After a few days that this blog suggest either the government set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry or a Parliament Committee on electoral reform the PM seems to have come under sufficient pressure to take up the suggestion:Najib just reportedly announced the setting up of a bi-partisan Parliament Select Committee on electoral reform! The pressures on him have been incessant: calling for emergency Parliament seating by PR; threat to take legal action against EC over instantaneous adjustment of the fraud-prone electoral rolls; growing concern over the illegal migrants who could be turned into voters ala Sabah; increasing opposition to BN arising from its misguided handling of Bersih rally etc. The Parliamentary select committee would represent an attempt by the Pm to meet the electoral reform lobbies half way!
Now that the Parliament Select Committee(PSC) is on the card what can civil society and opposition parties do to really advance the electoral reform agenda? Some facts: the PSC will be selected to represent the ruling parties’ dominance in the Parliament ie there are going to be 2 BN MPs to 1 PR MP in the PSC, which is most likely to be chaired by the BN-though preferably the PSC should adopt the Public Account Committee’s practice of letting the Opposition to chair it as done in other West minster system of parliament. Then the PSC can allow input from civil society and the public just as what had been done by a number of previous PSC eg the one on governance integrity. But there is a limit to how long this PSC will be given to come out with recommendations to be put into practice in the coming 13th General Elections. It would be a futile exercise if the recommendations would only be considered by the next Federal Government -given that the winner may not want to honour the recommendations after their victory!
Now the tough question: what would be the incentive for BN to concede their handicaps to the PR? if holding on to these advantages would help it keep its seats and even improve its chances to retake the 2/3 Parliamentary majority-what would be its incentives to come clean on the moribund electoral administration? In the event that BN is not amendable to making changes to the elecoral system that advantage itself the civil society and the Opposition can stick to a demand to hold referendum alongside the 13th GE to ask the voters to consider a series of electoral reforms eg the 8 demands by Bersih, or another set of improved demands that look into the the appointment of the EC itself, along with whether the EC can be made independent as required by the Federal Constitution.
If there is a luxury of time there is certainly a good point to hold wider public consultation to get as much as possible public’s feedback on electoral reforms. But would there be enough time for it when the GE may be just around the corner? Can the PM promise to hang on while the PSC finish its job-which easily takes 6 months?
Let’s see who will chair the PSC on Electoral Reform from both sides of the politics. The chair’s inclination would indicate if there are much real interests from the ruling party on electoral reforms.
The PSC is also an option that come after Bersih pressure for the setting up of 3 task forces to look into the electoral rolls, among other things. If the proposal is not accepted there are suggestions growing that Bersih should take to the street again. The PSC which put politicians up front represent an answer to EC’s constant line that they have no power to bring about electoral reforms.
In nod to Bersih, PM announces vote system relook
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 15 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak today said a parliamentary select committee will be formed “as soon as possible” to examine the current electoral system, the key demand of the Bersih July 9 rally.Najib’s announcement is a major concession that acknowledges the political fallout from his administration’s harsh clampdown on the rally.
His administration was roundly criticised in the international media, with his reformist image taking a major hit after the authorities took extreme measures including firing tear gas and water cannons at largely peaceful demonstrators.
Najib’s concession also suggests that he was forced to give space to Bersih and its iconic leader Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan as the government has been floundering since last month’s rally.
But he runs the risk of criticisms from right-wing elements in Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) even as he mulls snap polls.
The prime minister said that committee will include lawmakers from both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat.
“A parliamentary select committee will be formed in the nearest time and it will be made up of government and opposition representatives.
“This committee will discuss all the questions and issues raised about electoral reform so that a mutual agreement can be reached,” said Najib today.
The committee, according to the PM, would ensure that there were no further accusations of electoral roll “manipulations.”
“I, along with my Cabinet, do not want to become PM or a government without the support of the people (through legitimate votes),” added Najib.
Electoral reforms group Bersih took to the streets here on July 9 to demand for fair and free elections, defying warnings of police action, which finally resulted in nearly 1,700 arrests, scores injured and one ex-soldier dead.
The government crackdown led to international criticism and a group of Malaysians even protested when Najib visited London, a rare experience for any Malaysian prime minister abroad.
The Najib administration and the Election Commission (EC) have hitherto defended the current electoral system against Bersih’s series of reform demands, which include automatic voter sign-ups, access to media, the use of indelible ink, longer campaign periods, among others.
But the EC said some of the demands can only be done via amendments to the law, adding it was already cleaning up electoral rolls to weed out “phantom voters”.
The EC is also planning to introduce a biometric system to verify voters, but Bersih and opposition parties claim it can be abused, and pointed out that more than a thousand permanent residents became citizens overnight and were immediately registered to vote.
The Home Ministry has denied the claims and said new citizens were due to quicker administrative process under Najib’s Government Transformation Programme (GTP).