Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Malaysian Election Reform: a panel for free and fair polls





A panel for free and fair polls

Comment by BARADAN KUPPUSAMY

 For the select committee on electoral reform to be successful, there is a need for all parties to put aside partisan politics and work for what matters most – the best interest of the rakyat.

PAKATAN Rakyat should give a chance for the Parliamentary Select Committee to be formed and do its job of investigating and suggesting changes to the country’s electoral system.

As it is, their MPs have issued numerous statements ranging from outright boycott of the select committee to agreeing to participate but on their own terms.

They want Pakatan leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to head the panel, increase the number of Pakatan panel members from the current three or, alternatively, not to give independent MPs a place in the committee.

They also want the assurance that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak will not call for a general election before a full, complete report of the panel is published and the recommendations implemented.
 
Najib has said the reforms could be divided into immediate reforms and long term ones; immediate reforms could be implemented before the next general election.

But he has rejected outright the idea of reform first and a general election later, saying the Government reserves the right to call for a general election at any time.
 
Pakatan Rakyat is due to make known its stand on the matter soon, according to PAS deputy president Mohamed Sabu.

While Pakatan Rakyat decides, Parliament is set to debate a motion on the formation of the select committee on Oct 3, which will also include its terms of reference and possibly the members of the committee.

A parliamentary select committee, as the name suggests, is a committee of the House and tasked to deliberate on matters of concern; in this case, on election and the electoral process and submit a report to Parliament and make recommendations which can lead to changes in the relevant laws.

Select committee members must be MPs and exercise all the powers of Parliament to make inquiries, inspect documents, call experts witnesses and go on road shows around the country for evidence gathering.



They must act in a non-partisan manner as Parliament is supposed to be – that is, to act in the best interest of the rakyat.

That is why a select committee is headed by a minister of the Government of the day which has a majority in the House.

It is the Government that decides that the election system needs reforming and carries out the task of forming the select committee.

It is inappropriate for Pakatan Rakyat to demand that it head the select committee because it is the Government’s right to reserve that position for itself.

This means Anwar cannot be head of the select committee but he can be a member of the panel, if he so chooses.

Besides, such a committee has no place for an NGO leader or a civilian because parliamentary convention allows only MPs to be members of the committee.

But they can be called as experts witnesses to aid the committee in carrying out its duties which, hopefully, is the manner in which Bersih leaders will be engaged.

The Government’s right of way also includes having a majority in the select committee but that majority should be proportionate to its membership in Parliament.

Giving Pakatan Rakyat parties three places in the committee is also fair when the Government only reserves for itself five places, which is quite proportionate to the respective representation of Parlia­ment.

The only issue that Pakatan Rakyat can raise is the allocation of one place to the nine independent MPs who act as a bloc in Parlia­ment.

The independents are not true independents but former PKR MPs who defected and now stand with the Government on any issue in Parliament.

Giving them a place seems unjustified but they, too, might have a cause to present.

The nearest thing we have had to a successful select committee, in recent times, was the 2004 select committee on the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code that was headed by Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad.

It heard expert witnesses and made numerous recommendations.

This eventually led to amendments to both codes in 2006 that helped to strengthen the fundamental liberties of arrested persons, among other changes.

This current committee will also see changes to the election rules and process if given a chance to be formed and conduct its work.

Therefore, it is incumbent on the Pakatan Rakyat MPs to set aside partisan politics and work together to ensure that the people get what want – a free and fair election.

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