PETALING JAYA, Oct 7 — The Election Commission’s (EC) public hearing process for those objecting to its redelineation exercise is flawed as voters are denied their right to legal representation, researcher Dr Wong Chin Huat has said.
Wong, who is attached to think-tank Penang Institute, said the EC is required by the Federal Constitution to hold a “local inquiry” to hear out those eligible to object to its redelineation proposals, including groups of 100 voters from the same constituency.
He pointed out, however, the opaque nature of such inquiries, which would be heard in a closed-door setting and in a limited timeframe with limited participation opportunities.
“That’s the part that is tricky because the whole idea of having this inquiry is for you to speak your mind for EC to consider.
“But that process is quite flawed in two ways. First, the EC fixes it and says it’s going to be half an hour, we require you to have everyon, 20 to 40 who can be present, then only three person can speak, you cannot have legal representation, you do not have media covering whatsoever, there’s basically no public record of your objection, so that’s one part that is very, very non-transparent,” he said in a round-table discussion yesterday evening.
The second reason why the EC’s inquiry process is flawed is that voters who object would not be told why the election regulator accepted or rejected their objections,
“Now but you would not know all those reasons, what the EC will do is that after it has decided the changes to be made, it will come up with a revised proposal for display for another 30 days, so then you have another 30 days to raise your objection,” the Penang Institute fellow said, noting that the justification for the outcome of the second round of inquiry will similarly not be revealed publicly.
The EC will then submit its report with the recommendations to the prime minister who can decide what to include or to make modifications to the report, with the prime minister later tabling it in Parliament for it to come into force.
Wong confirmed that there were no provisions in the Federal Constitution or legislation that said lawyers were not allowed to represent the voters in the EC’s inquiry hearings, saying that the EC was applying its own guidelines for the proceedings.
“Why does the EC need to set a time-limit for half an hour when you have two years to run, there’s no reason for you to rush,” he said, having highlighted that parliamentary select committee and Royal Commission of Inquiry hearings do not fix time limits to hear people out.
Wong also listed various ways for voters to protest the alleged malapportionment and gerrymandering in EC’s plans, including filing objections before the October 14 deadline, pushing for “meaningful inquiry with legal representation”, lawsuits and participation in the Bersih 5 rally on November 19.
He was speaking at a round-table discussion organised by the Society for Promotion of Human Rights Malaysia (Proham) titled “Enhancing Parliamentary Democracy or Undermining It”.
Proham chairman Datuk Kuthubul Zaman, who was a panellist, criticised the EC’s current process for public inquiry over objections to its proposals on redrawing voting boundaries.
“The inquiry process definitely breaches provisions of the Constitution, legal representation is a right in the Constitution, so you must be granted legal representation,” he said.
At one point, an audience member asked if there was any value in the EC’s public inquiry process and asked if it was merely as a means for the regulator to fulfil the pre-requisites before it can move on with redrawing voting boundaries.
Fellow panellist speaker DAP MP Ong Kian Ming, whose Serdang constituency will grow in voter numbers and be renamed as Bangi under the EC’s proposal, had earlier highlighted that the EC has a two-year timeframe to complete the entire process from announcement of proposal to report submission to the prime minister.
He also said that the EC may, however, see its redelineation exercise taking longer than the deadline, noting that the courts could ask it to defer its plans when hearing related court challenges.
“Let’s say the whole exercise cannot be completed within two years, it will have to be scrapped. It’s not them (EC) withdrawing, but if it’s over two years, then the whole thing becomes null and void. Then you will have to restart the exercise all over again, which is something I hope will occur,” he said.