Speech on “Agenda For Electoral and Democratic Reforms”

1. Introduction and Salutations

2. First of all, I would like to congratulate the organizing committee for putting together this very important international conference on the 13th General Elections in Malaysia. This will be the most watched and most scrutinized elections in Malaysian history, both domestically and internationally. For the first time in electoral history, there is a real possibility that the Barisan Nasional can lose power through the ballot box. For the first time in electoral history, the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition presents a credible and reliable alternative to the BN. Pakatan has shown that it can govern effectively at the state level and has presented a clear set of policies and priorities when we win power in Putrajaya.

3. The first ever Pakatan Rakyat Manifesto, launched on the 25th of February, already outlines an ambitious agenda for electoral and democratic reforms.

4. In our Manifesto, we promise to implement clean, fair and transparent elections by implementing the 8 demands of Bersih, by automatically registering voters when they reach the eligible voting age and to clean up the electoral roll within 100 days of coming to power.

5. We promise also to undertake a major reform of key institutions including the Judiciary, the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Police Force by restoring their integrity, making them independent and freeing them from government intervention.

6. Under Pakatan, the appointment of those who head these institutions will be done through an advisory process by parliamentary working committees in accordance with parliamentary and democratic practices.

7. Parliament will also be strengthened to rectify the current situation of Executive Dominance that has been strengthened over time under the BN. The parliamentary select committee system will be strengthened to provide oversight over crucial ministries such as finance, security, education, defence, PETRONAS and others in order to enhance the effectiveness of Parliament as a check and balance on the executive.

8. Members of Parliament will be provided additional resources and relevant expertise in order to perform these duties knowledgeably, competently and effectively.

9. Under Pakatan, the media freedom and trust in media practitioners will be restored. We will abolish all legislation that restricts media freedom, most notably the repressive Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), licensing procedures and other draconian measures that are currently in place. We will corporatize government owner broadcasting institutions such as RTM as well as government owned radio stations in order to protect their independence and to ensure that they no longer become mouthpieces for government propaganda, as is the case now. We will put in place a regulatory infrastructure and environment which is conducive for all media groups to practise media freedom responsibly and with integrity.

10. Most significantly, Pakatan will enforce a Democracy Restoration Act as part of the process to reverse the many years of democratic rot and neglect which has occurred during the 56 year BN reign.

11. The records will show that the Pakatan Rakyat component parties – PAS, DAP and PKR – have been advocating for electoral and democratic reforms since these parties were established. Many of the leaders of Pakatan Rakyat have suffered personally and professionally under the BN government which has abused their powers and used various instruments of the state to target and victimize opposition politicians. Given these personal experiences, including my own, I would not want the same instruments to be used against our political opponents when we come to power at the federal level. Therefore, it is imperative that Pakatan pushes forward aggressively on these electoral and democratic reforms when the goal of winning Putrajaya is achieved, hopefully in the upcoming 13th General Elections.

12. The Pakatan Manifesto has presented some of our key institutional priorities in the areas of electoral and democratic reform. But our electoral and democratic reform agenda can and should be expanded both in terms of the implementation details in our Manifesto as well as pushing the envelope on new electoral reform and democratic ideas.

13. For example, one area of particular relevance and urgency after the 13th general elections, regardless of who wins power in Putrajaya is the once in a decade Constituency Delimitation exercise. The previous four national delimitation exercises in 1974, 1984, 1994 and 2003 have been conducted with the intention of providing an electoral advantage to the BN. But the Election Commission (EC) has postponed the next delimitation exercise because for the first time in history, the BN government does not have a 2/3rds majority in parliament as well as in 6 states, four of which are governed by Pakatan Rakyat.

14. Political parties from both sides of the aisle should work together in a historic opportunity after the 13th general election to ensure that the next constituency delimitation exercise is done in a way which is transparent, independent and receives the support from all political parties.

15. In addition, this will also be a historic opportunity in the political process to involve members of the academia and civil society in order to increase the level of stakeholder engagement in the constituency delimitation process.

16. The current situation is currently unacceptable especially when we analyze the disparity in the number of voters in each parliament seat. The smallest parliament seat in Malaysia, P125 Putrajaya, has 15,308 voters as of Quarter 3, 2012 while the largest seat, P109 Kapar, has 142,419 voters. The number of voters in the largest seat is 9 times that of the smallest seat. In other words, one vote in P125 Putrajaya is roughly equal to 9 votes in P109 Kapar. This is a gross violation of the ‘One Man One Vote’ principle where one person’s vote should have the same weightage and power as another person’s vote.

