Nine-day campaign period makes tenth general election, together with 1986 general election, the shortest in the nationís history and marks the growing lack of democracy in Malaysia

Media Comment
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Friday): The nine-day campaign period decided by the Election Commission, with Nomination on November 20 and Polling on November 29,  is most unfair and undemocratic.

It marks the growing lack of democracy after 42 years of nationhood and is  another instance why the Election Commission does not inspire public confidence about its independence and credibility.

The nine-day campaign period for the tenth general election will make it the shortest in the nationís electoral history, sharing this dubious honour with the 1986 general election, as shown by the following table:

               Between              Between
               Dissolution          Nomination       Total
               and Nomination       and Polling      Period

1959                18               35                53
1964                17               35                52
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
1999                 9                9                18

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr.  Mahathir Mohamad has gone on record repeatedly  declaring that the campaign period should be a short one, and the nine-day campaign period is proof that  the Election Commission is only following his  unwritten directive, which is not only undemocratic but also unconstitutional.

Mahathir had even said that  since the May 13 Incident in 1969, general election campaign period had always been between 10 to 12 days, claiming that a longer period would lead to tensions and incidents.  This is untrue as shown by the table above, but the Election Commission dare not even fix 10 to 12 days, deciding on mere nine days.

The reason given by the Election Commission Chairman Datuk Omar Mohammad Hashim to justify the nine-day campaign period, that "it is imperative elections be held as soon as possible ... so a new government can be in office to serve the people",  is the most nonsensical one to be made by any Chairman of a Election Commission in the world to justify a most unfair and undemocratic campaign period.

The nine-day campaign period is too short and unfair, for it would not allow the 9.7 million voters the opportunity to have access to the policies and programmes of the competing parties and candidates, especially with a mass media which is so one-sided, biased and unfair to the opposition.

A comparison of the campaign period in the nationís general elections reflect two disturbing trends: firstly, the increasing lack of democracy after the 1969 general election as compared to the fifties and sixties; secondly, the increasing lack of democracy after Mahathirís first term as Prime Minister, as in the 1982 general election, there was  still a 15-day campaign period as compared to the other three general elections called by Mahathir.

Mahathir may be proved right that the tenth general election would be the "dirtiest" in the nationís history, starting with the disenfranchisement of 650,000 new voters and the nine-day campaign period.

When he announced the dissolution of Parliament two days ago, Mahathir alleged that the Opposition parties would "become violent" and  "start riots" when they realised that they were not going to win the general election.

This is a most unwarranted and unworthy allegation to come from the Prime Minister. The DAP had contested in seven general elections in the past three decades and we had never "become violent" and "start riots" because we did not win the election, including in 1995 when DAPís Tanjong 3 plan to capture power in the Penang state was crushed, winning only one State Assembly seat.

The DAP makes a public commitment that  its members and supporters will never "become violent" and "start riots" if we do not win - and we do not expect to topple Mahathir and Barisan Nasional from power in the next election, but to deny its two-thirds parliamentary majority. I have no doubt that the other Barisan Alternative parties are prepared to make a similar commitment.

The question is whether Mahathir and the Barisan Nasional parties are prepared to similarly make a public commitment that their members and supporters would be fully disciplined and would not "become violent" and "start riots" if they do not win the election or win back the two-thirds parliamentary majority.

If the Barisan Nasional is as responsible as the Barisan Alternative and make a public commitment to discipline their members and supporters to ensure that there would be no violence or riots, regardless of the outcome of the polls,  then Malaysians can look forward to the 10th general election as a festival for democracy, where the people can peacefully  and joyously exercise their
democratic right to choose the government and elected representatives they want for the next five years.


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