In May 2017, a good 10 months before Malaysia went to the polls to elect a new government in March 2018, Zoe Randhawa and other Bersih activists were asked to present themselves for police questioning.
The pretext: some violation of the assembly act.
Today (14 Feb 2019), the ardent free and fair elections advocate has been named as a member of the Election Commission (EC), a position that allows her to influence the way Malaysia goes to the polls.
She was one of the five new members named by Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, the nation’s constitutional monarch.
It has been a ‘surreal’ journey for the 31-year old Zoe.
“I’ve always been passionate about free and fair elections,” Zoe told Asia Samachar when contacted today.
The four others appointed were Universiti Malaya law lecturer Azmi Sharom, former Foreign Ministry chief secretary Ramlan Ibrahim, former Human Resource Ministry director-general Chin Paik Yoong and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia senior fellow Faisal S Hazis.
“I am proud to announce that we have, among others, two PhD holders and a 1st class honours holder from the LSE in the EC,” EC chairman said in a social media update. “Apart from academic qualifications, all the members are chosen for their specific expertise and knowledge as well as their integrity.”
Chief secretary to the government Ismail Bakar said their term would begin on the day they report for duty and will expire when they reach 66 years of age, according to MalaysiaKini.
These appointments have broken several conventions. Commission members are usually chosen from amongst retired senior civil servants, the report added.
After completing her degree at London School of Economics in 2010, Zoe joined a corporate firm before going on some travelling.
She then joined Bersih in 2014 when there was an opening at the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections.
“I’ve always wanted to be involved in the free and fair elections process. So, when the Bersih opening came about, I applied for it,” she said.
The last time she was at the EC headquaters in Kuala Lumpur in 2017, the authorities had shutdown the building and the place was swarmed by uniformed men.
She was there with a Bersih team to hand over a memorandum.
“It still feels surreal,” she said. “This time, I will be walking in through the front door.”
Lessons for Singapore from Malaysian elections (Asia Samachar, 10 May 2018)