di Pertuan Agong on the appointment of the Election Commission so as to "enjoy public confidence".
Datuk Harun Din has been very approachable as Chairman of Election Commission and has tried his level best as Election Commission Chairman to conduct fair elections. Unfortunately, his hands are tied under existing laws and regulations which are not conducive to the holding of free, fair and clean general elections, whether it be to prohibit money politics and vote-buying, electoral abuses as phantom votes and misuse of mass media monopoly and control against the Opposition , too short a campaign period as to deny the Opposition the opportunity to get its views and platform across to the electorate, or unfair and undemocratic conduct of the voting process with regard to the casting of postal ballots in defence and security establishments where opposition polling agents are denied access to ensure honest voting.
The most dishonest electoral fraud committed in Malaysian elections was the 1990 Barisan Nasional election scam two days before polling, where electronic mass media and the Malay print media were saturated with the falsehood that the then Semangat 46 President, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah had sold out the Malay race and betrayed Islam for purportedly wearing a Kadazan heagear with a Christian cross.
What did the Election Commission do to stop such dishonest electioneering, or to draw up a code of electoral ethics to ensure that the politics of race, hatred, fear and bigotry, especially the threat and spectre of May 13 riots if the voters do not support the Barisan Nasional, are not deployed during the general election campaign?
The Election Commission has never been able to exercise its constitutional independence to determine the polling date and the length of the election campaign period, and it is an open secret that the date for polling had been determined by the Prime Minister when he decides on the dissolution of Parliament - which is a travesty of the autonomy of the Election Commission as provided by the Constitution.
What is needed now is a proactive Election Commission Chairman who is committed to the conduct of free, fair and clean general elections, who treat the ruling and opposition parties equally and fairly and is prepared to take the initiative to ensure that laws and regulations are amended so that elections in Malaysia are truly "free, fair and clean" and who will consult all political parties as to how such amendments to existing laws and regulations could be effected in time for the next general election.