(Petaling Jaya, Monday): Malaysians are not surprised that the Barisan Nasional government is not prepared to entertain the suggestion that the Opposition should be consulted on the appointment of the new Chairman of the Election Commission, although it is one of the most important institutions in the country to ensure the conduct of free, fair and clean general elections or Malaysia will have only a quasi-democracy.
What is surprising is that the outright dismissal of the proposal should have come from the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Abdullah Badawi, who had previously the reputation of being prepared to hear views from all quarters. This higlights the need for a change in the Barisan Nasional culture of political hegemony developed in the past four decades from uninterrupted two-thirds parliamentary majority in nine general elections.
Abdullah’s argument that the Opposition is free to lodge a complaint with the Election Commission with regard to irregularities in the electoral system does not address the important Constitutional principle of securing an Election Commission which "enjoys public confidence".
One way to ensure that the Election Commission complies with the important Constitutional principle and criteria that it "enjoys public confidence" is for the Prime Minister to consult the Opposition on the appointment of the Chairman of the Election Commission before he makes his recommendation to the Conference of Rulers and the Yang di Pertuan Agong.
Neither Abdullah nor the Barisan Nasional leaders should make light of the opposition parties’ demand that the next general election should be the most "free, fair and clean" in Malaysian elections, and I hope there are Barisan Nasional Ministers who are bold and principled enough to raise this issue in the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Of course, I would not expect Ministers whose political philosophy is to "behave as a minority race so as not to ask for trouble" to dare or bother to raise fundamental issues of democracy in the Cabinet, whether it is to ensure that Malaysian elections are "free, fair and clean" or that Malaysia must graduate from a quasi-democracy to a more mature and vibrant democracy.