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Please get your facts right, home minister – Andrew Khoo

May 18, 2013

COMMENT Like many Malaysiakini readers, I was appalled at the remarks made by the new Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, vice president of Umno with regard to those who questioned the fact that Barisan Nasional lost the popular vote but still won a majority of the seats in the Dewan Rakyat.
He basically told them that if they didn’t like the result, they could leave.

NONEHis clear disrespect for the right of Malaysians to freedom of expression, coming as it does as he takes up his new position, is a negative harbinger of things to come.
However, a careful study of his article published in Utusan Malaysia on May 16, 2013 reveals more egregious remarks which are unbefitting a minister of government.
The main accusation of Zahid (above) really is that those who favour proportional representation (PR), and in particular its manifestation in the list system and the single transferable vote (STV), are disloyal to the country.
The reason they are disloyal is that such a system, according to him, is only used in countries which are republics.

NONEHe is, therefore, accusing those who speak about PR and the list system and STV of disrespecting the Malaysian system of government by constitutional monarchy and of indirectly calling for an abolition of constitutional monarchism to be replaced by republicanism.
In short, he is in effect saying that if you want PR and the STV, leave Malaysia and go to republican countries that practice such a system; there is no place for you in Malaysia.

Expert at firing blanks
These are serious allegations. But as he writes, and I quote:
“Jika golongan ini mahu menerima pakai list system atau single transferable vote seperti mana yang digunakan oleh negara-negara republik, sepatutnya mereka berhijrah ke negara-negara berkenaan untuk mempraktikkan kepercayaan politik mereka.”
(“If this group wants to utilise the list system or single transferable vote which is used by countries that are republics, they should migrate to those countries to practise their political beliefs.”)
He goes on to write:
Malaysia bukan negara untuk menterjemahkan kepercayaan politik mereka, malah jika mereka benar-benar rakyat yang setia kepada negara ini, mereka hendaklah menerima sistem politik dan sistem membentuk kerajaan sedia ada seperti yang termaktub dalam Perlembagaan Persekutuan.” (“Malaysia is not a country for translating their political beliefs, in fact if they were truly citizens that are loyal to this country, they must accept the current political system and system of formation of government that is contained in the Federal Constitution.”)
He goes on to explain the reason for this:
“Malaysia mewarisi sistem politik daripada United Kingdom dan kebanyakan negara Komanwel juga menggunakan sistem first past the post yang mana parti-parti politik yang bertanding di kawasan pilihan raya memilih hanya seorang wakil bagi setiap kawasan pengundian yang mengambil kira prinsip undi majoriti mudah.” (“Malaysia inherited its political system from the United Kingdom and most Commonwealth countries also use the first past the post system where political parties that contest in election areas choose only one representative for each voting area taking into account a simple majority vote.”)
Gutting Zahid’s remarks
A quick check of the website of the Electoral Reform Society of the UK and other related websites disclose that the following countries utilise the STV:

  • Northern Ireland (for Assembly, European and local government elections);
  • Scotland (local elections, from 2007);
  • Australia (elections for the Federal Senate, House of Assembly of Tasmania, lower house of the Australian Capital Territory, upper houses of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia);
  • India (indirect elections to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India’s federal Parliament);
  • Northern Ireland (for Assembly, European and local government elections);
  • Scotland (local elections, from 2007);
  • Australia (elections for the Federal Senate, House of Assembly of Tasmania, lower house of the Australian Capital Territory, upper houses of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia);
  • India (indirect elections to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India’s federal Parliament);
  • Malta (all elections); and
  • New Zealand (various local authorities).

Shooting off mouth not enough

Northern Ireland and Scotland, as constituent parts of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, are still constitutional monarchies.
All of them, and including India and Malta, are members of the Commonwealth.
What this shows is that being a constitutional monarchy, or being a member of the Commonwealth, is not inconsistent with the possibility of having PR and the STV.
However, Zahid is wrong on another point. If the PR system were to be adopted, it would more likely be in the form of the alternative vote (AV) system rather than the STV.
The STV is used in a multi-member election, whereas the AV is used for a single-member election. Nevertheless, the AV system is used for elections to the House of Representatives in Australia and Fiji, both Commonwealth countries. Australia remains a constitutional monarchy.
In my humble opinion, it is intellectually dishonest to attempt to label those who have begun the discussion of whether Malaysia should change its electoral system from first past the post to PR as disloyal.
To give the reasons given is intellectually pathetic. For a senior minister of the government to suggest that those who speak about iIt or possibly advocate it should emigrate to other countries because they are being disloyal or disrespectful to the Federal Constitution is outrageous.
Knee-jerk response shows moral bankruptcy

In the name of free speech and freedom of expression, let us debate it, if the time to discuss it has indeed arrived. Let us look at the pros and cons of different systems.
NONELet us study the implications and repercussions. But let us not simplistically attempt to demonise its proponents in some knee-jerk fashion.
Those who do so only prove that they are both intellectually and morally bankrupt.
Let us also not forget that this same individual, as Minister of Defence, summarily dismissed reports of the witness subpoena issued against him by the French court investigating the Scorpene issue as not being enforceable against him.
He did this without first fully understanding Malaysia’s obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which both France and Malaysia have signed.
That was yet another knee-jerk reaction that exposed his failure to understand and appreciate international law and practice. It would appear that he has not learnt.


ANDREW KHOO is Co-Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee of Bar Council Malaysia, but writes here in his individual capacity. 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Foo permalink
    May 19, 2013 7:49 am

    What is the best way to snare a place as VP or even DP in UMNO? He is talking as a UMNO Home Minister with the Oct party election in mind. Expect any change? Why and for what will be his questions?

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