Former EC chief calls for polls revamp to prevent party-hopping

Mohd Farhan Darwis Noor Azam Shairi

Under the proportional representation system, seats belong to parties rather than lawmakers, so if the lawmakers switch allegiances, their seats do not transfer to their new parties. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, June 27, 2022.

MALAYSIA can prevent elected lawmakers from party-hopping by implementing a proportional representation system as suggested by the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC), its chairman Ab Rashid Ab Rahman told The Malaysian Insight.

He said such a move would do away with the proposed anti-party hopping law to be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat next month.

In the proportional representation system, which Rashid has spoken of previously, electors vote for candidates by which party they belong to, not for the candidates themselves.

The ERC, a committee formed by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration before the latter was toppled in February 2020, had already submitted its final report on findings and proposals to the Muhyiddin Yassin/Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration in 2020.

“I don’t know what the current government’s stand on the proposals is as there has been no discussion,” Rashid said in a recent interview.

Muhyiddin resigned after losing support in the Dewan Rakyat in August last year and was replaced by Umno’s Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

“We have tried to approach the current government but there was no response. We don’t know what will happen to the report,” said Rashid, whose last post in the civil service before retirement was as Election Commission (EC) chairman.

Change the system

Malaysia’s election is carried out under the first-past-the-post system, which polls analysts have said is prone to abuses such as gerrymandering and malapportionment.

The proportional representation system, on the other hand, assigns seats to parties based on the number of their candidates emerging victorious.

“Voters choose the party, not the candidate. It is fairer. Every vote has equal value,” said Rashid.

“Parties then get seats based on the number of votes received for the party (through the candidates). It ensures that smaller parties get seats as well.”

If a candidate resigns, dies or defects to another party, the seat won by his party remains with the party. The party can then appoint another person as a replacement and to represent the seat in the Dewan Rakyat, he said.

“This system is simple. There is no need for an anti-party hopping law. Just change the election system; this can control (party hopping),” he said.

Rashid said he does not see how an anti-party hopping law can solve the problem as there are various permutations and reasons politicians may have for leaving their party.

An anti-party hopping law also needs to take a comprehensive account of election-related issues, said Rashid, who was involved in running six general elections during his time in the EC.

Reforms stunted by changes in government

Replacing the first-past-the-post system with a proportional representation policy was among the ERC’s 49 proposals to the government.

To implement the proposals, the ERC suggested a special body be formed to manage the technical aspects. It would also function as a secretariat for a cabinet committee on electoral reform.

“But till now, all is quiet. We made queries but received no answer. Then Muhyiddin’s PN government fell, and we now have a different prime minister,” said Rashid.

“The ERC’s recommendations have passed through three prime ministers.”

The ERC, established by PH in August 2018, was mandated to review electoral systems and laws and draw from the best practices of developed democracies.

It submitted an initial report to the then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in January 2019, and the full report to Muhyiddin in August 2020, six months after his PN government ousted PH through party hopping.

The last anyone heard of the ERC report was in December 2020, when the Dewan Rakyat was told that a special committee headed by senior minister Mohamed Azmin Ali would review the report.

“I met Azmin about the report once, and he didn’t even know whether the cabinet committee (we had suggested) was needed because the government had changed,” said Rashid.

He said the ERC had written to the Ismail administration last October and still has not received any response.

“I just hope we will have elections soon and a new, legitimate government can be formed,” he said.

“Then we will approach the new government on how to take the report further.” – June 27, 2022.

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