Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

An Unindependent Election Commission

Written by johnleemk on 12:24:11 pm Mar 9, 2007.
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The Malaysian Election Commission is, in theory, an independent body. It was set up to oversee and carry out the process of holding elections in Malaysia. It is responsible for several things, including maintaining the electoral roll and delineating constituencies.

The trouble with the EC, though, is that it's simply not independent of the government's wishes. It was set up to act as a neutral and impartial overseer of elections, but it has clearly become, at best, an ineffective institution forced to comply with the executive's wishes. At worst, it directly aids and abets electoral fraud.

The first chairman of the EC was fiercely independent of the executive. He fought tooth and nail for the EC to have its own way, and refused to submit to the requests of the Prime Minister. When the Tunku attempted to oust him or subdue him, he found loopholes in the law to remain independent.

After he retired, however, the executive made sure it never fell for the same mistake again. It has since appointed those with less independent streaks to the post, and therefore ensured that whatever the Prime Minister wants, the Prime Minister gets.

Just in case, however, the independence of the EC has been continually reduced and infringed upon since the early days of Malaysia. Originally, the EC's recommendations were laid before Parliament and subjected to an up or down vote, with little room for amendments.

Today, however, the Prime Minister can amend the report as much as he likes before it is even presented to the MPs. With the government's unimpeachable Parliamentary majority, the recommendations of the "Electoral Commission" (which are in reality the PM's recommendations) will easily sail through Parliament.

The topping on the cake is the maintenance of our antiquated electoral roll. The roll's maintenance is not automated much, and most of the EC's efforts actually go into purging the roll of dead and other ineligible voters rather than actually working on how to further improve our electoral process.

By forcing us to rely on this antiquated system, the government successfully ties the hands of the EC, and also makes electoral fraud substantially easier. "Phantom voters" are not uncommon, as many people can tell you.

Recently there have been calls from political scientists to review the electoral system in Malaysia, with a view to ending the first-past-the-post system, and also to restoring local government elections.

These calls however, are futile. They fall not on deaf ears, but on ears that could not do anything even if they could hear. The EC is utterly controlled and hemmed in by the government, and the government will never allow us to reform our electoral system.

If we want a fairer and more just election system, the key is an independent Election Commission. By cutting the EC free from the straitjacket it has had imposed on it by the government, we will be doing the voters of Malaysia, today and tomorrow, a great service.


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