Appoint magistrates as election returning officers, urges ex-Bar president

Former Malaysian Bar president Ragunath Kesavan. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A former Malaysian Bar president has suggested that the Election Commission (EC) appoint magistrates as returning officers (ROs) in conducting elections for the federal and state legislatures.

Ragunath Kesavan said lower court judges were not civil servants and their legal skills could be utilised when voters were asked to exercise their duty to elect their government.

“There will also be a perception that ROs from the ranks of judicial officers will be independent in conducting the polls,” he said.

Ragunath said magistrates would be able to interpret the election laws and regulations so that candidates’ nomination papers would not be rejected arbitrarily.

“It will be ideal for the EC to appoint them to carry out an important democratic function once in five years or during by-elections,” he told FMT.

Ragunath said legally trained returning officers who used their powers judiciously could prevent unnecessary filing of election petitions by candidates who were adversely affected.

He said this in response to a petition brought by PKR candidate Dr Streram Sinnasamy who was denied entry into the nomination centre as he did not have an entry pass.

As a result, RO Amino Agos Suyub declared that the Rantau seat was won uncontested by Mohamad Hasan, the former Negeri Sembilan menteri besar and assemblyman for the constituency since 2004.

Streram wants the election court to declare Mohamad’s victory illegal and that a by-election should be held.

The Election Court on Tuesday was told by Negeri Sembilan EC director Afizam Abdullah San that walk-in candidates, their proposers and seconders are allowed to file their papers on nomination day without the need for entry passes.

Former Batu MP Tian Chua also had his nomination paper rejected by RO Anwar Md Zain on grounds that he was disqualified due to a RM2,000 fine imposed by the court for a criminal offence.

Independent candidate P Prabakaran, supported by Tian Chua and his party PKR, then won the seat in a four-cornered contest.

Tian Chua, who won the seat twice, filed a suit against Anwar and the EC but it was dismissed by the High Court. He later withdrew his appeal.

Currently, the EC appoints ROs who are drawn from district officers, assistant district officers, local council heads and council secretaries.

Meanwhile, lawyer M Manogaran said Sessions Court judges, deputy or assistant registrars could also be appointed as ROs as they would be good referees.

“Being ROs during the election is no interference to their normal work as election petitions are heard by High Court judges,” he said.

Manogaran said the EC, under its new chief Azahar Harun. should be receptive to new ideas to ensure elections in Malaysia are truly fair and free.

“The days of organising sham elections where civil servants are biased towards the ruling party must be history,” he said.

He said the losing candidate would not be inclined to file a petition if they accepted the outcome.