KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 22 — Azhar Azizan @ Harun is the right person to lead the Election Commission (EC) and bring about electoral reforms as he is widely known for his integrity, his fellow lawyers have said.
Lawyer K. Shanmuga said Azhar — popularly known as just Art Harun — had dealt with many election related cases in the past.
“I am very happy that he has been appointed. He is widely regarded for his integrity and intelligence, qualities which are much needed in the EC,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.
Lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad said he has known Azhar for years and has had the privilege of working with him on some cases.
“He’s someone who firmly believes in the supremacy of the Constitution and separation of powers.
“He further believes that for a democratic process to work effectively the relevant institutions, including the EC, must be free from political influence.
“I believe he is well suited for the post, and am looking forward to more progressive reforms in our electoral process,” he told Malay Mail.
Shanmuga, Amer, Fahri Azzat, Edmund Bon, Edward Saw and Sharmila Sekaran co-founded the legal blog Loyar Burok, to which Art has for many years contributed his opinion pieces.
Shanmuga said many still refer to some of Art’s articles on the election law as a handy guide.
Fahri, who is a lawyer, described his friend Azhar as a prominent litigator who is very well-versed in the Federal Constitution.
“For me, personally, Art is one of my significant intellectual mentors. He’s very astute in reading cases and putting them in a bigger context of politics and history.
“He’s also to me a person of integrity, highly intelligent, unafraid to speak out. To me, he’s got all these fine qualities that would serve the position very well,” he told Malay Mail.
Fahri also praised Azhar as a fine commentator on issues where politics and the law meet, adding that he is both honest in his views and able to explain the law in a way that is easy for the layman to understand.
“He’s a principled guy, he’s somebody who’s willing to tell the truth to those in power and I think more so for the EC, you have all the funny things that can go on before election — like gerrymandering. I think someone like Art would be good against such arbitrary abuses of power. I have full confidence he will do the right thing.
“I’m looking forward to his chairmanship and see what follows,” he said.
The Federal Constitution has legal provisions on the EC, including its composition and role, and also covers the redrawing of voting boundaries, election petitions and the requirements for a Malaysian to be a voter.
Some of the constitutional clauses were the subject of lawsuits before the 14th general election (GE14), with critics of the EC claiming that its redelineation or redrawing of electoral boundaries amounted to gerrymandering or malapportionment, which allegedly benefited the then ruling coalition Barisan Nasional.
Lawyer Lim Wei Jiet, who was part of the Selangor government’s legal team in its court challenge against the EC’s alleged unconstitutional pre-GE14 redelineation exercise, said he knew Azhar has experience in and writes on election petitions.
“But the more important criteria for an EC chairman is honesty and integrity. He needs to ensure that the electoral process — from the drawing of electoral boundaries and polling district divisions to the registration of voters, all up to voting day — is conducted with professionalism and fairness to all political parties.
“Art Harun has been friendly with civil society organisations and has always spoken up on good governance and democratic ideals. I am confident he will bring the same spirit to the office of the EC chairman,” he told Malay Mail.
Chief Secretary to the Government Datuk Seri Ismail Bakar yesterday announced Azhar’s appointment as the new EC chief.
Azhar will be taking over from Tan Sri Mohd Hashim Abdullah whose tenure was cut short to July 1.