Fixed-term polls a must

Josh Hong

It was exactly five years ago today that Umno, MCA and MIC suffered their worst electoral result in more than five decades. Although Barisan Nasional managed to stay afloat and maintain its hold on the federal power thanks to Sabah and Sarawak, the outcome in the peninsula was nothing but catastrophic, for want of a better word.

A year later, Umno executed a palace coup by deposing Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who, for all his failings, had won the sharply reduced mandate single-handedly for BN, which is a reason why I remain adamant that Najib Abdul Razak is merely an apprentice prime minister whose authority to rule is not quite legitimate.

NONENow that the five-year electoral cycle is up, Najib refuses to go to the country still, thereby creating two other historical records, ie. the first government that has served a full five-year term since 1974 and the longest-serving head of government without his own mandate.

Procrastination is the thief of time. The longer Najib eschews facing the electorate, the weaker his position seems in the eyes of the public. Every now and then, Najib and his cohorts talk loudly about their chances to win back the crucial two-thirds majority, before quickly going back to sitting in the comfort of their lavish offices. All this only hardens the public perception that BN’s confidence is made of clay.

The long and unnecessary wait is a drain on the people’s motivations and public resources, as BN is going around the country dishing out handouts in an attempt to buy more votes. It also gives the cronies some last window of opportunity to secure lucrative contracts and deals before the great uncertainties that may ensue after the 13th general election.

If anything, the time has come for Malaysia to adopt the concept of fixed-term election. This is nothing new because many democracies in the world today hold elections on a set date. The presidential election in the United States happens on the first Tuesday in the month of November every four years, with fixed mid-term congressional elections every two years during which the mandate of the incumbent president will be tested.

Voting on a Sunday?

In Germany, federal and state elections must be held on a Sunday or a public holiday so that all eligible voters can cast their ballot without having to take leave from work. Article 39 of the Basic Law – the German constitution – prescribes that a new election must be held at the earliest 45 and at the latest 47 months after the beginning of the parliamentary term.

Any move by a sitting government to dissolve the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, earlier must be approved by a vote of no confidence as is the common practice in countries that adopt the Westminster parliamentary model.

azlanMore significantly, the fact that Germany’s state elections, unlike those of Malaysia except for Sarawak, are held on a set date in different years serves as an important tool to re-assess the performance of the federal government in general, and a test-run for all during the election years in particular.

Recently, the ruling coalition of the Christian Democratic Union and the Free Democratic Party lost the state of Lower Saxony to the Social Democratic Party and the Greens, putting enormous pressures on Chancellor Angela Merkel and her coalition partner seeking reelection in the federal election in September this year.

Imagine if we had state elections at a date that is different from that of the Parliament, Najib could have been removed in yet another palace coup after he had failed to win back Selangor or Penang!

Even the Westminster Parliament, dubbed rightly or wrongly as ‘the mother of all Parliaments’, too passed the Fixed-term Parliamentary Act in 2011, paving the way for parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom to be held on the first Thursday in May every five years, starting in 2015.

Early elections can only happen if (a), a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the whole House of Commons or without division; or (b), if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is confirmed by the House of Commons within 14 days.

Fixed-term elections will no doubt end any potentially damaging uncertainties over election dates, and pose a severer challenge to the government when the economy is bad.

In the context of Malaysia, it will also ensure a government that has all the public resources at its disposal, as BN has had over the past so many years, can no longer tap into the advantages of uncertainty, thus helping to reduce wastages and squandering.

But there is a hurdle – BN is least likely to opt for it while it is not mentioned in Pakatan Rakyat’s manifesto. Given that to pass a law as such may involve amending the constitution which requires two-thirds of the votes in the whole of the Dewan Rakyat, it will remain a pipe dream for some years to come. – Mkini

JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.

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