Bersih 2.0 moots breaking up Election Commission into three entities

An Election Commission officer checks on one of the voting booths at the Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Tamil Trolak in Tanjung Malim August 29, 2020. — Bernama pic
An Election Commission officer checks on one of the voting booths at the Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Tamil Trolak in Tanjung Malim August 29, 2020. — Bernama pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 8 — Electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 has suggested that the functions of the Election Commission be divided up into three distinct entities to improve the voting process in Malaysia.

Researcher Chan Tsu Chong said these would ideally be the existing EC, an electoral enforcement commission (EEC), and an electoral boundaries commission (EBC).

“The EC will to administer and conduct elections as well as manage voter registration and the electoral roll, while the EEC will monitor and ensure compliance to elections-related laws, and the EBC will review and delimitate electoral boundaries,” he said during Bersih’s webinar to release its fourth research report earlier today.

Chan said the existing electoral management has several weaknesses that need to be addressed in order to make the system more efficient and less prone to abuse of power.

“For example the EC’s independence and credibility is affected by the fact that commissioners are subject to the binding advice of the prime minister, despite being appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

“Similarly the EC has been criticised in the past for unfairly delineating the electoral boundaries over the years in favour of the ruling party and coalition, with worsening malapportionment and gerrymandering during the last delimitation exercise,” he said.

Another weakness in the current electoral management system includes a lack of regulation on political parties especially in terms of political financing. Chan said as the EC has no powers to register and regulate political parties, this meant those seeking to form their own political parties faced many barriers.

These barriers include the fact that the home affairs minister has absolute discretion to declare a society illegal, and the Registrar of Societies has also arbitrarily delayed and refused several registrations by political parties in the past.

“Under the proposed multiple-body system, each commission shall be separate and independent from each other and from the executive.

“The three new commissions shall be fully independent from the executive and civil service, and they shall have full autonomy over their respective operational and budgetary matters,” Chan said.

At the same time the 2012 Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on Electoral Reform’s proposal to set up a service commission should be implemented, for the purpose of appointing the EC’s own officers and creating a specialised scheme of service.

“All three commissions are equal in standing, and they shall make policies and regulations with regards to their own mandated functions. This is to ensure that the three commissions do not interfere in each other’s roles and to ensure that they have the necessary power to regulate and carry out their functions effectively.

“All three commissions shall be monitored by and report to a PSC on Electoral Matters in Parliament. This committee shall be made a permanent committee under the Standing Order and its composition shall reflect the composition of the house, with the chairperson of the committee shall be from the opposition bench,” he said.

Some of the functions under the existing EC will be transferred to the other two proposed bodies. It will still retain the primary responsibility of conducting elections, managing nomination of candidates, carrying out polling, counting and tabulating the votes, and announcing the results.

It will also retain the responsibility for voter registration and maintenance of the electoral roll.

“Meanwhile the EEC’s main responsibilities include regulating political parties outside of an election period. We propose a Political Parties Act be tabled to empower the EEC to establish regulations on political parties, including its registration, reporting requirements and finances.

“During an election period, the EEC shall be in charge of monitoring and ensuring compliance to the Elections Act 1958 and Elections Offences Act 1954. For both purposes, the enforcement officers and enforcement teams shall have investigative powers, such as to issue search warrants and to summon suspects and witnesses for testimony,” Chan said.

Lastly the EBC’s task of reviewing and delineating electoral boundaries will be in line with the constitutional procedures for delimitation as per the Thirteenth Schedule of the Federal Constitution.

“However, the Thirteenth Schedule is required to be amended to provide the EBC with the final authority to approve the delimitation proposal. The federal government shall be allowed to submit representations to object to the EEC’s delimitation proposal, and parliament can formally debate on the proposal.

“Both the executive and legislature shall not be allowed to amend or veto the EEC’s final decision on the changes to the electoral boundaries. As a safeguard, the EBC’s decisions shall be subject to judicial review,” he said.

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