Automatic registration OK, but don’t make voting compulsory, urges Bersih

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Source: freemalaysiatoday.com

The Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) is encouraged that the new Election Commission chairman, Mohd Hashim Abdullah, in an exclusive interview with theSun published on 4 April 2016, is considering some radical changes to bring the election process on par with mature democracies.

Among the changes the commission is considering is to make it compulsory for registered voters to vote, noting that only 11.3m (85 per cent) of the 13.3m registered voters came out to vote at the last general election.

While Bersih 2.0 also wishes that there would be a 100 per cent voter turnout, the reality in most mature democracies is that one would never get a 100 per cent turnout. We should respect the citizens’ fundamental right to choose if they want to participate in an election or not, and as such, we oppose any attempt to make voting compulsory.

However, Bersih 2.0 agrees with automatic registration as it recognises the right to vote and gives voters the voting option. We urge the commission to implement it as soon as possible, given that there are over 4m eligible voters still not registered and around 450,000 citizens turn 21 and become eligible each year.

Implementing automatic registration of new voters would eliminate the current but slow process of registering through the commission’s mobile units, appointed assistant registrar officers and post offices. Clearly, current channels are not effective in clearing up the accumulating backlog of unregistered voters.

To allay any concerns that there might be manipulation of the national register of citizenship on the part of the National Registration Department, the commission must put in place safeguards to ensure that only real citizens are allowed to take part in our elections.

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One of the safeguards is the verification of voters at polling stations before they are allowed to cast their votes. This could be done through their MyKad and fingerprint, a normal and compulsory procedure for verification today for most official matters.

On the chairman’s other idea of bringing the ballot paper and box to the disabled and physically impaired (OKU) on polling day, it is the view of Bersih 2.0 that this would involve integrity issues as well as complex logistical matters and as such should not be considered. It would be better to ensure that all polling stations are OKU-friendly.

Bersih 2.0 further urges the chairman to take up four important issues that would further broaden the universal suffrage of a citizen’s right to vote.

Firstly, to allow East Malaysians living and working in the Peninsula to vote for their constituencies in Sabah and Sarawak without having to travel back at great expense to cast their votes or to change their voting constituencies to the Peninsula. They must be given the right to participate in the electing of representatives who would be the voices of their communities. This would also be true for West Malaysians in Sabah and Sarawak.

Secondly, to propose to Parliament to lower the eligible voting age to 18. This would be consistent with other laws where age limitations apply to marriage, driving, drinking or even the death penalty. Youth today are better informed and should be encouraged to participate in the election process.

Thirdly, in the interim period while the commission makes preparations for automatic registration, assistant registrar officers should be re-established for all political parties and not be limited to selected civil society organisations, companies and youth groups. This is to help speed up voters registration.

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Fourthly, there is a necessity to minimise advance voters and treat them as ordinary voters so as to enhance secrecy of votes. Soldiers and their spouses are not required on polling day and they should be allowed to vote as ordinary voters.

These changes, together with those recommended in the Parliament Select Committee on Electoral Reform, if implemented, would be laudable and go a long way to restore the public’s confidence in the Election Commission. A clear electoral reform road map is required; otherwise, such a grand statement would be reduced to doubt-casting promises.

Bersih 2.0 is committed to seeing the election process improved and would be more than willing to engage with the commission to ensure that our elections will be truly free and fair to all Malaysians.

Bersih 2.0 steering committee

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