The Coalition for Clean and Fair Election (BERSIH 2.0) has learned from media reports on 30 August 2018 that we have been named as one of the organizations to be represented in the newly formed Electoral Reform Committee (ERC). We thank and commend the government for the inclusion of civil society representative in the committee.
BERSIH 2.0 would like to make the following statement clarifying our positions on the ERC and suggestions in pursuing the electoral reform in a holistic manner before making any official decision whether to join the ERC:
1. The government should appoint a new chairman of the Election Commission (EC) that is independent and enjoys public confidence as soon as possible in a transparent manner. The current batch of commissioners should be removed through the establishment of a tribunal in order to make way for reform minded commissioners to be appointed. This is important as some reform measures, such as cleaning the existing electoral rolls, management of elections, campaigning rules do not need further study and cannot wait for another two years for ERC to come out with recommendations. This should be implemented immediately by a reformed EC in view of three by-elections have taken place and the Sarawak state elections in 2021 or earlier.
2. By setting up the ERC, this should not preclude the parliament from establishing a parliamentary select committee (PSC) on electoral reform and political parties. The ERC is a process taken by the executive while the PSC will be the measure by the legislative. They should be separate but go hand in hand in complementing each other. The PSC is important to facilitate the translation of reform recommendations that needs immediate implementation, such as setting a longer period for election campaign, strengthen definition and enforcement against election offences, legislating voting age at 18, repealing Section 9A of the Election Act 1958 that disallow court to hear cases involving the electoral roll.
Furthermore, the PSC should be an ongoing committee as it has a wider role. It has the function of monitoring the EC, its budget and expenditure and to conduct inquiries on matters involving elections and political parties. It should receive reports from the EC on annual basis and after any federal or state elections. Expenditure report of the EC should also be submitted to this committee. The PSC should carry out inquiries into improvements to be made to the electoral system and processes with inputs from the EC. The hearing of this committee should be open to the public and all findings made public.
This will institutionalise the moving of EC from reporting to the Prime Minister’s office to parliament in a meaningful manner. We therefore call on the Parliament to establish a PSC on elections and political parties to be one of the select committees without further delays.
3. The government should establish a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) to study the problems in the 14th General Election and the electoral system with the aim to produce recommendations on long term reforms of the electoral system, such as the possibility of changing the electoral system from First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system to Proportionate Representation (PR) system or a mixed system. Unlike the ERC, a RCI will have the power and authority as given in the law to conduct public inquiry and to subpoena any public officials to give testimony in order to find out the exact problems in GE14 and the existing electoral system.
4. To be seen as independent and impartial committee with public confidence, the ERC must not be seen as dominated by partisan interests. The chairman of the ERC should be a non-partisan person instead of Tan Sri Abdul Rashid bin Abdul Rahman who is a vice president of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM). This does not bode well with the public image that the ERC should be independent and impartial to facilitate discussion and building cross party consensus on electoral reform. BERSIH 2.0 recommend the chairperson of ERC to be selected among the committee members with no political party affiliation.
Further more, besides Abdul Rashid, PBBM is also over-represented by Kamaruddin Md Nor (Information Chief of PPBM), Nordin Salleh (Members of Majlis Pimpinan Tinggi) and Wan Saiful Wan Jan (a PPBM leader and candidate in GE14) of the ten members reported so far. There are currently no representatives from Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Democratic Action Party, Parti Amanah Nasional, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and other East Malaysian parties while only one slot is reserved for Barisan Nasional. Also, none of the 10 members reported is a woman. BERSIH 2.0 recommends for a more inclusive composition and equal representation of all stakeholders in the ERC to facilitate cross party consensus and support for electoral reform.
5. BERSIH 2.0 is of the view that the ERC’s mandate of two years is too long for electoral reform given that the problems of our electoral system are well known and many research studies have been done with good recommendations for reforms by research institutions or civil society. BERSIH 2.0 calls for the ERC to be given 18 months of mandate with a more focused scope of tasks to complete with new laws enforced before the Sarawak state election in 2021.
6. BERSIH 2.0 calls on the government to make public the report of the Institutional Reform Committee (IRC) which have consulted civil society on electoral reform as a green paper that excludes only those limited and highly sensitive recommendations such as national defence policy. The report of the IRC should be the foundation and baseline for the work of the ERC, PSC on electoral reform and the EC so that the important deliberation and recommendations of the IRC are taken on board by all these public institutions on electoral reform.
7. BERSIH 2.0 urges the government to make a public pledge to disclose the reports of the ERC as government white papers. The ERC should conduct its work in the next 18 months in a transparent, accountable and consultative manner with all stakeholders.
Steering Committee of BERSIH 2.0