Automatic voter registration: Electoral Commission has failed to consolidate its role

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Source: freemalaysiatoday.com

The commission has a responsibility to introduce automatic registration so that voters can exercise their democratic rights on issues affecting them as citizens, writes Ronald Benjamin.

According to news reports, Electoral Commission chairman Mohd Hashim Abdullah said the extra-sensitive job scope of the commission is among the reasons why Malaysia is not ready to implement automatic voter registration.

He explained the commission did not want to be blamed for any problems arising from any changes related to voter registration. He continued by stating there may be some things which we do not deem serious, but which are taken seriously by certain parties – especially when changes are made. If we are not prepared, but proceed with the changes, then many issues will arise.

His statement seems be a response to public criticism of the failure of the commission to register around 4m voters and its archaic administration system that is not able to automatically register voters. The statement also indicates there are complex issues to be resolved before one can speak about automatic voter registration

The question here is, what does the Electoral Commission chairman mean by extra–sensitive job scope? What are the issues and the degree of their complexity? What are the factual narratives that are actually impeding the efficient duties that are required of an electoral commission? How does the commission look for solution in such circumstances?

Is there a hidden hand that curtails progress? Why has the commission failed to upgrade its voter registration system when its entire mandate rests upon ensuring free and fair elections besides doing justice to its mandate in the Constitution?

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The Electoral Commission chairman’s statement is a sign and evidence that the Malaysian democratic system is not nudging forward as a consolidated and efficient democracy. While the independence of the commission has been spelled out in the Constitution, the commission is not able to consolidate its work and do justice to its independence. What more if you find officials related to the ruling party being part of the commission over the years?

Holding periodic free and fair elections is essential in a democratic system, and the Electoral Commission ensures its vitality. The commission in principle is duty-bound to ensure processes are set up to ensure efficiency. This entails registering voters automatically so that they can exercise their democratic rights on issues affecting them as citizens.

Perhaps Malaysia should look at India and learn from the philosophy and zeal of its electoral commission in ensuring free and fair elections.

Article 113 of the Federal Constitution states that the main function of the Electoral Commission is to conduct federal and state elections, prepare and revise electoral rolls for elections and recommend alterations to federal and state constituencies.

But all this becomes meaningless if voters have to wait a long time to exercise their democratic rights. It is obvious voters are the main constituents in the commission’s functional duties.

It is time for the Electoral Commission to review its role as guardians of free and fair elections in Malaysia and its critical role in working to ensure efficient processes such as automatic voter registration. Coming up with vague statements will not resolve the deep underlying trust deficit that Malaysians appear to harbour towards the commission.

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