Rashid on mission for free, fair, transparent elections

Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman

When Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman is not busy obtaining insights about Malaysia’s election process, he tends to his plants and animals at his farm in Semenyih.

And at 76, the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) chairman attributes his passion for promoting free, fair and transparent elections and farming as the main reasons that keep him going. Formed in August last year, the ERC has been given two years to review election laws and the system in Malaysia.

The former Election Commission (EC) chairman speaks to Twentytwo13 at his Putrajaya office about the need for political funding to be made public, the effectiveness of the British inherited first-past-the-post system and football.

Twentytwo13: Having visited close to 20 locations nationwide thus far, what are the sentiments of the people?

Rashid: Most people don’t really get involved with the details of the election process. Many think it is just about going to the polling stations, marking their ballots and that’s it. But there are many other factors attached to it.

We have laws … they are simple and served their purpose then. But today, these laws are insufficient to provide a level playing field.

Twentytwo13: What is lacking?

Rashid: We need to uphold the three pillars – free, fair and transparent. You must have these components as in a developed democracy. We have realised how bad our laws have been. But people generally have not been agitating for change except for some political parties. That too only in recent years, perhaps about five years ago when they started to clamour for better election laws.

We will continue engaging people, including cabin crew and offshore workers. We will also be meeting representatives from the Selangor government (on Oct 17) and Wanita Pakatan Harapan (on Oct 24).

Twentytwo13: There are those who claim the representation of women and Orang Asal remains low in Parliament. Your thoughts?

Rashid: Women representation should first be seen in the party list. Then you will have at least 30 per cent of women who are likely to be chosen (as MPs). The party list should be fair to all. As for Orang Asal, we only have one Orang Asal MP (Ramli Mohd Nor) representing Cameron Highlands.

We can take note of what’s done in New Zealand and Australia where they have special seats representing the Maoris and indigenous groups. These nations have a bigger indigenous population. Although our Orang Asal is about one per cent of our population, they still need to be recognised and represented. As a community, they should have their representatives to fight for their welfare and rights.

Twentytwo13: Do you think transparency in political funding will become a reality? Some fear being audited while others are afraid of the possible backlash due to their association.

Rashid: A bill (Political Funding Bill) is already in Parliament right now, although this will be part of our recommendation too. In fact, I met National Centre for Governance, Integrity, and Anti-Corruption (GIACC) director-general Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed earlier this morning (Oct 11) and the bill could be pushed to a select committee to examine certain vital issues.

We have many political parties and opinions differ deeply. I believe certain political entities are not happy with certain matters. In the past, this was not controlled and it appeared as though we encouraged corrupt practices. This law is vital to uphold integrity. Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) had it good before, raking in billions of ringgit during elections but there was no control.

The donor will have to declare the donation. Of course the money he or she gives is subject to auditing and the Election Commission should rightfully have a special audit section particularly during elections to ensure money received by political parties is channeled to the parties and not anyone’s pockets.

But perhaps people fear the backlash. In developing nations, backlash is common and the retaliation can be very bad.

Twentytwo13: Is the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system truly the best way to promote democracy? Is it time to consider other systems like the Alternative Vote or the Single Transferrable Vote?

Rashid: Developed nations have referendums for important matters … they go to the people and ask (the people). Fortunately or unfortunately, Canada is a developed nation but its people choose not to change (the election system). They instead undertook changes within the FPTP system. These changes actually are the ones that promote democracy. We can continue (the FPTP system) and I believe we should maintain (it) partly because of the concept of wakil rakyat. The rural folk don’t care about legislation or law and don’t really care what their representatives do in Parliament.

We need to find ways to educate the rural people about the election process and governance. The government must reach out to the people. If it doesn’t do that, then it’s of no use.

Fight for Change 2019

Twentytwo13: Would ERC recommend electronic voting, via facial recognition or biometrics to encourage more people to vote and to cut down on the manpower during elections?

Rashid: No. India did e-voting and they could not push this through. The integrity of the whole system will be questioned. People don’t easily trust electric gadgets. If you have that kind of voting, then you may face trust issues. You have to build the trust within the system. If the trust is not build properly, then the election will fail.

The power supply is not guaranteed nationwide. Then we could hear accusations like “sabotage by EC”.

Also, Malaysians enjoy going to polling stations … they get up early and dress up. It’s like a pesta. It’s a proud moment for them as they are recognised. It’s the whole experience.

During my days as EC chairman, I visited polling stations and observed how people reacted. I only saw people smiling when they were leaving the polling station. They seemed happy doing their duty as citizens.

Twentywo13: Telekom Malaysia and Maxis blocked access to ‘live’ election result site live.undi.info on the evening of polling day, tech advocacy and watchdog group Sinar Project revealed last year. Will the issue of freedom to disseminate information be addressed?

Rashid: Yes. We make sure the law is put in place. If people cannot volunteer to be fair, then we need to force them to be fair. Elections are all about laws. And people must obey the rules.

Twentytwo13: Isn’t it high time we had local council elections?

Rashid: Yes and no. People would like to get involved in the administration of their local areas but this would mean introducing a lot of politics there. There must be a serious study on this issue.

Twentytwo13: Malaysia has lowered the voting age to 18 but you are not keen on seeing an 18-year-old MP. Why?

Rashid: My private view is that you have to go through a bit of life. At 18, you have not. You have to be a head of a family first, earn a living. Only then you know what life means. If you have an 18-year-old who just finished school, how can you expect that person to run people’s lives? That is why I believe MPs should be at least 35 years old.

Twentytwo13: Then what about your fellow colleague in Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman who is Muar MP and the Youth and Sports Minister?

Rashid: To me Syed Saddiq may be one in a million.

Twentytwo13: Speaking about Bersatu, you are the vice-president. Wouldn’t your role in ERC be seen as a clash of interest?

Rashid: I didn’t want to do this. But I took it is a challenge. I took voluntary leave (from Bersatu) and thus if you notice, I don’t surface much these days. There are no hard and fast rules that I have to be neutral but if I want to do this job, then you have to be fair.

So I took upon myself to be neutral and fair and people have accepted that.

They (the critics) can question me. But I usually give them a lecture first and the lecture would already convince them that I’m trying to do something for the nation.

Twentytwo13: Let’s talk about football. It was widely reported that you pulled out from the Kelantan FA presidency race in July. Why?

Rashid: (Laughs) Some people knew I was a football captain in school and thought I would be interested in football. But I never told anyone that I wanted to be part of Kelantan FA. I was shocked when I read the news. I occasionally follow some football on the television but that’s it.

Twentytwo13: So what interests you, if not football?

Rashid: Farming. I’ve been farming for almost 40 years. I have a farm in Semenyih. Mostly vegetables and I have some goats and cows. That keeps me healthy and going.