(Malaysiakini) BN 'biggest obstacle' to electoral reform

Beh Lih Yi
Feb 14, 07

The deadlock over electoral reform lies in Parliament being “controlled by a (coalition) that does not see the need” for change, said academician Dr Mavis Puthucheary.
Mavis, who had led a two-year research project from 2001 on the election system, told malaysiakini that the Barisan Nasional (BN) would only support the concept of independent oversight of free and fair elections “when there is no serious challenge to the regime”.

The BN dominates Parliament after winning 92 percent of the seats in the 2004 general election.
“Some would say that it is unlikely that the government would accede to this request especially as it does not see any need to make changes which will secure them victory at the polls,” she said.
“But this is a very short-sighted view which political leaders, both in the ruling party and in the opposition, as well members of the public must try to change.”
Mavis is senior associate fellow of the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (Ikmas), which operates under public university Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
In its findings published in 2003, the research team had warned of the need for reform before the government loses its legitimacy.
It also proposed wide-ranging reform of the EC, electoral system and the role of the media and civil society in ensuring free and fair elections.
The findings were compiled in a book entitled ‘Elections and Democracy in Malaysia’, while the recommendations were submitted to the relevant authorities. Asked what feedback had been obtained from the authorities since then, Mavis said: “Nothing much”.
Last month, Election Commission (EC) chief Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman had conceded that election laws are outdated and warranted review by an independent commission.
Numerous calls had previously been made by civil society activists and opposition parties, but have gone unheeded by the BN government.
‘Keep up pressure’
Mavis reiterated the call to establish a commission of inquiry to review election laws and the electoral system, with urgent attention to the way electoral boundaries are drawn up and on the size of constituencies.
Asked to comment on the opposition boycott of the recently-concluded Batu Talam by-election, she said she disagreed with the decision. She was also generally critical of the use of boycotts, saying this could lead to political instability.
However, she said the opposition move provided an opportunity to revisit the need for electoral reform and for the government to act before the “situation gets out of hand”.
In this respect, Mavis also lashed out at the EC for shirking its responsibility to communicate with the voters over records of registration, and for leaving this to political parties.
She said the commission, even if its hands are tied, can still do more to press for change.
“We feel that the EC can and should publish its own recommendations to Parliament rather than work together with the government to produce one report – we would not be able to determine whether this is EC’s report or EC’s report with input from the government,” she said.
Mavis also said there is a need for the public to keep up pressure on the government because voters too have a stake in ensuring free and fair elections.
“We need to keep on convincing those in power to realise that in a democracy, political legitimacy is derived not just from the holding of elections, but from public confidence in the fairness of the elections.” she added.