Sunday, August 4, 2013

Malaysia's election reform a 'band-aid' remedy

The head of Bersih, the organisation campaigning for clean elections in Malaysia, has criticised reform of the country's Election Commission, a move aimed at healing deep divisions following last month's disputed elections

Ambiga Sreenevasan said the reforms announced by prime minister Najib Razak at the weekend were like "fixing a gaping wound by using band aid remedies" and would not work.

Ms Ambiga said the commission has lost the confidence of the public and its top officials should resign or be removed and replaced with "commissioners of the highest integrity and courage."
She also criticised Mr Najib's announcement the commission would report to a special committee that would include opposition representatives.

"To make them report to another committee is unconstitutional because if you look at the federal constitution they are supposed to be an independent body," she said.

Under the reforms the Election Commission, under fire over its conduct of the knife-edge May 5 poll, will report to a parliamentary select committee rather than to the prime minister's office as was set in the country's 1957 constitution.

"I understand that sections of the public want to see our election processes strengthened," Mr Najib said without providing any further details of the changes.

Hundreds of thousands of people have attended rallies across the country to protest the election outcome where a three-party opposition alliance won 54 percent of the popular vote but failed to oust the Barsian Nasional coalition that has ruled since independence from Britain in 1957.

Malaysia has a gerrymandered electoral system that favours Malay Muslims in rural electorates.

The opposition led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim is preparing to mount a legal challenge to the results in 30 close-run seats, claiming there was vote rigging through fake ballots and black-outs at key polling centres.

Lim kit Siang, a veteran opposition politician, said reform Election Commission reform appeared to be a step in the right direction but said its leaders should be replaced and the opposition should be consulted on the reforms.

"The Election Commission needs a clean start," Mr Lim said.

"There is no doubt that the EC has in many instances acted as a Barisan Nasional protagonist in attacking opposition leaders, rather than acting under an impartial rule," he said.

The government has denied any fraud took place and said the elections were fair.


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