‘Allot seats in proportion to votes’

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on March 15, 2019.
‘Allot seats in proportion to votes’
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KUALA LUMPUR: Broad changes to the election system are needed to create a better multi-party democracy, according to the Electoral Reform Roundtable report.

Proportionate representation and re-election for elected representatives who defect were among 10 changes that were proposed at the roundtable held on Nov 30 and Dec 1 last year, the report which was released yesterday said.

The roundtable was organised by Bersih 2.0 and Global Bersih with the support of the Speaker of the House of Representative of Malaysia, the Election Commission, the Kofi Annan Foundation, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.

In a joint statement Bersih and Global Bersih said Malaysia’s experience shows that politics cannot stand still in the face of changes brought by economic development, urbanisation, and mass education and the experience shows it was possible to overcome the politics of identity and offer voters a credible democratic alternative.

The reforms, they said, are to ensure Malaysia can become a robust multi-party democracy.

The recommendations from the roundtable included:

Moving away from the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system towards a more proportional system that can promote national unity and centrism, allow for healthy competition between coalition partners, and better represent Malaysia’s diverse population and voter representation in Parliament.

As long as Malaysia retains the FPTP system, it should address issues of over and under-representation between the states in Peninsular Malaysia, as well as within each state. Constituencies should also be fairly and impartially drawn. The seats should be distributed between the states on the basis of electorate size, while strict numerical standards should be reinstated for variations between constituencies.

The electoral rolls should be audited and managed in an open, inclusive and transparent manner, so as to build public trust. A new geo-

coded National Address Database should be used to audit the electoral rolls and the civil registration records of the National Registration Department;

Absentee voting should be extended to Malaysian voters living in neighbouring countries as well as those living further afield. Such absentee voting facilities should be provided for some domestic voters — in particular, Sabah and Sarawak voters in the peninsula and vice versa — in the long run, voters should be encouraged to vote where they actually reside. Military and police voters should also be given the option of voting in their home constituencies via absentee voting;

Careful investigations together with public consultations should be carried out before adopting any form of electronic and online voting in Malaysia.

The Election Commission (EC) and the other authorities should play a role in monitoring political spending, electoral misconduct, fake news and hate speech online.

Regulating political spending to political parties and third parties, both during and outside the campaign period, and to internal party elections. Political contributions, both in cash and in kind, should also be declared and subject to limits. It also proposed that public funding should take the place of some forms of private funding, and parties should have equitable and unrestricted access to state media.

It also proposes that rules and guidelines be drawn up for managing transitions in government, codifying best practices and caretaker conventions. Consideration should also be given to a constitutional amendment submitting defecting members of Parliament to re-election.

Election offences laws should be updated to clarify the roles and powers of the various state agencies and to empower the EC to monitor, investigate, and penalise breaches of election offences laws; and

The selection of EC commissioners  should be subject to scrutiny by a cross-party parliamentary committee, and the EC should have operational independence in staffing and budgeting, subject to scrutiny by a dedicated parliamentary select committee. The EC should be given the responsibility for the registration and regulation of political parties, while consideration may be given to transferring responsibility for the delimitation of constituencies to an independent boundaries commission.

After the roundtable, Bersih and Global Bersih hope that the conversation on electoral reform will continue in cities, towns, and villages nationwide, as well as in Parliament through a Parliamentary Select Committee to deliberate on and facilitate the constitutional and legal amendments necessary for electoral reform.