Azhar’s departure a lost opportunity for electoral reform

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Art Harun - Graphic: syariman/Malaysiakini

The Association for Community and Dialogue (Acid) is disappointed with the decision of Azhar Azizan Harun to quit the Election Commission chairperson post.

Conviction to a certain cause is what makes an institution meaningful, respected and credible in the eyes of the people.

In the 2018 general election, Malaysians who desired change did not just vote for political parties to represent change; there was also a desire for individuals with courage and integrity to helm important institutions like the Election Commission, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and even government-linked companies so that meaningful check and balance could be initiated and implemented.

One of the areas in dire need of reforms was the Election Commission and its operational culture.

It has been in public knowledge how this institution was manipulated, especially in the boundary redrawing exercise over the years to ensure victory for Barisan Nasional, besides the lack of fair play in the conduct of elections.

The appointment of Azhar was the most awaited appointment done by Pakatan Harapan, as he was set to make historic changes to the Election Commission. He was even studying the anti-‘party hopping’ law, a move that would have discouraged party defections which violate the people’s mandate.

The work that he could have done may be compared to what the late Tirunellai Narayana Iyer Seshan had done in India when he was appointed Election Commission chairperson of India. Seshan single-handedly brought changes that not one of his predecessors could have done. He put his foot down to bring meaningful changes, whch have been felt and emulated globally. He identified more than a hundred electoral malpractices and reformed the election process.

READ MORE:  New Election Commission chair should inspire public confidence and continue with electoral reforms

Some reforms Sesha implemented included enforcement of an election code of conduct, voter IDs for all eligible voters, and a limit on election candidates’ expenditure. He curbed several malpractices like the bribing or intimidation of voters, distribution of liquor during elections, use of government funds and machinery for campaigning, appeals to voters’ caste or communal feelings, and use of places of worship for campaigns.

Unfortunately, the Election Commission chairperson in Malaysia has decided to resign without instituting much-needed reforms. This is a clear repudiation of the people’s aspirations in the last general election.

The question is why has Azhar decided to resign at this crucial stage of the nation’s history, when an unelected government was formed and when Malaysians would want to see institutional leaders with courage who would not succumb to any pressure or waiver from a given cause?

The fact is Malaysia has a historical deficit of such leaders since it has been under BN hegemony for 60 years and now Perikatan Nasional. It seems that leaders with liability exceed those with integrity.

Malaysia has lost a great opportunity for electoral reforms, and now it is in the hands of the young to bring about change.

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HHLim
HHLim
15 Aug 2020 3.28pm

Not exactly. Azhar Harun would implement existing system more properly/fairly, but lacks the vision and commitment for real reform. Electoral system reform was not his job anyway but entrusted to the Electoral Reform Committee. Headed by Abdul Rashid, the ex-EC chairman mainly responsible for helping UMNO to manipulate the electoral system, the Committee took its time and nothing was achieved before the reform window was shut (or opportunity missed) with the fall of the Pakatan government. One also wonders how strong was Pakatan’s commitment to reform. But failure to reform has a price for sure: the unfair electoral system would make it very difficult for Pakatan to win again, unless another 1MDB-scale scandal occurs.

loyal malaysian
loyal malaysian
15 Aug 2020 12.00pm

Ronald, you look too highly upon Azhar.
The fact that he is attracted to the privileges of the Speaker’s post means he has been turned.
No, there will no electoral reforms under this backdoor govt.

Gursharan Singh
Gursharan Singh
15 Aug 2020 10.23am

Would Azhar be willing to make public his reasons for resignation or remain silent and provide opportunities for some to speculate the reasons?

If the view that ‘It seems that leaders with liability exceed those with integrity’ is accepted then is their any possibility of those in political leadership in future who practise values such as INTEGRITY-ETHICS-MORALITY-HONESTY-etc will be allowed to remain in power by some own collegues who may become FROGS FOR PERSONAL GREED FOR POWER as IN POLITICS – SELF INTEREST AND GREED FOR POWER SUPERCEDE INTEREST OF RAKYAT AND NATION?

WORLDWIDE THOSE ELECTED ARE ALSO PERSCEIVED TO HAVE INTEGRITY-ETHICS-MORALITY-HONESTY-etc PRIOR TO BEING ELECTED BUT MANY MAY SACRIFICE THESE VALUES WHEN ELECTED.

Santana
Santana
14 Aug 2020 11.42pm

Yes Azar’s resignation was a great let down to people who voted for change. Worst still for him to support the backdoor government is unbelievable and shocking. Now he seems to play a different tune. His behaviour has made people wonder whom to trust and whom not to trust. Any how I strongly believe the deputy chairman Dr Azmi is more than capable to handle the task at hand. Hopefully the government gives him the opportunity to head the election commission.