(Petaling Jaya, Monday): Last Friday in a special interview with New Straits Times, the Election Commission Chairman Datuk Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman announced that from next year, eligible Malaysians will be able to register as voters on any working day at the designated authorised places like post offices, district offices and national and state registration departments.
If this new system of voter registration is implemented, it is most welcome as it will go a long way to redeem the Election Commissionís tarnished image in the last general election when it became a national and international laughing-stock in taking nine months to revise its electoral register and in the process disenfranchised 650,000 new voters who registered in April/May 1999 from casting their vote in the general polls on November 29, 1999.
In other countries, the agencies responsible for conducting elections and registering voters would go out of their way to ensure that every eligible voter is registered so that he or she could exercise the constitutional right to vote during general elections. In the 27th November 1999 New Zealand general election, for instance, eligible voters could even register on the eve of polling to cast their votes the next day.
In Malaysia, however, the Election Commission in Malaysia operated under very different dynamics in the run-up to the last general election, taking nine long months to complete the registration and gazetting of 650,000 new voters effectively disenfranchising them, when the commissionís client charter stipulated that the verification and gazetting of electoral rolls should not exceed six months.
As a result, the Election Commissionís independence, professionalism and reputation plunged to an all-time low. Although the disenfranchisement of 650,000 new young voters suited the agenda of the Prime Minister and the Barisan Nasional, the 1999 general election result would be very different with far-reaching changes to Malaysiaís political development if the 650,000 new young voters had been able to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
Has Abdul Rashid conducted an intensive investigation as to why the Election Commission took nine long months to complete its votersí registration exercise in 1999, effectively disenfranchising 650,000 new young voters their constitutional right to vote, when the commissionís client charter stipulated a six-month deadline and other countries like New Zealand could register voters as late as the polling day eve for their voting right to be exercised?
I am cautious however in expressing my welcome for the proposal for the system where an eligible voter can be registered with the Election Commission on any working day, for there is no guarantee that it would be implemented next year or be in time to benefit eligible voters for the next general election.
I am somewhat disturbed by two of Abdul Rashidís remarks on the new votersí registration system to be introduced next year, firstly that the entire new process of votersí registration would be "shortened" to less than three months, and secondly, that it was the government which had directed the Commission to "expedite these processes".
Rashid should respond to three questions about the proposed "voter can
register on any working day" system:
Abdul Rashid said that a committee, which includes officials from the Attorney-Generalís chambers, was formed after the last general election to review and amend the ten election laws and regulations in the country.
As Article 114(2) provides for an independent Election Commission which "enjoys public confidence", it must not be subservient to any political party, whether in power or opposition and operate with full openness, transparency and accountability at equal armsí length with all political parties.
For this reason, the Election Commissionís review of the election laws should not be a secretive one where the will and wishes of the ruling parties could be communicated through some government representatives but an open and above-board process involving all political parties and interested NGOs.
For this reason, the Election Commission should set up an all-party review committee with representation from interested NGOs to review the election laws and regulations to ensure a clean, free, fair and efficient election system for Malaysia in the new era, with a mandate to complete in three to six months the most comprehensive review of the election laws and regulations in the nationís history and making public its recommendations.
Among the matters which should be the subject of the review of the election
laws and regulations to ensure a clean, free, fair and efficient election