10 election reforms we would like to see

By P. Gunasegaram, The Star

There are more urgent things to address before considering proxy voting.

IT seems to us that the Election Commission is putting the cart before the horse. Yes, there could be some benefits to proxy voting under some circumstances, but there are much more urgent things to be addressed before we even come to that.

To better ascertain what should be the urgent reforms to elections, let us start with what elections should be, irrespective of which party we support, but from our standpoint as fellow Malaysians.

No one will disagree that elections must be free and fair, without threats and intimidation, with everyone being given equal opportunity and time to air and debate their views so that the public makes an informed choice.

Elections must also be representative of what people want. As much as possible of the adult population must be encouraged to vote and as far as possible, one must ensure the principle of proportional representation where the majority chooses the government of the day and all have representation in the legislatures.

With these in mind, here are 10 urgent reforms the Election Commission should undertake as soon as possible.

1. Automatic voter registration. Why the need to require voters to register? We have probably the most sophisticated identity card system in the world, with all relevant information contained in a single microchip embedded in our identity card. Simply use this to verify voters – nothing else is required. That move alone will increase participation in the election process more than any other move we can think of and truly help make democracy work.

2. Compulsory voting. The purists will argue that this is well, undemocratic. But even in a democracy we must require that citizens discharge their obligations – such as getting an IC, and yes voting. Make it compulsory to vote and more people will vote. And make it simple for those outside the country to vote if they are not here through a foolproof system, which does not necessarily have to be proxy voting.

3. Lower voting age to 18 from 21. This will ensure that a much larger proportion of the adult population votes. A person can go to jail at the age of 18, get married, work, etc. That means at that age, a person basically becomes an adult as he assumes full and sole responsibility for his actions. It is only reasonable that he be given the right to vote along with his assumption of adult responsibilities.

4. Promote proportional representation. We all know some constituencies are rather small – sometimes as little as a tenth of another. That makes it difficult to meet the principle of one-man one-vote because in some constituencies fewer votes elect a representative. To overcome such problems, populated constituencies should be split up to largely reflect population.

5. Consider representation based on percentage votes. It is an anomaly in our system of first-past-the-post that absolutely no consideration is given to the minority votes, which often form a huge proportion of total votes. Thus, often a 54% popular vote for instance can control more than two thirds of votes in Parliament, clearly an unfair situation not reflective of the situation on the ground. Perhaps the Senate should be reconstituted and its members allocated to various political parties according to proportion of popular votes garnered. That way, the Constitution cannot be changed willy-nilly when a government enjoys a small majority of popular votes.

6. Require public accounting of all money spent on elections and their sources. Those who have access to money are better off at running election campaigns. Requiring an accounting of election expenses will ensure that all money channelled into elections are legal and accounted for, helping to prevent abuse. Requiring parties to disclose their sources of finance for elections keeps a check on how elections are financed and ensures transparency.

7. Put a limit on the amount of money spent per seat. To level the playing field and to ensure that no candidate spends too much on elections, the amount of money spent per seat by a candidate should be limited. That way, no one will have an unfair advantage in terms of money used.

8. Stop party hopping. The EC should lead the move to change the law to require a new election if an elected representative switches parties. This is fair because the candidate was elected under the banner of a particular party and should seek a new mandate if he changes parties mid-course. But that will depend on whether the necessary laws will be changed, and is not within the power of the EC.

9. Have a minimum campaign period of at least one months. Two weeks or less is a pretty short period of time for nationally important issues to be aired, debated upon and finally decided by the public by a vote. But adopting our final point would avoid this problem and take the uncertainty out of elections in terms of time at least.

10. Fix the election date well in advance. The removal of executive powers to call for elections at any time will remove considerable uncertainty and ensure that elections are held at reasonably certain times. Thus, the next elections will be held exactly five years after the last one if the elected government is not toppled by a vote of no confidence or some other move before that.

As we can see, there is much that the Elections Commission still has to do before it goes to the rather dubious area of proxy voting. Most of these 10 measures are already in place in many countries around the world. And, yes, we do realise that the power to change the law is not with the EC but it can do its part by suggesting the changes.

In the interest of democracy and the rights of the rakyat, it is high time we considered these reforms. A good time will be now.

> Managing editor P. Gunasegaram is not at all optimistic that even a single one of these 10 reform measures will be adopted any time soon.