News24

Malaysia: Calls for electoral overhaul

2012-04-03 12:59

Kuala Lumpur - A Malaysian parliamentary panel on Tuesday cited widespread deficiencies in the country's electoral system and backed changes that were championed by a mass vote-reform protest last year.

The panel was set up by Prime Minister Najib Razak in October, three months after police crushed the rally by tens of thousands in Kuala Lumpur, earning condemnation at home and abroad.

The final report tabled in parliament recommends ensuring the independence of the Election Commission (EC) amid allegations of ruling-coalition bias, and allowing the opposition access to mainstream media, among other reforms.

However, opposition politicians, who were represented on the panel, said it did not sufficiently address concerns about alleged widespread irregularities in the voter roll.

Speculation is mounting that Najib will call elections within months, a contest expected to be extremely close after the long-ruling coalition had its worst showing ever in polls in 2008.

Electoral reform pressure group Bersih 2.0, which organised the rally along with the opposition in July, has said it may call for a new protest if its demands on reform are not met.

Registration fraud

Police broke up the July rally using tear gas and water cannon, and 1 600 people were arrested.

"The panel suggests that all the recommendations in this report be considered to improve the electoral process and strengthen the EC to guarantee free and fair elections," the report said.

It also called for a clean-up of the electoral roll amid reports of irregularities, such as dozens of people being registered at a single address.

Hatta Ramli, an opposition parliamentarian and panel member, criticised the report's recommendations on handling of the voter roll as insufficient.

"It concerns one of the principle matters. We are not very happy with the way the report is presented," he said.

The independent National Institute for Electoral Integrity released a statement saying it "cautiously welcomes" the panel report, but said that with polls looming the report lacks "specific short-term recommendations" and also urged a total overhaul of the EC.

Media access

The report also called on the commission to devise a legal framework for allowing Malaysians living abroad - estimated at one million people - to vote. Malaysia has a population of 28 million people.

It urged "free and fair media access" for all parties but gave no specific recommendations.

All mainstream media in Malaysia are government-controlled, forcing the opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim to use the Internet to get its message out.

Outspoken Bersih 2.0 co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan declined immediate comment on the report but said the group would issue a statement soon.

Parliament was to debate the report on Tuesday before voting on whether to endorse it.