At this critical moment, the PM is obliged to give his word of honour that the 13th general election would only be held after the electorals reforms have been put in place. Otherwise, this PSC would become a sham committee, says P Ramakrishnan.
When the Prime Minister announced the setting up of a Parliamentary Select Committee on 15 August 2011, a friend rang up to ask me what I thought of it. My immediate response was, “It is a tactic to delay, deny and confuse Malaysians!”
What has transpired since then only seems to confirm this observation.
The onus is with the government now to dispel this notion. And the only way to do it is to give a public pledge to the nation that parliament will not be dissolved any time before the PSC completes its work and presents its findings to parliament to put in place the reformation that is urgently required to ensure free and fair elections.
This undertaking is absolutely necessary to convince Malaysians that there was sincerity and commitment on the part of the PM in setting up this PSC. We need to be assured that the Barisan Nasional government will go all the way to implement the reforms that are demanded by the people.
But what was confusing to Malaysians was the statement made by the PM nine days later that the next general election can be held anytime and will not be bound by the findings of the PSC on electoral reforms. This is perplexing!
In order to call for elections, parliament has to be dissolved and when that is done the PSC lapses. He would have effectively scuttled the PSC and sent it into oblivion. The truth of the matter is that the life of the PSC doesn’t go beyond the life span of the current parliament. When that is the case, then what is the purpose in setting up the PSC to look at the necessary electoral reforms?
By dissolving parliament before the PSC completes its duties entrusted to it, the PM will immediately deny all Malaysians the electoral reforms that were promised by setting up the PSC. Not only that, he will inevitably delay the promised reforms indefinitely.
History would suggest that the BN has no intention of introducing any meaningful reforms. Since the last Bersih Rally in 2007, the BN had two years to rectify this problem. The four demands of Bersih in 2007 were:
- The use of indelible ink (which was already been agreed to by the Electoral Commission, but later scrapped);
- A clean-up of the registered voters’ roll;
- Abolition of postal votes; and
- Access to the government-controlled print and broadcast media for opposition parties.
The BN government did nothing to address these issues. And these four demands have now become part of the eight demands of Bersih 2.0.
In reality there were only four new demands in 2011:
- A minimum 21-day campaign period;
- The strengthening of public institutions;
- An end to corruption; and
- An end to dirty politics
Together with the previously ignored four demands of 2007, these new demands took the tally to eight demands under Bersih 2.0.
There is serious doubt that the BN government is sincere in wanting to reform the electoral process.
On 1 February 2008, the Election Commission deputy chairman was quoted as saying that for the 2008 general election, it would need 48000 bottles of the indelible ink. This would cost RM2.4m and the whole procedure would take less than RM1m to implement.
It was on this basis the indelible ink was bought in readiness for the 2008 general election. But at the eleventh hour, for some mystifying reason, this procedure was abandoned. If it wasn’t, the tsunami that swept through the country would have probably swept away the BN from Putrajaya and would have in all probability installed a new government!
Another valid point to support our suspicion about the outcome of the findings of the PSC is its composition. The PM has announced a nine-member PSC comprising five from the BN, three from the Opposition and one from the Independents.
This clearly favours the BN. It is a deliberate decision to guarantee that the views of the BN will prevail in the end simply because they are in the majority. When put to vote, the outcome would be either 5-3 or 5-4 depending on how the so-called Independent would vote. In fact, there is no Independent MP in Parliament. What we have are BN-friendly Independents which means the voting could also be 6-3 in favour of the BN.
The PM has made sure that the BN’s interests would be safe-guarded come what may. In the end, in spite of travelling around the country seeking various concerned views, involving huge expenditure and many weeks of time put in, the outcome would still favour the BN’s position. That would be presented as a democratic decision compelling adherence to this position. It would be a fait accompli! The whole exercise would turn out to be a farce.
The PM cannot on his own decide the composition of the PSC without consulting the Opposition. After all, they are the government-in-waiting. The Opposition Leader is of equal status with him. The Leader of the Opposition is seen as the alternative Prime Minister. Mature democracies accept this reality and accord due respect and recognition to the Leader of the Opposition. As such, consulting the Opposition would have assisted in arriving at an amicable decision. The PM cannot ride rough-shod and ignore the existence of the Opposition Leader.
At this critical moment, the PM is obliged to give his word of honour that the 13th general election would only be held after the reforms have been put in place. Otherwise, this PSC would become a sham committee, making a mockery of the democratic system.
Would the Opposition want to become part of the national shame by associating itself with this comic opera?
P Ramakrishnan is president of Aliran