Just over a month after a large rally in Kuala Lumpur to demand clean and fair elections rattled Malaysia’s ruling elite, Prime Minister Najib Razak has announced that a bipartisan parliamentary select committee will be set up to review the electoral system. The move comes as Najib’s government faces rising pressures on several political fronts, including a speculated challenge to his leadership from inside his own party.
Najib’s announcement has been interpreted as an attempt to placate disquiet about the integrity of the electoral process before the next general election, which must be held before mid-2013, and to prevent any repeat protest rally to press home the demands. The political opposition has claimed elections are structurally set up to favor the long-ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.
On July 9, police authorities fired tear gas and water-cannon at protesters and arrested over 1,600 people, including opposition politicians. Protesters defied an official ban on the rally, which was organized by the civil society-led Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, or Bersih. The group has called for cleaning up electoral rolls, the use of indelible ink to prevent repeat voting and longer campaign periods.
Another key demand has called for a revamp of the postal balloting system to ensure Malaysians abroad and outside their constituencies can vote. Bersih has insisted that police and military personnel, who presently use controversial “postal ballots” cast outside of public view, must vote normally like other voters if they are not on duty on election day.
Since the July 9 crackdown, the state Election Commission has been put on the defensive as online news portals have highlighted the dubious registration of a string of voters, as well as allegations that foreigners have been illegally enlisted on ballot rolls. Despite mounting media and civil society pressure and Najib’s apparent concession of the need for electoral reforms, it’s still unclear if the two sides can reconcile.
Instead of introducing indelible ink as demanded by Bersih, Najib’s government will provide allocations to fund the Election Commission’s plan to introduce a biometric voter verification system. That proposal has been met with widespread skepticism over whether such a complicated system could be ready by the next election and if it could genuinely prevent manipulation and repeat voting.
Without iron-clad assurances of meaningful electoral reforms in time for the general elections, the proposal of a parliamentary select committee is “neither useful nor acceptable”, says veteran opposition politician Lim Kit Siang. He stressed that Najib should “give a categorical assurance that there would be meaningful electoral reforms when the next general elections are held”.
Full Article: Asia Times Online :: Knives out for Malaysia’s Najib.