Thursday, December 18, 2014

Feedback not needed on boundary redrawing, elections chief tells Bersih

BY V. ANBALAGAN, ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR

Election Commission chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof says the commission is not going against the law if it refuses to meet civil society representatives. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, December 18, 2014.

Election Commission chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof says the commission is not going against the law if it refuses to meet civil society representatives. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, December 18, 2014.
The Election Commission (EC) will go ahead with the redelineation of electoral boundaries without input from civil society and will only engage groups identified in the Federal Constitution, said its chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof.
"We will stick to the provisions in the constitution on who we can meet in carrying out the task," he told The Malaysian Insider in Kuala Lumpur recently.
This means shutting the door on Bersih 2.0, the country's major civil society watchdog on polling and electoral reform, in favour of representatives from state governments and local authorities.
As far as the public's voice is concerned, the EC is only required by law to engage at least 100 voters registered in a constituency to hear their objections on proposed changes to boundary delimitation or on any increase in the number of state and parliamentary seats.
"We are not going against the law if we refuse to meet the civil society representatives," he said, in response to Bersih 2.0 chairman, Maria Chin Abdullah's call on the EC to obtain feedback from non-governmental organisations when conducting the exercise.
Aziz reiterated the importance of the long-overdue exercise to proceed as planned at the end of this year because the last one was conducted in 2003.
Usually held every eight years, the redelineation exercise should have been done in 2011 but it was deferred due to preparations for the 13th General Election held in May last year.
The EC has two years to either redraw electoral boundaries, or add state and parliamentary seats before the next general election scheduled in 2018.
Bersih has decried attempts by the EC to rationalise the need for more parliamentary and state seats, which critics see as an attempt to manipulate the next election in favour of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN).
Malaysia practices a first-past-the-post system where the winner of the most seats in the Dewan Rakyat forms the government of the day.
In the general election last year, however, BN only won 47% of the popular vote even though it managed to form the government. Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition, won 52% of the popular vote.
On Monday, Bersih said it would take the EC to court if it tabled a proposal to increase the number of constituencies without first amending the Federal Constitution.
The poll watchdog raised concerns that the EC would be acting unconstitutionally if it decided to push ahead with a seat increase without a prior amendment to Article 46, which stipulates the composition of the Dewan Rakyat or the number of parliamentary constituencies in each state. It would have to be amended if the EC were to increase the number of seats in a redelineation exercise.
Aziz, meanwhile, told The Malaysian Insider that the EC had the support of elected representatives and the public to create more seats to cater to development and a growing number of voters.
He said Bersih was entitled to its opinion to maintain the status quo of 222 seats in the Dewan Rakyat.
Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah says an increase in the number of seats does not guarantee the people will be better served. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, December 18, 2014.Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah says an increase in the number of seats does not guarantee the people will be better served. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, December 18, 2014.But Maria had said that an increase in the number of parliamentary and state constituencies was no guarantee that people would be better served.
It would be better instead if existing elected representatives were empowered with support staff and financial allocations to perform their tasks, she had said.
Aziz was coy when asked whether the EC would indeed propose a seat increase in the Dewan Rakyat.
"Probably there will be and it all depends on the MPs," he said.
A two-thirds majority vote is needed in Parliament to amend Article 46 and approve any increase in the number of seats. Only a simple majority is required, however, to alter electoral boundaries.
With 134 seats currently, the ruling BN does not have the required number and would need the support from some of Pakatan Rakyat's 87 MPs to approve the exercise. One more MP, from Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) is an independent but aligned to Pakatan.
Aziz said the EC would inform the Dewan Rakyat Speaker when it was about to carry out the exercise to redraw boundaries and add parliamentary seats.
"We will go though the proper procedures, which includes displaying the new electoral map and holding inquiry if there are objections," he said.
He said the EC would finally prepare a report for the prime minister to table amendments in the Dewan Rakyat.
Bersih, however, yesterday said the EC was not being transparent enough in announcing when the redelineation exercise would begin.
The electoral reform group is concerned that the EC would begin the process without a public announcement, thus narrowing the window of time for civil society to study the proposed boundary changes to make objections. The objection period is only 30 days. – December 18, 2014.
- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/feedback-not-needed-on-boundary-redrawing-elections-chief-tells-bersih#sthash.nVMItRoU.dpuf

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