Election Commission (EC) deputy chairman Azmi Sharom sat down with Bernama for an exclusive interview in the midst of preparing for the Sabah state election in September and the Slim state by-election in Perak on August 29.
Azmi who held the post of EC deputy chairman since February 2019, spoke on a wide range of issues including the election process and the democratic rights of Malaysians as well as EC’s responsibility in conducting elections, the 16th Sabah state election and the possibility of the 15th General Election (GE15) to be held any time.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
What is your opinion on the electoral system in Malaysia?
(The Electoral System) is very good, there were many improvements, for example, we have a PACA (polling and counting agent) system and an observer system. Such systems would help people to feel more confident with the elections held.
For example, through the PACA system, votes will be counted in their own channel, so it is not necessary to count the votes in a particular area, place, or centre. The counting of votes is witnessed by PACA who also signed Form 14 (voting statement after vote counting).
So, it is impossible to cheat. There are previous stories claiming that new boxes will appear and it is impossible to occur as Form 14 has to be signed by PACA and the polling station chief.
“With the system as well as the observer system in place, those present can see what is happening, this means the voting process is more transparent. If we are open with what we are doing, it is not easy for something not good to happen.
From another aspect, there is a strong voting and election system, however, there is more room to improve the system. What I want is a strong electoral system which maybe not attract the people’s attention. This means the people are not disputing EC, and the people are 100 per cent confident with the electoral system. My hope is that the people will forget about EC, not because we have disappeared but because EC has its job well and efficiently and there were no issues raised.
Can Malaysians see a more robust and non-partisan electoral system, which is not always politicking to face elections?
The citizens’ job is to vote for the candidate they really believe in, (it is) not the EC’s job to decide who they (people) should vote for. If people want politicians not to play politics, but to take care of the people’s (needs), then they should choose such a candidate. This is called democracy. If you like those (politicians) who like to play politics, then vote for them. But it is not the decision of EC, it is the decision of the people.
There is a suggestion that if a candidate dies, and the winning party will continue, by replacing with a new candidate. The proposal is not in the EC’s legal system, and if the Parliament wants to change the system, then its the Parliament’s duty to do so. The EC only conducts elections, the desired democratic system is the task of parliament. In fact, it is the will of people.
EC only handles elections and is not involved in such issues. The work being carried out now is based on existing responsibilities, which means, that our reform plan is based on conducting and implementing elections, improving the electoral roles, improving boundaries, these are our responsibilities. EC is very concerned about improving and reforming the system.
Beyond using the first past the post system is a proportional system. There is indeed research on the matter, it was conducted by the Election Reform Committee (ERC) led by Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman. The EC will only review what is within its power and beyond that, if ERC wants to do it and Parliament agrees, it will be another matter.
The Special Committee on Election System and Law Improvement (ERC) has submitted 49 election reform recommendations, namely efforts to change the electoral landscape in the future. What is the EC’s view on this?
ERC is part of an effort to improve our entire leadership system in Malaysia, and in my opinion, all these efforts are indeed nice and good. We cannot just sit quietly or being static, we must think ahead of the future. Democracy is something I feel is very important. A democratic system does not merely elect leaders but gives the people the right to determine their future.
If we cannot choose who our leaders are, then we are just slaves. If we know our voices are meaningful and our votes are important, then we need to be confident with our existing democratic system.
To improve our democratic system and leadership, improvement is very important, it is not about people wanting to retain power, it is for the people and peace in country. All efforts to improve are already there, whether it is the ERC or other communities established by the previous governments, I think they will continue. These moves are good and should be encouraged.
Touching on the actions of leaders who jump party or suddenly resigned causing by-elections (PRK) to be held, is this fair to the voters in the constituency?
I understand why people are so disappointed when it happens. That is why the work of the EC is very important so that people are confident that if something has already happened and if they are not satisfied with such a thing, they have the power to do something in the future.
The people should take responsibility on matters relating to their constituency, by challenging the candidate, and (ask) what is the stand (of the candidate) on these issues. We are independent people, we have our own responsibilities, we cannot rely on institutions alone to do our work. We must be responsible for our lives.
If (you) want EC to explain and improve the system to deal with the issue of party jumping and prevent it from happening, I will not comment because the issue is outside the EC’s jurisdiction.
There are many parties, especially political observers with the opinion that the 15th General Election would be called soon? Is the EC’s prepared for it?
Actually, the EC has made preparations in terms of training of officers and continually preparing many more. For example, to determine the polling station, I myself went with the EC Secretariat to see the new polling stations. This process continues, we do not work once in five years alone. So, in terms of the possibility of GE, the reality is that when there was a change of government in March, the EC was already on the alert to face the possibility.’
We know that the political situation is fluid. I’m not making comment on politics, I’m commenting on what we have to do. The reality is if the political situation is fluid, we (EC) must also be prepared. That’s what we’ve been doing since March. Indeed, there is a lot of works to do for the ongoing elections. If there is GE15, we will do it. If the parliament is dissolved, we have 60 days to conduct an election.
What is EC’s hope?
We (EC) must continue to improve, we cannot be arrogant and feel we are perfect. We must accept criticism openly and accept suggestions for improvement. At least, the criticism and suggestions for improvement should to be reviewed, and if it is good, we will implement it. We ourselves must take the initiative to improve ourselves.
Every EC member is responsible for their respective committees to improve our system. There are various committees for voter registration, boundaries, postal voting, election errors, and a committee to improve the way we operate. We are working to improve and I hope it will continue. We must improve because if we are stagnant, it is not good. We must keep on moving forward because the Malaysians deserve it.
I want the people to believe in the electoral system and be confident in the EC, we do not want the issue of the EC being not transparent raised, and if possible in every election, I do not want to hear the people blaming EC.