Why has Election Commission surreptitiously extended from seven to more than eight months  the preparation of  the new electoral roll with 650,000 new voters

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Tuesday): Recently, former Federal Court judge, Tan Sri Harun Hashim  was invited to be a panellist at a public forum on the conduct of elections in Malaysia attended by members from 41 NGOs and interested individuals.

Writing later in one of his "The Bench Mark"  newspaper column, Harun said he was  surprised at the comments made and even the aspersions cast on the credibility of the Election Commission.

Stressing the importance of  assuring the public and the foreign media in particular that the forthcoming general election will be free and fair, with no rigging, he said:

Unfortunately, the Election Commission does not seem to realise how important to its credibility and integrity that it should be "above suspicion like Caesarís wife".

The biggest blot to the Election Commission in its failure to discharge its constitutional mandate to conduct a free, fair and clean general election is its refusal to ensure that the 650,000 new voters  who registered in April/May this year would be able to exercise their voting right in the tenth general election.

The Election Commission has not been able to convince Malaysians that in the age of Information Technology and electronic government, it has to take close to nine months to complete the preparation of the  new electoral roll.

The Election Commission has not been frank and transparent in its operations and it should explain why it  surreptitiously extended from seven to more than  eight months the preparation of the  new electoral roll with 650,000 new voters.

Since May this year, the Election Commission had  time and again issued statements that the new electoral roll will be ready by January 2000, but last week, it announced that the  new 1999 electoral roll  with 650,000 new young voters will only  be used if the general election is  held in February next year.

On August 17, 1999 the Election Commission Chairman Datuk Omar Mohd Hashim said that the revision of the new electoral register would take about seven months to complete, but now the Election Commission is taking about nine months to complete the exercise.

This is most irresponsible especially as the Election Commission is aware of the impending tenth general election.

I had warned in Parliament last week that the Election Commission should not conduct itself in a manner as to reinforce public suspicion that it is hand-in-glove with the Barisan Nasional government to ensure that the 650,000 new voters would not be able to cast their votes when general election is held in the latter part of January as the Barisan Nasional has no confidence that it would get their support.

Malaysians are not convinced that the Election Commission is not deliberately dragging its feet and that there is no way it could speed up the preparation to complete the revision by the end of this year.

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr.  Mahathir Mohamad said last Friday after launching  UMNOís  anti-defamation operation  purportedly to counter the oppositionís "lies and allegations against UMNO" that since the May 13 Incident in 1969, general election campaign period had always been between 10 to 12 days.

He dismissed demands by the Opposition and NGOs that there should be a fair campaign period, claiming that long campaigning would lead to tensions and incidents.

I am very concerned about Mahathirís statement for two reasons.  Firstly, it constituted a most improper trespass into the powers and functions of the Election Commission which should be the sole authority to decide on the length of the campaign period, the dates for the issue of election writs, nomination and polling.  In dictating to the Election Commission what should be the sole prerogative of the Election Commission, the Prime Minister is opening undermining the Election Commissionís independence, credibility and integrity.

Secondly, the Prime Minister is wrong when he said that the campaigning period after the 1969 general election had been reduced to 10 to 12 days, as shown by the following data:

               Between              Between
               Dissolution          Nomination       Total
               and Nomination       and Polling      Period

1969                23                28               51

1974                 8                16               24

1978                 9                17               26

1982                 9                15               24

1986                 5                 9               14

1990                 7                10               17

1995                10                10               20

Thus, in the 1974 and 1978 general elections, the campaigning period  were 16 and 17 days respectively.  Even in the 1982, the first general election held under Mahathir as Prime Minister, the campaigning period was 15 days.  However, in the 1986, 1990 and 1995 general elections, the campaigning periods were shortened to 9, 10 and 10 days respectively.

The fixing of the election campaign period is a test not only of the independence of the Election Commission but as to whether the general election is "free, fair and clean".

The Prime Minister should respect Article 114(2) of the Malaysian Constitution in "securing an Election Commission which enjoys public confidence" by not interfering or dictating to the Election Commission as to the fixing of the Nomination and Polling Dates, after he had exercised his prerogative to advise the Yang di Pertuan Agong to dissolve Parliament.

The Election Commission, on its part, should  take full cognisance of public concerns that the next general election should be the most "free, fair and clean" rather than the "dirtiest" in history, in having a reasonable period of campaign period for all political parties, particularly bearing in mind the monopoly of the 3Ms in the hands of the Barisan Nasional - namely, money, mass media and
machinery and resources of the government - which had made previous general elections so one-sided and unfair.

 A fair campaign period will be a 10-day period between Dissolution of Parliament and Nomination Day and a minimum of  a three-week campaign period between Nomination Day and Polling Day, i.e. a 41-day period for the holding of general election to elect a new Parliament from dissolution as compared to the 60-day period allowed by the Constitution.

The Election Commission Chairman, Datuk Omar Hashim should jealously safeguard the constitutional independence of the Election Commission, refuse to bow down to the dictates of the Prime Minister and  consult with all political parties to seek a consensus before fixing a fair period for election campaign in the next election.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong