The first test of independence, impartiality and professionalism of the Election Commission is whether it would fix a fair and just election campaign period or will succumb to the dictates of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad for a short campaign period - which will fully advantage the Barisan Nasional with its control and abuses of the three Ms - money, mass media and machinery of government.
In the past four general elections, the Election Commission had been at the beck-and-call of the Prime Minister, waiting for the dissolution of Parliament and immediately convening an emergency meeting to conduct a shot-gun general election without allowing adequate time for a free, fair and clean election campaign to be held.
In the four previous general elections under the premiership of Dr. Mahathir, the Election Commission had to meet in emergency meeting once Parliament was dissolved and there was an indecent rush between dissolution of Parliament, the meeting of the Election Commission, the issue of the writ of election, the Nomination Day and Polling Day.
For instance, the period between dissolution of Parliament and Nomination Day for the 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1995 general elections were respectively 9, 5, 7 and 10 days - which was in sharp contrast to the 1994 Sabah state general election where there was a completely unheard-of 28-day interval between dissolution of the Sabah State Assembly and nomination, all because the incumbent was the anti-Barisan PBS Sabah state government at the time.
The period between nomination and polling for the 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1995 general elections were respectively 15, 9, 10 and 10 days.
The length of period between dissolution and polling in the last nine general elections is shown by the following table:
Dissolution Nomination Period
& Nomination & Polling
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
It is clear that the Election Commission during the first three Prime Ministers, Tengku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak and Tun Hussein Onn was more democratic and fair than during the tenure of Mahathir as Prime Minister.
Section 3(1) of the Elections (Conduct of Elections) Regulations 1981 provides for a minimum of four days between the issue of a writ of election and the Nomination Day after the dissolution of Parliament and a minimum of seven days between Nomination Day and Polling Day.
In other words, the whole election campaign could be completed in 11 days from the dissolution of Parliament - with the Election Commission issuing the writ of election on the same day as the dissolution of Parliament!
Although the election law allows the holding of a general election within 11 days of dissolution of Parliament, the decision of a fair and democratic campaign period must be seen in the context of the Constitution providing for 60 days for a general election to be held after dissolution.
In these circumstances, a fair and democratic election campaign period would comprise three elements: firstly, a minimum of five days between Dissolution and issue of election writ, a minimum of seven days between election writ and Nomination and a minimum of three weeks between Nomination and Polling - i.e. a total minimum of 33 days between dissolution and polling.
I call on the Election Commission Chairman Datuk Omar Hashim to convene an all-party political meeting to reach a consensus on a fair and just election campaign period which will show to Malaysians and the world that the Election Commission is independent as intended by the Constitution and not subject to the dictates of the Prime Minister on this issue.