Who is Art Harun, the new EC chairman?

Ida Lim
A screenshot of prominent lawyer Azhar Azizan, who has been appointed as the new chairman of the Election Commission. ― Picture via YouTube/lan phuong

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 22 — Who is Azhar Azizan @ Harun, the man appointed to chair the country’s polls regulatory body, the Election Commission?

The Kedahan, who turns 56 next month, is popularly known as Art Harun. He is also known as a human rights lawyer and writer.

An alumnus of Universiti Malaya and King’s College London, Azhar is in his 31st year as a lawyer and has worked in many famous local law firms.

He was a member of the Bar Council’s Constitutional Law Committee from 2009 until 2015, and has also been a speaker at the Malaysian Bar’s biennial International Malaysia Law Conference.

In a public seminar organised after the 2013 general elections by the Bar Council’s constitutional law and human rights law committees, Azhar spoke about the election process and related laws, including the procedures for election petitions and the Election Offences Act 1954.

During his legal career, Azhar has represented candidates in election petitions, including Barisan Nasional’s Datuk Teh Kim Poo, who was defending his Pandamaran state seat win in March 2004, and then PKR’s Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, who challenged BN’s P. Kamalanathan’s April 2010 by-election win in the Hulu Selangor parliamentary seat.

Azhar had also in 2008 appeared for human rights groups during the proceedings of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) that looked into the VK Lingam video clip scandal, involving allegations of the manipulation of judicial appointments.

That same year, Azhar was on the legal team that secured blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin’s release from detention under the now-abolished Internal Security Act (ISA).

More recently, Azhar was counsel for 41 Muslim parents who were seeking to remove the tag of “bin Abdullah” from the names of their 21 children. They wanted to intervene in a Johor case, but were instead allowed to be “friends of the court” in the matter that will be reheard next month.

Known for his frank views, Azhar has written articles on legal issues — some of which have been reproduced by the Malaysian Bar on its website and also carried on the legal blog, Loyar Burok.

Among others, he has explained what amounts to the election offences of bribery and treating, and what would be required to successfully challenge and invalidate the results of an election on grounds of bribery, local election laws and election petitions, and also on the idea of a law where party-hopping by elected representatives would result in them losing their seat.

He has also commented on issues as varied as the 2009 Perak constitutional crisis, the ISA, the administration of justice in the country and major scandals in the country.

In the words of those in the legal circle, Azhar is a man of “integrity”, highly intelligent and committed to democracy and good governance. They also believe these qualities make him the right person to lead the EC.

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