Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Removing ‘guessing game’ on GE date among ERC’s ideas to transform the face of election

Several recommendations on reforming the electoral system will remove some of the advantages enjoyed by the incumbent government.

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Recommendations submitted by Putrajaya’s special committee on reforming the electoral system are set to transform the face of Malaysia’s general elections, including several suggestions that would remove the ruling party’s advantage against its opponents.

The 49 proposals submitted by the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) include one that would remove the age-old guessing game on the dissolution of Parliament as well as state assemblies.

In its report submitted last August, the ERC said that ample notice of up to six months should be served, so that political parties as well the Election Commission (EC) are not caught by surprise when Parliament is dissolved.

Under current law, the ruling government has the prerogative to dissolve Parliament and call for an election whenever it likes.

“The unexpected dissolution will catch opposition parties and other candidates off guard. The EC, too, will have difficulty especially in preparing logistics and appointing and training election workers,” the ERC report said as sighted by MalaysiaNow.

In the past, intense speculation by politicians and analysts on the date of a given election would begin long before the expiry of the government’s five-year mandate.

In 2018, then-prime minister Najib Razak decided to wait until the end of Barisan Nasional’s mandate to call for an election, following several months of speculation.

The ERC said the practice of announcing the dissolution of Parliament months in advance is also followed in New Zealand, citing how Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had announced this in January, some 10 months before the end of her government’s mandate in October.

Another recommendation by the ERC will see the tradition of nomination day gatherings effectively abolished.

“Too great a police presence, even to maintain public peace, does not reflect the ideal democracy practised in developed countries.”

The committee said the nomination of candidates could be done online, without the need for authorities to mobilise logistics for crowd control, and ensuring peace between the supporters of political rivals.

“Too great a police presence, even to maintain public peace, does not reflect the ideal democracy practised in developed countries,” the report said.

It also suggested an extension of several days to the nomination period instead of the present one hour before candidacies are confirmed and announced by the returning officer.

It cited several examples in other democracies where the nomination period lasts several days, such as the UK (three days), New Zealand (five days), India (seven days), Australia (14 days) and South Africa (16 days).

“The one-hour time frame is too short and only puts pressure on those who plan to submit their nomination forms,” the ERC report said.

It said taking the process online would also prevent tension between rival political parties in gatherings outside nomination centres.

The committee likewise recommended that the campaign period be allowed to continue for between 14 and 21 days, with a law requiring that voting be held on a Saturday.

Previous elections had seen the government limiting the campaign period to less than two weeks.

The 2018 election campaign lasted 11 days compared to 15 days in 2013. But both are still relatively longer than the campaign periods of the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1999, a record nine-day campaign period was fixed under Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s administration. The election was held on the back of large-scale anti-government protests in the wake of Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking a year earlier.

The ERC also recommended a longer cooling-off period where all forms of campaigning are banned.

Currently, political parties and candidates may campaign until midnight before voting day.

“A cooling-off period of two days would allow voters to make a rational evaluation before heading to the polling centres. The contesting party will also have time to take down their campaign material during this period,” said the ERC.

ERC chief executive Amerul Muner Mohamad says no weaknesses can be allowed in the electoral system.

Putrajaya recently announced a special committee headed by senior minister Mohamed Azmin Ali to study the 49 recommendations submitted by the ERC.

The ERC, led by former EC chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, was announced by the previous Pakatan Harapan government to address weaknesses in the electoral system.

Yesterday, Rashid expressed confidence that all 49 recommendations would be implemented, adding that some need to be immediately carried out.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, ERC chief executive Amerul Muner Mohamad said the voting process is one of three main issues that the government must urgently address in order to ensure fair elections.

He added that a weakness at any stage of the election would affect the entire electoral system.

“There is no room for any weaknesses as this would reflect on the integrity of the EC itself.”

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