“Dragging” Its Feet? The EC Has Had to Be “Dragged” Kicking and Screaming by Bersih 2.0 and the PSC on Electoral Reform

MyOverseasVote reads with interest EC Deputy Chairman Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar’s denial yesterday of Bersih 2.0 Co-Chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan’s allegation that the EC has been “dragging its feet” on election reform. In his rebuttal, Wan Ahmad cited, as an example of the EC’s “unprecedented” reforms, the extension of postal voting to all Malaysians overseas (Malaysiakini, 20 December 2012).

MyOverseasVote believes that to state that the EC has been “dragging its feet” is to endue the EC with more activity and cooperativeness than it actually deserves. It would be more apt to say that the EC has had to be dragged kicking and screaming by civil society, Bersih 2.0 and the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform (PSC) in order to come up with any reforms at all. We believe that the EC’s inaction on this issue alone speaks for itself:

  • On 11 February 2011, nearly two years ago, Wan Ahmad told the press that the EC “was now looking at extending the ballot to other Malaysians at large who were working in international organisations or running businesses overseas” (The Malaysian Insider).
  • On 25 August 2011, shortly after the historic Bersih 2.0 rally in July 2011, EC Chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof announced that the EC “was in the midst of amending regulations to extend postal voting rights to Malaysians working overseas” (The Star).
  • On 1 December 2011, the PSC recommended in its interim report that all Malaysians living overseas should be entitled to vote by post. This was accepted by the Dewan Rakyat, but the EC insisted on a requirement that overseas Malaysians could not vote unless they returned to Malaysia every five years.
  • On 3 April 2012, the PSC confirmed its recommendation in its final report and gave the EC a three-month deadline (3 July 2012) to make the necessary arrangements with Government departments to implement its recommendation. This was also accepted by the Dewan Rakyat.
  • On 11 July 2012, having missed the PSC’s deadline, Abdul Aziz told Malaysians that “the system [of overseas postal voting] can be implemented by September if we have to amend the law, but it could be earlier than that (if legal amendments are not needed)” (Malaysian Insider).
  • On 14 September 2012, two weeks before the start of the last Dewan Rakyat sitting before the next general election, Abdul Aziz said that the Attorney-General’s Chambers was “still studying whether an amendment to the Election Act was needed” before overseas postal voting for Malaysians could be implemented (Bernama/Malaysiakini).
  • On 19 October 2012, Wan Ahmad said that: “Very soon, maybe next month [November], we will upload the form that can be accessed by Malaysians all over the world who are already registered voters, to request to receive their ballot papers by post” (The Star).
  • On 3 December 2012, having missed the end of the final Dewan Rakyat of this Parliament, EC Secretary Datuk Kamaruddin Mohamed Baria said that: “The EC is finalising the policy, planning logistics, labour and financial provisions to implement this system effectively. After that, the EC will amend the Election (Postal Voting) Regulations 2003” (The Sun).

Again, MyOverseasVote would point out that the EC, as the body entrusted by the Federal Constitution with the preparation and revision of electoral rolls and the conduct of elections, has its own legal staff and a RM700 million budget and is given wide rule-making powers both by Article 113(5) of the Federal Constitution and by the Elections Act 1958.

As we come to the closing days of 2012, we have to note that unless the amendments to the 2003 Postal Voting Regulations are made soon, there is no way that 1 million overseas Malaysians will be able to register to vote by post in time for the next general election.

After two years of deceit and inaction, MyOverseasVote has little confidence that the EC will deliver on overseas voting by the 13th General Election, though we would be very happy to be proven wrong.

Having agreed to delay the hearing of the appeal of the six Malaysians who are suing the EC for refusing to register them as absent voters, in order to give the EC the chance to amend the regulations and lay them before the Dewan Rakyat before the final sitting in September-November 2012, the lawyers for the six will now be writing to the Court of Appeal to ask for an expedited hearing date.

MyOverseasVote is also currently working with fellow Malaysians around the world to mobilise as many Malaysians as possible to return to Malaysia to vote at the next general election. For many, the financial cost and time will be too great, but we are hopeful at least that a large number of the 400,000 Malaysians working in Singapore will be able to return to Malaysia in order to exercise their democratic rights. We are happy therefore to endorse the JomBalikUndi campaign (www.jombalikundi.com) and in particular Bersih Singapore’s initiative to organise car-pooling for Malaysians needing to return to Malaysia to vote (balikundi.bersihsingapore.com).

That Malaysians overseas have been forced to organise these initiatives speaks volumes of their lack of faith in the EC, who has time and time again let down Malaysians with its repeated delays and continued inaction. We can only surmise that for the last two years the EC has been hoping that the Prime Minister would call a general election before the regulations are amended so that it would not have to organise postal voting for Malaysians overseas. This cynical manipulation must not be allowed to continue.

MYOVERSEASVOTE

London, 21st Dec 2012

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