Putrajaya views the Election Commission (EC) as just another government department, and not as an independent body to check electoral conduct, said its former chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman.

He was making a point to explain why Malaysia has ended up in the near bottom position, just above Zimbabwe, in electoral integrity ratings.

Rashid, who is now with the opposition as a member of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), said Malaysian elections scored badly because the electoral system was controlled by one side, with the entrenched government of the day, Barisan Nasional running the Election Commission as though it were a government department.

“The election system here is controlled by the government and as the government becomes worse, it treats the commission as a government department, not as an independent body.

“In terms of democratic practice, our three neighbours the Philippines, Singapore, and Indonesia are much further ahead. It’s a shame,” the Bersatu vice-president told The Malaysian Insight.

Malaysia ranked 142nd among 158 countries in an assessment of electoral integrity, it was revealed in the research paper of a University of British Columbia academic, entitled “Malaysia’s Electoral Process: The Methods and Costs of Perpetuating Umno Rule”.

Assistant Professor Kai Ostwald uploaded the paper on ResearchGate late last month.

Rashid, who was EC chief from 2000 to 2008, was commenting on Malaysia’s low score in the global Perceptions of Election Integrity expert survey.

The survey assesses the quality of elections by the electoral laws, electoral procedures, district boundaries, voter registration, party registration, media coverage, campaign finance, voting process, and vote count.

Malaysia ranked above Zimbabwe, Vietnam, and Afghanistan but far below its regional neighbours.

“We have never been very high up, but now we are worse. I do agree with the report. Our election laws are not comprehensive and they are also outdated. We are still using laws that were enacted in 1957.

“The voting process may have changed a little, but overall, our system is outdated, whereas other countries have kept theirs up to date,” said Rashid.

Malaysian civil society, through electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0, are demanding electoral reforms, chief among which is automatic voter registration.

Rashid said it was up to the voters to change matters.

“The people themselves need to realise that this country needs a change of government.

“The transparent, fair, and free electoral system that you want will not just happen. The government will not be bothered to make any changes (in that direction),” he said.

Rashid said he had made numerous suggestions to the government to improve the electoral system during his tenure as EC chief.

“I suggested that we amend our election processes to suit the times, so that we can be on par with other countries, be more democratic.

“Most of the time, I did not receive an answer. They (the government) never said they disagreed with my proposals, but they would replay that there was “‘no need to make amendments now, wait first’.”

EC chairman Mohd Hashim Abdullah declined to answer The Malaysian Insight’s questions on electoral integrity that were sent to him.

Meanwhile, Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah said the survey findings did not surprise her.

If the EC genuinely wished to introduce electoral reform, it could always refer to Bersih’s memorandums and appeals containing many proposals for change.

“It is not surprising that Malaysia is ranked so far down on the list. This is a wake-up call for the EC to take electoral integrity and  its role to ensure a functioning democracy seriously.

“For a start, EC can take a look at Bersih 2.0’s memorandum on proposed electoral reforms, such as to abolish and replace postal voting with advance voting.

“This will be the first step forwards restoring public confidence in the electoral process and the legitimacy of election outcomes,” she told The Malaysian Insight in a statement.

Bersih has held five street rallies since 2007 and consistently calls for electoral reform, including cleaning up the electoral roll, abolishing the the postal ballot, the use of indelible ink at the polls, at least 21 days for  election candidates to campaign, free and fair access to the media for all, and the strengthening of public institutions, such as by the appointment of unbiased election commissioners and restructuring the EC to make it accountable to Parliament.