Since its formation on Aug 28, the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) has been hard at work to fulfil its two-year mission of conducting an overhaul of the country’s election system. In an exclusive interview with the NSTP, ERC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman speaks on the committee’s vision and aim to improve the system, covering issues such as empowring the election management body and how to manage funding for political parties.
Q: The ERC was formed on Aug 28. Can you shed some light on the progress made by the committee so far?
A: In the three months or so since its formation, the committee is almost complete in terms of organisational structure and manpower. The basic structure of the committee comprises 20 members from various backgrounds including academicians, former parliamentarians, activists and non-governmental organisation representatives. Even my experience can be contributed towards the work process, guidance and advice. I don’t think we will have any problems in carrying out our duties.
Q: What are the ERC’s roles and responsibilities?
A: The government has given the ERC two years to conduct studies on improving the election process. For starters, we have identified 15 components for improvements, which include the possibility of changing the election system from the present one of ‘having the most votes’ to a representational one which is practiced in many other countries. There is also a need to empower the country’s elections management body and give it the authority to act freely, fairly and transparently in managing elections. Other components also include media management, the use of election machinery and government facilities for elections, political funding, voter registration and election observers.
The ERC will also study the overall system and legislation pertaining to elections, on what needs to be done to ensure that the elections management body is complete, capable, independent and transparent as expected by the public. This will ensure a level playing field for all political parties.
Q: How far along are the ERC’s studies progressing in these areas?
A: As I mentioned before, we have identified 15 key components for improvements. We are in the process of fine-tuning these to transform them into eight clusters. They are the election and voting systems; voter registration; delineation of borders; management of the election progress; political parties’ registration and funding; the administration of a caretaker government; the use of the election machinery and media access; election management as well as voter education.
One leader, who is a member of the ERC, has been appointed to head each cluster. They will each form their own committees to conduct studies on their own respective clusters.
Q: How will the studies be carried out for each of the clusters?
A: Each cluster will have their own unique needs. They will visit various locations on other countries (to study the democratic election process) to ensure that their clusters function well. For example, the cluster on the election management body will study how it can establish an institution which is independent, fair and transparent in managing all matters pertaining to elections and election-related legislation.
We will also go to the ground to meet the people soon in order to brief them as well as seek their views. If they have any grouses or disagreements, they can raise their objections directly to us.
Q: Is there any special attention given to specific clusters, especially when it involves something as significant as funding for political parties?
A: In the case of political funding, we will need to establish the necessary safeguards. We need to know whether the funds will be coming from the government, the private sector or even from donors abroad, whether these come with conditions or otherwise. If it involves allocations to elected representatives, we want to ensure that the allocations are distributed fairly to enable projects to be carried out; we don’t want cases of allocations going into someone’s own pockets.
As for election funds, we also have to ensure that the elections are managed in an efficient and fair manner. We don’t want a ‘cash is king’ culture, where money is being strewn about. There has be some form of control in place in the form of appropriate laws. We will be presenting our recommendations on this for feedback.
The same applies to funding for political parties. In many countries, funding is given to political parties. There are some who say that the more political parties there are in a democracy, the better it is. But in some cases, we have political parties who face difficulty in raising funds. It would be a different case if the leader of that political party is rich. So after this, we may have laws or rules in place. If a party for example has a thousand branches, then we have to devise a formula to ensure that the allocation is given out fairly.
Q: Is the ERC seeking outside help to ensure that each cluster can adequately carry out its studies on the necessary improvements?
A: There are three organisations which are sincere in helping out. The first is the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which recently sent two of their representatives and held discussions with the Election Commission. We had clearly stated what we want (in terms of improvements) towards strengthening the democratic election system. They said they would inform us on the guidelines and appropriate actions which we can review and study.
The second is the International Foundation for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), which is based in Stockholm, Sweden. We wrote to them and they generously expressed their willingness to help. Another organisation which also sent their representatives over was the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Q: You are confident that the ERC can complete its studies and formulate its findings for improvements in the two years given?
A: At the end of the two years, we will table our full report to the government on the proposed improvements on enforcement of law, focusing on empowering the EC and make it a body which is independent, just and transparent, as well as create a level playing field for all political parties. The ERC is confident that the government will accept its proposals to achieve this as the government appears sincere in wanting a fair election system.