17. With rural-urban migration, it is no longer that case that urban areas are dominated by non-Malays leading to the under-presentation of urban and largely non-Malay majority seats. According to the 3rd Quarter 2013 electoral roll figures, out of the 11 parliamentary seats with more than 100,000 voters, 8 of these (P97 Selayang, P98 Gombak, P101 Hulu Langat, P103 Puchong, P104 Kelana Jaya, P107 Subang, P109 Kapar, P111 Kota Raja) are either Malay plurality or majority seats. For example, P98 Gombak, is a 77% Malay majority seat and it had 121,951 voters as of Q3 2013. Hence, it is the urban Malays who are being under-represented under the present configuration of seats.

18. In addition, there are also great disparities within individual states in terms of the number of voters. For example, the largest seat in Kelantan is P19 Tumpat with 96984 while the smallest seat in Kelantan just happens to be P32 Gua Musang with 39226 voters. It cannot be merely coincidence that P32 Gua Musang happens to be a BN held seat while P19 Tumpat has been a PAS seat 1999. Similarly, the largest seat in Kedah is P16 Baling – a PAS seat – with 92431 votes while the smallest seat is P4 Langkawi – an UMNO seat with 36650 voters.

19. Interestingly, it is not only the opposition parties which are disadvantaged by the imbalance in the number of voters by seat. The largest state seat in the country is now N29 Sri Serdang – an UMNO held seat – which had 71580 voters as of Q3 2012. In fact, Sri Serdang now has more voters than more than half of the parliament seats in the country. In the state of Johor, the four largest seats are all BN seats with close to or more than 100,000 voters each. (P159 Pasir Gudang with 98,798 voters, P160 Johor Bahru with 96,520 voters, P161 Pulai with 99,542 voters and P162 Gelang Patah with 104,972 voters)

20. Given these voter disparities, it should be obvious that an impartial constituency delimitation exercise would be necessary to correct the current unfairness and to strengthen and uphold the One-Man-One-Vote principle that is the bedrock of democratic practice.

21. In addition, we should also seriously study possible reforms to the Dewan Negara or the Upper House to make it more relevant and accountable. We should also seriously consider the possibility of introducing direct elections for at least some of the Senators in the Dewan Negara. While the Dewan Rakyat or the lower house, has become a much more robust avenue for rigorous debate and discussion after the 13th general elections, the Dewan Negara is still seen as an avenue for backdoor Ministers to be appointed via Senatorial appointments.

22. Most democratic countries including the United States and Australia already have had many years of experience of a fully elected Upper House. Even the United Kingdom is currently phasing out its system of hereditary peers and is having a vigorous debate over further reform of the House of Lords including having at least some directly elected members. There is no reason why we should not include this as one of the items on the reform agenda under a Pakatan government. Indeed, there are good reasons to think that reforming the Dewan Rakyat should come hand in hand with improving the constituency delimitation exercise so that the One Man One Vote principle can be followed as far as possible.

23. After the 13th general election, the opposition won 10 out of 11 parliamentary seats in Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur. But because there are no state seat elections or local elections in the Federal Territories, voters in WPKL and their representatives have no voice or representation in Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL). This is a gross violation of democratic norms in that it denies voters the right to choose their local representatives. Extending this further to local elections in other states, it is my view that this too is a gross violation of democratic norms. This is why the Penang state government is pushing for the conduct of local election even though this may possibly lead to Pakatan losing some of the municipal councilor positions which the state government presently appoints.

24. In addition, we should also seriously consider the introduction and implementation of a Freedom of Information (FoI) Act at the federal level in order to increase transparency and the flow of information. To this end, the Selangor and Penang state governments have already introduced FoI bills in the state legislatures.

25. Finally, other reform ideas which are part and parcel of the democratic debate in the country – such as the public financing of political parties, the guarantee of media access to all political parties especially during an election, declaration of assets by the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Menteri Besars, Chief Ministers and State Excos – should also be on the table in terms of electoral and democratic reforms.

26. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the agenda for electoral and democratic reform has been and will continue to be severely limited under the present BN government. I am sure that previous speakers in this conference share similar views to mine.

27. The burden of reform then will be rightly put on the Pakatan Rakyat government when we take over Putrajaya. When this happens, we should be as ambitious as practically possible in terms of electoral and democratic reform so that we can correct past abuses and put Malaysia firmly of the path towards establishing a vibrant, genuine and thriving democracy.

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