IDEAS PLEASED THE PRIME MINISTER HEARD OUR PROPOSAL TO FORM A SPECIAL BIPARTISAN COMMITTEE OVERSEEING THE ELECTION COMMISSION
The Prime Minister on 1 June 2013 announced the establishment of a special bipartisan parliamentary committee to oversee the Election Commission.
In our election observation report that was released on 8 May 2013, our top proposal to improve the Election Commission was that “members of the EC should explicitly be made accountable to, and be appointed by, a permanent and bipartisan special parliamentary committee.”
I am pleased that our proposal has been heard by the Prime Minister, and it shows the Prime Minister is serious about reconciling the nation.
But this announcement is only a small step towards improving the level of public trust in the EC. The more important part is in the implementation.
I urge the Prime Minister, and the current members of the EC, to give this special bipartisan parliamentary committee real teeth to do its job. As we said on Section 7 of our election observation report, there are several steps that must be taken to improve the EC, namely:
1. This parliamentary committee should have the power to advise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the appointment and removal of EC members.
2. Members of the EC should be recruited transparently from among experts in the field, preferably employing a competitive application and headhunting process. The key criteria for EC membership should be the individual’s core competence and their ability to command public confidence.
3. The EC should have the powers to recruit and manage its own staff, independent from the civil service. The current approach of seconding staff from the civil service should stop, though former and existing civil servants should not be barred from applying.
4. The EC should devise a coherent public relations strategy, which must include a policy that prevents any EC member from making statements that could be construed as politically partisan.
I am very concerned with how the EC handles public relations today. Their combative approach appeases no one, and further undermines their own professionalism and impartiality. I have heard people joking about how some EC members are “more UMNO than the UMNO president”. Albeit just a joke, this is very unhealthy (and also bad for UMNO).
In more mature democracies, most people do not even know who are the members of their EC because the EC there takes a more “behind the curtain” approach. But in Malaysia the EC seems only too glad to be in the limelight. I urge the EC to take a deep breath before talking to the media, and prioritise the country’s interest when deciding the type of message they deliver to the public.
Our full election observation (full proposals on page 32) can be downloaded from here