PETALING JAYA: Bersih chairman Thomas Fann and social activist Maria Chin Abdullah have opposed a call by a former Election Commission (EC) official for the government to consider eliminating by-elections.
Fann said that under Malaysia’s “first-past-the-post” voting system, voters have a right to be represented by a candidate of their choice.
That means by-elections for seats which fall vacant during the course of a legislative term are unavoidable, he said.
“Not everyone voted according to their party affiliation. Some of them voted based on the track record of the candidate,” Fann told FMT.
He said most political parties will likely reject any proposal to do away with by-elections as all parties would insist on being allowed to stake their claim for a seat which falls vacant.
Earlier this week, former EC deputy chief Wan Ahmad Wan Omar suggested that the federal government review the need for by-elections “within the context of the country’s political democracy”.
According to Utusan Malaysia, Wan Ahmad suggested that the Federal Constitution be amended to allow the party of an incumbent who vacates his seat to continue serving the affected constituency.
He said the move could potentially save the government millions of ringgit.
According to Wan Ahmad, the government usually forks out between RM4 million and RM6 million for each parliamentary by-election, and between RM1.5 million and RM3 million for a by-election to any of the state assemblies.
However, Maria, a former Bersih chairman and Petaling Jaya MP, said cutting costs is not a good enough reason to justify abolishing by-elections.
“Democracy comes with a cost,” she told FMT.
Maria also said bypassing by-elections is contrary to Malaysia’s democratic principles.
“By-elections are not a mandate of the ruling party. It is a mandate given by the people.
“If we want to build a democratic Malaysia, it is the mandate of the people that matters the most,” she said.
Fann said Malaysia can avoid by-elections by moving to a closed list proportional representation system.
In such a system, people vote for political parties instead of candidates.
A political party would come up with a list of candidates for each seat before an election.
“This means the next person on the party’s list would replace the deceased incumbent of a state or parliamentary seat,” he said.
The country will be holding its fourth by-election this year.
On Sept 9, by-elections were held for the Simpang Jeram state seat and the Pulai parliamentary seat after domestic trade and consumer affairs minister Salahuddin Ayub died in July. PH candidates won both seats.
A by-election will be held in Pelangai, Pahang, on Oct 7 following the death of the assemblyman, Umno’s Johari Harun, in the plane crash at Bandar Elmina, Shah Alam, on Aug 17.
Another by-election is likely to be held within the next two months following the death on Sept 15 of six-term Jepak assemblyman Talib Zulpilip in Sarawak.
According to Utusan Malaysia, there were 16 by-elections between the general elections in 2008 and 2013, 12 over the period from 2013 and 2018, and a further 12 between 2018 and 2022.