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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Remove power to deregister parties from Home Ministry



No regular reader of my articles could accuse me of being a DAP fanboy, but even I think the Registrar of Societies (ROS) fiasco is rather ridiculous.
Suddenly declaring an election held a full four years ago to be illegitimate, right on the eve of the general elections, smacks of impropriety, political meddling, and general incompetence.
As we face this controversy, perhaps it is time we look at the role of the ROS in general, as well as the power it yields.
It would appear that the ROS essentially has the power to deregister political parties with little or no justification.
Only a political party registered with the ROS can register a logo for use in the elections.
So, for instance, if DAP were deregistered, its former members would not be able to use the rocket logo so long as they are associated with DAP.
Backdoor deregistration
Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has very smugly told DAP not to worry, as the ROS which functions under his ministry will not be seeking to deregister DAP.
Zahid (photo) added however, that should DAP fail to comply with the order to hold re-election, their current office holders would not be able to legitimately sign the nomination papers required for candidates to contest under the DAP logo.
On nomination day, individuals who want to contest using a party logo are required to submit a form signed by the relevant office holder (usually the highest leader) in the party. No legitimate office holder means no form, which means no contesting under the party logo.
What this means is that registered or deregistered, DAP candidates still would not be able to contest under their most recognisable logo.
The importance of the logo cannot be underestimated. In a society where political sophistication is not a thing of the majority, many simply rely on recognisable logos.
DAP supporters identify with the rocket, and tick that rocket every single opportunity they get.
Should the rocket be replaced with another logo, many will be confused, regardless of how much effort DAP may put into attempting to educate voters about said new logo - thus costing innumerable votes.
No separation of powers
The most glaring problem here is this unchecked power that is delegated to the ROS, which operates under the directive of the home minister, himself a member of the ruling political coalition.
Surely there is an obvious conflict of interest here. The home minister has every motive and opportunity to abuse his power to make life difficult for his political opponents.
The ROS has jurisdiction over any legal society that wishes to be recognised by the government. This theoretically includes examples like a kidney foundation, the YMCA, or the Association of Fried Chicken Loving Perak Born Chindians.
Well and good, but I rather doubt that we should lump political parties in the same category as all the other NGOs.
Other countries
Given that we inherited most of our institutions from the British, let’s look at how they do it, for comparison’s sake.
Prior to 1998, political parties in the UK were not even registered. In one amusing incident in 1994, a Liberal Democrat candidate filed a challenge against one of his opponents who was running as a Literal Democrat, creating considerable confusion.
The Registration of Political Parties Act 1998 was introduced to formalise things more. Note that this was an Act specifically for political parties, which did not lump them together with societies and organisations of various different functions.
Under the follow-up Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, political parties were required to register under the British Electoral Commission, the same body that essentially runs the general elections.
The British Electoral Commission is set up by and answerable to the British parliament, and operates independently of the British government.
In contrast, the Election Commission of Malaysia is mandated by executive order of our prime minister, and operates under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Department. They do not handle any matters related to the registration of political parties or oversight thereof.
The clear difference and obvious conflict of interest inherent to our election commission as compared to other countries is glaring.
More mature democracies accept that it is ludicrous for a government body that supervises a competition between political parties to be administered by the government led by the leader of one of the said parties.
The more obvious and logical approach by far is to let an entity that is run by individuals who are in no way connected to political parties administer the registration and regulation of political parties.
Respect the spirit of the three-term limit
There are a few more tangential comments that we can make while on the subject.
The suggestion by BN Strategic Communications deputy director Eric See-To that Lim Guan Eng (photo) secretly benefits from this order to redo the election is probably a little far-fetched.
That said, it would be a truly grand feather in Lim’s cap if he were not to seek another term as secretary-general, whether or not the last election results are recognised or not - so as to obey the spirit of the three-term limit.
Failure to do so will spark all sorts of speculation and give credence to accusations such as those of See-To.
Avoid the Communist Party of China system
It must be said that DAP’s system of electing its leaders is relatively odd.
Instead of a direct election of its top officials, the party elects twenty members to the party’s central executive committee, which then decide among themselves who will hold the party’s top leadership posts.
In theory, the situation could be that: the person with the most votes gets 1,000 votes; the person with the 19th most votes gets 900 votes; the person with the least votes gets 100 votes, and that person with 100 votes is chosen by the other 19 winners as secretary-general of the party.
This hardly-democratic approach which removes from the party grassroots the power of directly choosing their leaders is essentially the same system used by the Communist Party of China.
Most other parties in Malaysia practice the delegate system, where grassroots divisions elect delegates to the national convention, who then in turn vote for the party’s leaders.
While definitely more democratic than the DAP system, this system is still easy to abuse, as one only has to "take care" of a relatively small number of delegates.
PKR theoretically has by far the best electoral system for choosing its leaders, where every PKR member has one equal vote to determine the party’s top leaders. In practice, the party’s lack of organisational efficiency makes the system less than perfect.
Commit to reform now
Opposition parties currently suffer from being under the thumb of the ROS, and by extension the home minister and the ruling party.
Most of us are understandably cynical about any change coming from today’s ruling coalition.
Now is a good time for the opposition to commit to reforming the rules, regulations, and institutions that govern political parties - especially in making such institutions independent of the government of the day.

The worst thing would be for opposition parties to one day gain power, and then abuse the same system they suffered under for their newly found benefit.
In the long run, only a true and just separation of powers will secure a genuine democracy.

NATHANIEL TAN wonders if he’ll ever get a chance to check out the Kajang MRT.- Mkini

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