Automatic Voter Registration A More Viable Solution

Media Statement by DAP Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera, Liew Chin Tong, on 26 May 2008 in Parliament House, Kuala Lumpur:
While it is heartening to hear that the Election Commission is finally concerned about the integrity of the electoral roll, its proposed solution is actually worse than the problem.
Yesterday, Election Commission Chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman proposed that a new list of voters be drawn up, which will require the 10.9 million existing voters to re-register. Tan Sri Abdul Rashid has estimated that the exercise would take two years to complete.
Although it is better late than never that the Election Commission has finally realized that the current roll lacks integrity and has failed to ensure clean, free and fair elections, Tan Sri Abdul Rashid’s solution is worrying for the following reasons:
First, if the Election Commission remains an arm of the Prime Minister’s Department and not an independent body responsible only to Parliament, there is no guarantee that the exercise of re-registration of voters will not result in more manipulation of the electoral roll.
Second, such an exercise may not necessarily address the crisis of the passive disenfranchisement of potential voters. Currently, there are 15 million Malaysians who are above the voting age of 21 but only about two-thirds of them are registered as voters. In other words, a third of them has opted out of the voting process.
A re-registration exercise must address this crisis and not aggravate it. But voluntary registration may actually do the opposite – aggravating the situation and depriving more voters from exercising their rights.
The best solution is to implement an automatic voter registration system based on the National Registration Department’s database, which has been linked to the Election Commission’s database since 16 July 2002.
Further, it would be better if Tan Sri Abdul Rashid would support the formation of a Royal Commission for Electoral Reform to look into the introduction of comprehensive changes to our archaic electoral system and not just offer piecemeal suggestions with the intention to grab media headlines.
* Liew Chin Tong is also a Steering Committee Member of BERSIH.