No electoral reform – no election!

Kim Quek | Feb 12, 08
In the Proclamation of Independence in 1957, the Father of Independence declared: I Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra….do hereby proclaim and declare on behalf of the people that… the Federation (of Malaya)…is and with God’s blessing shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations.
If our beloved Tunku were alive, he would be heart-broken to see that dream in tatters. Malaysia is an undemocratic state with neither liberty nor justice, where the people are in turmoil and dangerously polarized in race and religion.
The nation has never descended so low in its history.
Democratic institutions show unprecedented arrogance, crushing fundamental constitutional rights of citizens, with the police force in cahoots with the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the courts.
The three bodies, themselves mired in scandals, are increasingly identified as the triumvirate of oppression serving the illegitimate political interests of the ruling coalition.
Administration of the country has rapidly deteriorated, with Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi showing every sign that it will plunge to even greater depths of mismanagement due to weak and rudderless leadership. Abdullah has not only failed to rectify Mahathir’s faults, but he has compounded these with his own weaknesses.
Malaysia is facing crisis of a new dimension, as the uncontrollable crime rate and runaway inflation form a dire backdrop to an economy that has run out of steam. These are seen as inevitable consequences of an incompetent political leadership losing its moral authority to rule through indulgence in unashamed corruption and abuse of power.
This scenario will get worse as the economy runs into rougher waters in the days ahead in anticipation of a global slowdown triggered by the US subprime mortgage crisis. Malaysia is ill-equipped to face an economic reverse due to its structural weaknesses: declining economic competitiveness against its regional neighbours, a racially segregated population perpetually embroiled in racial squabbles, critically impaired rule of law with a badly tarnished judiciary and police force; and a delivery system maimed by corruption.
That investors have lost confidence in this country is reflected in the latest UN produced FDI figures which show Malaysia has already entered the ‘capital flight’ mode, in contrast with its neighbours which enjoy robust net capital influx. As globalisation continues its unrelenting march, the economic noose on this country will tighten, leading to intensification of racial strife. An eventual meltdown is on the cards unless the current decline is checked.
Why has Malaysia slipped so badly over the past two decades? The answer lies in our political leadership and the main culprit is Umno, which has been transformed from a nationalist political party to a racist body of wealth-seekers. By clinging to the National Economic Policy, which has been racialised and twisted to generate illegitimate wealth for its leaders and cronies, Umno has inflicted incalculable damage on the nation and ironically on the Malays as well. The resultant regression with the corollary loss of national competitiveness is proving to be the undoing of the nation.
Perverted electoral process
Umno has maintained its political hegemony by monopolising the media and subverting the electoral process through an openly partisan Election Commission (EC), and through abuse of government resources and institutions including Parliament (by passing unfair laws). Under such a grotesquely tilted playing field, the incumbent – particularly a corrupt one – can rule in perpetuity.
Elections under such a perverted system among a badly-informed electorate are a meaningless exercise. Without a fair election, democracy is dead. And without democracy, fundamental liberties and justice guaranteed in the constitution are empty words, as proven by the wanton oppression of the people.
That our electoral process is deeply flawed is an undeniable fact. Fraudulent practices and irregularities have been well documented by opposition parties, election-watch bodies and even the courts (as in the Likas election judgment which affirmed the presence of tens of thousands of ‘phantom voters’ consisting of illegal immigrants).
EC head Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman has claimed that only the Barisan Nasional (BN) is capable of governing the country. On a separate occasion, he challenged opposition parties to withdraw from the election if they feel that elections have been unfair. Such atrocious bias only emphasises the urgency and indispensability of a thorough revamp of the EC and electoral process.
On Nov 10 last year, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) outlined a comprehensive set of reforms intended to restore confidence in the system. It appealed to the King to use his discretionary power under Article 40(2) of the Federal Constitution to withhold consent to a request for dissolution of Parliament – expected imminently – unless four urgent measures of reforms are carried out to prevent the next general election from being turned into a farce. To date, both the EC and the government have been unresponsive, except for introducing the use of indelible ink.
The King’s powers
I have in my previous article advanced the constitutional basis that supports the King’s discretional power to act on this issue, independent of whatever constitutional convention that may be practised in United Kingdom.
Is the proposed electoral reform an issue of such gravity that it justifies the King exercising his power under Article 40(2)(b)? Put another way, if there is no reform, is the consequential damage to the nation so critical that it should move the King to exercise his power?
We should also ask:
* How would the nation suffer if elections are delayed until essential short-term reforms take place, since the term of the current government expires only in 15 months’ time?
* What benefits will accrue to the nation when an election is held after urgent reforms have taken place?
* If we do not reform, are we not guilty of willfully prolonging a serious breach of the fundamental principle of our constitution?
* What valid reasons are there to oppose electoral reforms?
* What valid reasons are there to object to the formation of a royal commission to carry out the necessary review?
It is anticipated that the exercise of such discretionary power by the King will raise eyebrows, as many still tend to draw parallels with the Queen of England, and maintain that the monarch should only play a ceremonial role. I would submit that the King plays quite a different role, in a completely different historical and social context.
The independent state of Malaya was formed half a century ago out of a population of diverse races, religions, cultures and languages. The institution of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (meaning Paramount Ruler) was then created to instill loyalty and to provide a symbol of sovereignty and unity that would bind the diverse races together.
In fact, the King’s role is more than symbolic under the constitution. As head of the Executive, he performs important functions of state, such as appointing the prime minister, cabinet ministers, all judges, attorney-general, EC members, police chief. He also summons, prorogues and dissolves Parliament, and proclaims a state of emergency if required.
Even where the King has to act according to the advice of the prime minister or Council of Rulers, he is entitled to call for any information concerning the government, under Article 40(1). This implies that he be in constant consultation over matters of state if he wishes to be so involved, and thereby exert quiet influence. Given this constitutional authority, a wise and diligent King could act as a benevolent force of check and balance to prevent the government from becoming wayward.
Take for instance the issue of electoral reform. If the King wants to see this getting underway, all he needs to do may be to have a firm, but friendly word with the premier and buttress this with powers under Article 40(2) if need be.
A courageous and just act to defend the integrity of the constitution was seen in the recent rejection of the premier’s nominee for Chief Judge of Malaya early last year. It is hoped that the Rulers will continue to act in the same spirit, thereby making the institution of the royalty a bulwark of stability for justice to the people.

KIM QUEK is a retired accountant and PKR member.