It is not true that laws need to be amended to bring about electoral reforms. Much depend on the political will of the ruling party or the campaign by the Opposition party and the civil society or social movements. So what are the electoral reforms that can be implemented by just a change in the head, so to speak?
1. Extension of campaign period to 21 days. Legally the EC is allowed to allow up to 60 days for campaign. Previous record was over 40 days; In practice all parties start campaigns well ahead of the official campaign periods-so why not make it official and reduce the police’s job to enforce against these bi-partisan campaigns?
2.Prohibition of government departments and civil servants’ involvement in party campaign. In fact it is against the laws for the government departments and civil servants to involve in party campaigns; Some mechanisms may be needed to monitor this or else the problems won’t stop. Some laws may be needed to be added to stop allocations in election period since there was a precedent in court which has been cited by BN to continue to `serve’ the people all year round; The use of government paid long house chiefs to campaign for BN can be stopped if the government make an announcement to that effect and set up a hot line for complaint;
3. Returning Officers must not be present in any party campaigns; The state secretaries and the EC have been advicing against this but there is no mechanism to ensure the neutrality of these Election Commission appointed officals; this problem is rampant in many rural areas eg Sarawak;
4.The Election Commission can be moved out of the PM department administratively, just as had been done for the Parliament under the previous Prime Minister; The EC should be administered separately from the PM Department in recognition of its status as an independent statutory body; Current arrangement is an anomaly!
5. Allowing overseas Malaysians postal votes service-already allowed by the law but lack implementation;This includes allowing East Malaysians working in Penisular to vote by postal vote as well;
6. Allowing election observers whether from overseas or local areas; the legal provision is already found within the discretion of the Election Commission;
7. Posting the Form 14 (offial polling result at polling stream and polling center levels) outside the polling center for public information; without this suspicion of changes to the official results will continue especially where the Opposition has no Counting Agents;
8. Allowing polling agents from all parties to accompany the EC officials when ballot boxes are transported around on polling day eg on helicopter or speed boats-a major complaint in East Malaysia. This is merely a logistic problem-but had been used as an excuse to exclude party agents from monitoring the transferring of ballot boxes;
9. Exhibiting the nomination forms outside the nomination center; this had not been observed in many occasions due to lack of enforcements despite provision of the law that all voters are allowed to inspect the nomination papers and voice objections;
10. Election Courts should be able to judge electoral offenses other than those which could change the winner in an election; Currently there is a major anomaly where the offenses identified in the Election Offenses Act 1954 are not enforced by the courts eg vote buying, if the extent involved is not considered to be capable of affecting the winner; The laws specify clearly that even a single offense, when proven, is an offense that the offender should be found guilty of and penalised accordingly;
Electoral reforms that need amendments to the laws:
1. Extend the nomination period eg to 1 week;
2.Automatic voter registration;
3. Appointment of Election Commissioners by the Parliament instead of by the Prime Minister;
4. Use of indelible ink;This can be something done under EC’s discretion-but threat of legal challenge means that the safe thing to do is to positively allow it through an amendment to the laws;
5. police permit for political campaigns need to be removed from the Police Act through an amendment;
6. Lowering of the voting age to 18.
7. To strengthen the provision to allow overseas and local election observers there should be positive laws to allow observers, as done in many countries eg Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh;
8.Allowing candidates who have resigned to re-contest their seat; For similar purpose to ascertain that the elected representative still enjoy the voters’ trust, a law to recall candidates who had been found to disregard the mandate given to him/her, should be introduced;
9. Allowing on-going year round registrations of voters; Currently the law only allow quarterly registrations, thus cutting off those who did not register in time for casting their vote; There had been instances where the EC quietly allow newly registered voters to vote in elections irrespective of the quarterly registration cycles; On other occasions eg 1998 a big amount of younger voters are disallowed to vote despite the fact that they had registered early enough; legal amendments will institutionalise the right of voters to register within close range of the elections; In some states in US, a voter can even register on the same day as polling!
10. Challenge to the electoral rolls should be amended to make it open at all time-in contrast to the current practice where only 1 week is allowed; After the electoral roll are gazetted the rolls are currently not challenge-able in court; This provision was made in 2000 to stop people from challenging illegal voters in the electoral rolls, as done in the Likas election before that; The election judge confirmed the presence of illegal voters in the election then and seriously embarrassed the Election commission that prepared the electoral rolls; To facilitate the scrutiny of the electoral rolls there should be a law to strengthen the right of voters to inspect the rolls such that they need not pay anything more than the copying expenses of the rolls! Currently the electoral rolls are priced beyond most people to acquire them from the Election Commission offices;
Both lists are not exhaustive-but compiled here to clarify the idea that electoral reforms are not really beyond the possibilities if there is the necessary political will.
But amendments to the laws may not be so daunting since there are numerous seating of the Parliament in a year. Political wrangling and lack of political will by the ruling parties would be the main stumbling blocks. Actually there had been numerous laws which had been passed in record time without much disputes eg the amendment to do away with the written laws to allow the polling clerks to record the serial number of the voters on the counterfoil of the ballot paper-which was done less than a year without any hassles! The only complication is that some laws need to be passed with 2/3 majority in the legislatures if it involved amendment to the Constitutions-State or Federal, eg voting age. If there are positive electoral reforms, fair to all sides, surely the Opposition will allow the amendments despite the fact that BN don’t enjoy the 2/3 majority in Parliament or some state assemblies.