3 electoral bodies good for democracy, say pundits

The Electoral Reform Committee has submitted 49 proposals to the prime minister to improve the electoral system and restore trust in the EC.

PETALING JAYA: Several pundits have backed the proposal to split the Election Commission (EC) into three separate bodies, saying the move could improve efficiency and provide an assurance of independence in the running of elections.

However, they said it would be beneficial only if the government were truly committed to ensuring such improvements.

Last Thursday, the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) submitted 49 proposals to the prime minister aimed at improving the electoral system and restoring trust in the EC.

One key proposal was to divide the EC into three separate entities, each managing one of three tasks: Maintenance of the electoral roll, re-delineation of constituencies and the administration of elections.

Tunku Mohar Mokhtar

Tunku Mohar Mokhtar of International Islamic University Malaysia said the division of tasks would allow each body to work more efficiently.

“The EC is burdened with so many tasks as it is. The three tasks it is entrusted with should be done by dedicated commissions,” he told FMT.

He said the three groups would need to operate independently of each other to prevent undue influence.

“If they are independent, the rakyat will benefit. If they are empowered to do their tasks, elections can be administered fairly and freely,” he said.

Bersih chairman Thomas Fann said the idea was not novel, but should nonetheless “enhance the integrity” of election management.

Thomas Fann

He told FMT the “main reason“ for the separation should be to ensure proper checks and balances and to avoid “any possible conflict of interests”.

He also said the three bodies “would only be as good as the laws that determine their independence”, and called for strict procedures to ensure freedom from political influence, particularly in regard to staffing and budgeting.

Aira Azhari of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs said the proposal could ensure a “more efficient and decentralised management of elections” if the government were willing to apply the change.

“It all depends on the political will of this government and whether it is serious about institutional reform,” she told FMT.

Aira Azhari

Aira said the groups needed to work in harmony while remaining independent.

“As with all government agencies, the concern is always whether they can maintain coordination and efficiency and whether there is smooth communication between them,” she said.

The ERC’s proposals come after two years of research and discussion. The committee’s chairman, Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, said his panel would spend the next three months answering questions from the public, government and media before wrapping up its work.