We need to learn what mistakes were committed by the previous Electoral Commission so that these mistakes are not repeated, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
It is disconcerting to learn that the tribunal that was to investigate the alleged misconduct of former commissioners of the previous Electoral Commission during the last general election has recently been disbanded.
It is disturbing because Malaysians in general have had to face a number of electoral woes over the years that made them feel rather short-changed as a result. These range from gerrymandering, which was allegedly stacked against the interest of the then opposition and voters, to alleged phantom voters and unequal access to the media in the run-up to the general election, among other practices considered fraudulent.
Such alleged misconduct meant that voters were robbed of a free and fair election that is so crucial in a democracy such as Malaysia. It is through the ballot box that voters get the opportunity to express their collective choice and make their preference known about who is to run the country in a transparent, fair and democratic manner.
In other words, the outcome of electoral competition in a democracy hinges on electoral integrity – for only with integrity can democracy be served and further reinforced.
The outcry for the setting up of such a tribunal in the first place was made on the wave of public discontent over the (mis)conduct of the previous Electoral Commission. Hence, it is indeed of public interest and national importance that these commissioners are brought to justice, no matter they had resigned prior to being tried.
In fact, such resignations now appear to be a convenient escape route, which is yet another disturbing factor.
Equally worrying is that the decision to disband the tribunal would give the wrong signal to future commissioners and other civil servants that resigning prior to the end of one’s term (or even after one’s tenure) would help them escape a trial – and not leave them accountable for their actions or inactions.
It is, therefore, not mere academic exercise – as insisted by the head of the disbanded tribunal – to bring these past commissioners to justice because people want to know how they discharged their important duties that are enshrined in the Federal Constitution.
Additionally, Malaysians would also like to know to what extent the electoral process was distorted by the alleged misconduct of the previous commissioners and what loopholes in the present electoral law, if any, need to be plugged.
To move forward – and we are sure that the current commissioners are very much in this spirit – we need to learn what mistakes were committed in the past so that these mistakes are not repeated, especially at the expense of the voting public and democracy.
It is also crucial to ascertain whether further mechanisms are needed – after learning from past mistakes – to ensure that the independence of the Electoral Commission is intact so that the vested interests of the incumbent do not easily get in the way of free and fair elections.
Malaysians need this closure – for a flawed electoral process can also translate to a taint on the image of the Electoral Commission and, of course, of our democracy.