The Coalition for Clean and Fair Election (Bersih 2.0) has learned from media reports on 30 August 2018 that we have been named as one of the organisations to be represented in the newly formed Electoral Reform Committee (ERC).
We thank and commend the government for the inclusion of civil society representative in the committee.
Bersih 2.0 would like to make the following statement clarifying our positions on the ERC and suggestions in pursuing electoral reforms in a holistic manner before making any official decision whether to join the ERC:
- The government should appoint a new chairman of the Election Commission (EC) that is independent and enjoys public confidence as soon as possible in a transparent manner. [A new chairman has since been appointed.] The current batch of commissioners should be removed through the establishment of a tribunal in order to make way for reform-minded commissioners to be appointed. This is important as some reform measures, such as cleaning the existing electoral rolls, management of elections, campaigning rules do not need further study and cannot wait for another two years for the ERC to come out with recommendations. This should be implemented immediately by a reformed Electoral Commission in view of three by-elections [now four after Port Dickson] that have taken place and the Sarawak state elections in 2021 or earlier.
- Setting up the ERC should not preclude Parliament from establishing a parliamentary select committee on electoral reforms and political parties. The ERC is a process taken by the executive while the parliamentary select committe will be the measure by the legislative. They should be separate but go hand-in-hand in complementing each other. The select committee is important to facilitate the translation of reform recommendations that needs immediate implementation, such as setting a longer period for election campaigns, strengthening definition and ensuring enforcement against election offences, legislating the voting age at 18, and repealing Section 9A of the Election Act 1958 that disallows courts from hearing cases involving the electoral roll.
- Furthermore, the parliamentary select committee should be an ongoing committee as it has a wider role. It has the function of monitoring the Electoral Commission, its budget and expenditure and to conduct inquiries into matters involving elections and political parties. It should receive reports from the Electoral Commission annually and after any federal or state elections. The expenditure report of the Electoral Commission should also be submitted to this committee. The select committee should carry out inquiries into improvements to be made to the electoral system and processes with input from the Electoral Commission. The hearing of this committee should be open to the public and all findings made public. This will institutionalise the moving of the Electoral Commission from reporting to the Prime Minister’s Office to Parliament in a meaningful manner. We therefore call on Parliament to establish a select committee on elections and political parties to be one of the select committees without further delays.
- The government should establish a royal commission of inquiry to study the problems in the 2018 general election and the electoral system with the aim of producing recommendations on long-term reforms to the electoral system, such as the possibility of changing the electoral system from the first-past-the-post system to a proportional representation system or a mixed system. Unlike the ERC, a royal commission will have the power and authority as given in the law to conduct a public inquiry and to subpoena any public officials to give testimony in order to find out the exact problems in the last general election and the existing electoral system.
- To be seen as an independent and impartial committee with public confidence, the ERC must not be seen as dominated by partisan interests. The chairman of the ERC should be a non-partisan person instead of Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, who is a vice president of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM). This does not bode well with the public image that the ERC should be independent and impartial to facilitate discussions and the building of a cross-party consensus on electoral reform. Bersih 2.0 recommends the chairperson of the ERC to be selected among the committee members with no political party affiliation.
- Furthermore, besides Abdul Rashid, PBBM is also over-represented by Kamaruddin Md Nor (information chief of PPBM), Nordin Salleh (members of Majlis Pimpinan Tinggi) and Wan Saiful Wan Jan (a PPBM leader and candidate in the general election) of the ten members reported so far. There are currently no representatives from Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Democratic Action Party, Parti Amanah Nasional, PartiIslam Se-Malaysia (Pas), Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and other East Malaysian parties while onlyone slot is reserved for Barisan Nasional. Also, none of the 10 members reported is a woman. Bersih 2.0 recommends a more inclusive composition and equal representation of all stakeholders in the ERC to facilitate cross-party consensus and support for electoral reform.
- Bersih 2.0 feels that the ERC’s mandate of two years is too long for electoral reform given that the problems of our electoral system are well known and many research studies have been done with good recommendations for reforms by research institutions or civil society. Bersih 2.0 calls for the ERC to be given an 18-month mandate with a more focused scope of tasks to complete new laws to be enforced before the Sarawak state election in 2021.
- Bersih 2.0 calls on the government to make public the report of the Institutional Reform Committee, which consulted civil society on electoral reform, as a green paper that excludes only those limited and highly sensitive recommendations such as the national defence policy. The report of the committee should be the foundation and baseline for the work of the ERC, the parliamentary select committee on electoral reform and the Electoral Commission so that important deliberations and recommendations of the Institutional Reform Committee are taken on board by all these public institutions on electoral reform.
- Bersih 2.0 urges the government to make a public pledge to disclose the reports of the ERC as government white papers. The ERC should conduct its work in the next 18 months in a transparent, accountable and consultative manner with all stakeholders.
Bersih 2.0 steering committee
3 September 2018