BERSIH commends Election Commission Chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman for calling for reform in electoral laws in his interview with New Sunday Times on 23 September 2007 but urges Tan Sri Rashid to initiate more reforms beyond indelible ink and transparent ballot boxes.
In the interview, Tan Sri Rashid had said, “As far as the EC is concerned, all who take part in the electoral process have a right to fair treatment and the laws must treat them accordingly. Over the years, the country has undergone a great transformation. I feel it is time for us to transform the electoral process too.”
BERSIH fervently shares this view as a coalition of 26 non-governmental organizations and five political parties, formed on 23 November 2006, seeking electoral reform in the country.
A clean, free and fair election is the foundation of any society that claims to have any semblance of democracy. But, unfortunately, elections in Malaysia have always been marred by fraud while there has never been a level playing field for all contesting parties.
BERSIH’s immediate demands, which are essentially administrative or procedural in nature and can mostly be implemented by the Election Commission in its capacity as the ‘administrator’ of elections, include:
- the use of indelible ink,
- the abolition of postal votes,
- a level playing field in the media,
- at least a 21-day campaign period,
- and cleaning up of the electoral roll.
BERSIH lauds Tan Sri Rashid’s effort in making the implementation of indelible ink a reality in the coming election, as well as “talking” with the government “to allow party agents to be present during the postal voting process”.
The Government, in particular Ministers responsible for the police and the armed forces, namely the Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Abdullah Badawi and the Deputy Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak, should heed the advice of the EC.
BERSIH also appreciates Tan Sri Rashid’s views that all parties, the Opposition included, should be given fair access to the media.
“In a democratic election, a voter must have informed choices. This means that before polling day, a voter must know what the candidate’s platform, programme and plans are. For the voter to know that, all political parties should be given the opportunity for media exposure,” Tan Sri Rashid said.
However, BERSIH is unsatisfied with the “not-to-be-longer-than-two-weeks” campaign period, nor is BERSIH agreeable with Rashid on his hands-off attitude with regard to the electoral roll.
In many Westminster democracies, the official election campaign period is approximately a month. For instance, the United Kingdom provides for a month while the Australian system gives five weeks. Further, Malaysia’s first election in 1955 had a campaign period of 42 days.
BERSIH is calling for a modest 21-day campaign period, half of what we used to have in 1955, in order to provide a level playing field particularly for Opposition candidates as they are usually denied access to the mass media. As face-to-face campaigning is the Opposition’s last resort, we hope the Election Commission will not deny us this basic democratic right.
Also, while BERSIH understands that there are constraints placed on the EC in revamping the Electoral Roll, the onus is still on EC to take a proactive role and ensure that dead people are not listed, for example.
Further, the current voluntary voter registration system is flawed as there are around four million, of the 15 million eligible voters, who have not registered to vote. According to Tan Sri Rashid, 80 percent of these unregistered voters are Malay. BERSIH, therefore, calls for an automatic registration system.
Jointly Issued by Members of BERSIH Steering Committee:
Syed Shahir Syed Muhamad, MTUC President
YB Teresa Kok, MP for Seputeh
Sivarasa Rasiah, Vice-President of Parti KeAdilan Rakyat
Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad, Director of PAS Research Centre
Dr Syed Azman, PAS Central Committee Member
S. Arutchelvan, PSM Secretary-General
V. Gayathry, Executive Director of CIJ
Yap Swee Seng, Executive Director of Suaram
Wong Chin Huat, Chairperson of WAMI