Sunday, 10 July 2011

Impartial referees matter

Brave New World (The Star)
30 June 2011

Without faith in the impartiality of referees, the beauty of football just goes out the window as doubts over his fairness will mar the proceedings, no matter who wins or loses. The same goes for the EC referees when it comes to elections.


WHENEVER Tottenham Hotspur play Manchester United, we Malaysian Spurs fans, we few, we happy few, will check out who the referee is. There are a couple of them (who shall remain nameless) whose names we dread every time this particular fixture comes about.
It’s not that any of us have any proof that these men are corrupt and biased in favour of the ruling team, it’s just that this is our perception.
And who can blame us, when a ball that falls a metre into the goal and should have won us the match is deemed as not having crossed the line by the man in black.
Now, before you Manchester United fans out there write angry e-mail about how I’m just another whining Spud (which I suppose I am), let me say that there is a point to all this.
Referees matter. They are important and they must be seen to be impartial.
Without this faith in their impartiality, the beauty of the game just goes out the window as no matter who wins or loses, the doubts over the fairness of the match will mar the proceedings.
Now, if referees are important for something like football, imagine how vital it is to have free and impartial referees for something which will have an effect on our very lives (and not just our Saturday night thrills).
I am speaking of course about elections and the Election Commission (EC).
Do I feel that our electoral system needs an overhaul?
Absolutely, and I believe it has to be much more than just the introduction of indelible ink and other such measures to prevent fraud.
Primarily I think that the EC has to be given the same status as it used to have before the 1962 Constitutional Amendments.
Bear with me as we delve into a bit of history.
Before the 1962 amendments, the EC had tremendous power and, more importantly, it had a great deal of independence.
Between 1957 and 1962, it was the EC that determined the delineations of the constituencies. And because commissioners had security of tenure (it was really hard to get rid of them as once appointed their tenure was akin to that of judges), their decision could be made independent of any sort of pressure from the government of the day.
However, in 1962, all that changed. The security of tenure was stripped away so that the commissioners worked at the pleasure of the Executive. Furthermore, the delineation of parliamentary constituencies was now placed into the hands of Parliament.
The implications are obvious. Whoever controls Parliament could then determine the delineation of the constituencies that best suits them.
And because you have control of Parliament that means you also determine the Executive. Thus, you will have power over the EC, too.
In the words of H.E. Groves at the time of the amendment:
“The vital power of determining the size of constituencies as well as their boundaries is now taken from a commission, which the Constitution makers had apparently wished, by tenure and status, to make independent and disinterested, and has been made completely political by giving this power to a transient majority of Parliament, whose temptation to gerrymander districts and manipulate the varying numerical possibilities between ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ constituencies for political advantage is manifest.”
I do not care who has the majority in Parliament, be it Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat or any other party that may pop up.
The current situation is simply not a good state of affairs because it can be abused by whoever has power.
So to those who think that the election system is hunky dory, I beg to differ.
And please don’t tell me that I can’t differ, because we are supposed to be a democracy and we have the right to express ourselves.

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