Immediate response by Liew Chin Tong on the appointment of the Chairman of the Election Commission on Tuesday, 11th November 2008:

EC Chairmanís Appointment Ė disappointment over no consultation, cautious hope for an impartial EC

According to Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan said in a statement on Tuesday that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong had consented to the appointment of Home Ministry Secretary-General Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof as the new Chairman of the Election Commission under Clause (1) Article 114 of the Federal Constitution, effective 31st December 2008. His appointment is until he reaches the age of 66 as provided for under Clause (3) Article 114 of the Constitution.

Abdul Aziz will be replacing current EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman whose service will end as he will be 66 on 30th December 2008.

First, I express my disappointment over the failure on the part of the Government to consult the Opposition on the appointment.

In most other democracies, while it is often the prerogative of the government-of-the-day to appoint the Chairman of Election Commission, the Opposition is usually consulted as impartiality and bipartisan acceptance are most needed in the management of election.

With more than a third of parliamentarians from the Opposition, the need for the Government to consult is more than ever.

Second, I am also disappointed that another retired civil servant is appointed to such an important position whose role is to be an effective guardian of Malaysian democracy.

In most other Westminster democracies, the Chairman and Commissioners of the Election Commission are often made up of former judges of impeccable integrity.

In the Malaysian Constitution, the status of the Chairman of the Election Commission is equivalent to that of a federal court judge whose sacking is a painstaking process only possible to be carried out in a tribunal. As such, the candidate for position of the Chairman of the Election Commission should be at least of the quality of a federal court judge.

I am not suggesting that the appointed candidate is not of such quality but the nation, in particular the Parliament, must be persuaded to believe that he is of such calibre.

Third, I urge the appointed new Chairman of EC Tan Sri Abdul Aziz to start a fresh chapter in the management of election in Malaysia as soon as he begins his tenure.

Tan Sri Abdul Aziz must state his stance on the five basic demands of BERSIH (Coalition for Clean and Fair Election), that is 1) the use of indelible ink; 2) the abolition of postal votes; 3) the total overhaul of the tainted electoral roll; 4) a level playing field in media; and 5) a commitment to allow at least 21 days of campaign.

He should also look into two other important issues, namely, the possibility of introducing automatic voter registration and the lowering of voting age from 21 year-old to 17 or 18 year-old.

My colleagues and I in BERSIH would like to seek an appointment with Tan Sri Abdul Aziz as soon as he takes over to exchange views, as well as to ensure that the new Chairmanís tenure would not be a repeat of the eight disastrous years of election management under the outgoing Chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman whose litany of failures and scandals include the poor handling of the 2004 election, and the last-minute termination of use of indelible ink in the 2008 election.

The last eight years of election management has made Malaysia an international laughing stock. It is time for the restoration of democracy and procedural justice in the management of election.

* Liew Chin Tong, MP for Bukit Bendera & member of the Steering Committee of BERSIH