(Petaling Jaya, Friday): The statement
by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad yesterday that there
should be a short campaign period for next general election is both unconstitutional
and an attack on the independence and autonomy of the Election Commission.
fter attending the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council meeting yesterday, Mahathir told the press that "a long campaigning period could lead to tension as evident by the six-week period in 1969" and favoured the election campaign period for the 1995 general election.
Mahathirís statement is as good as a directive to the Election Commission, confirming suspicions all these decades that the Election Commission had never been independent as provided for under the Constitution - where it could not even decide on its own a fair election campaign period for elections when this solely its constitutional responsibility and no business of the Prime Minister.
In his 18 years as Prime Minister, Mahathir had become so used to subverting so many constitutional principles and important institutions of state, whether Parliament, the Cabinet, the judiciary, the office of Attorney-General, the Police and the civil service, that he has no need for any more pretences and could openly dictate to the Election Commission how it should carry out its constitutionally-independent responsibilities!
Apart from a gross usurpation of the constitutional powers of the Election Commission to fix a fair campaign period, Mahathir is wrong in claiming that the "six-week campaign period" in the 1969 election was the cause of the tragic May 13 incident. This is another proof of the propensity of Mahathir and the Barisan Nasional leaders to resort to the politics of fear, intimidation, blackmail and falsehoods in the next election to make it the "dirtiest" in history so as to frighten voters to vote for the Barisan Nasional.
In actual fact, there was a 28-day election campaign period in the 1969 general election, as Nomination Day was on 12th April 1969 while Polling Day was on 10th May 1969. The dissolution of Parliament in 1969 was 20th March 1969 - i.e. a 51-day period from dissolution of Parliament to polling day.
There were longer election campaign periodss in the 1959 and 1964 general elections, both having a 35-day campaign period from Nomination Day to Polling Day.
The fourth general election in 1974 under Tun Razak had a 16-day campaign period while the fifth general election in 1978 under Tun Hussein Onn had a 17-day campaign period between Nomination Day and Polling Day.
The four general elections from 1982 to 1995 under Dr. Mahathir had the shortest election campaign periods in Malaysian history, namely 15 days in 1982, 9 days in 1986, 10 days for the 1990 and 1995 general elections.
Under Article 55(4) of the Constitution, a general election shall be held within sixty days from the dissolution of Parliament. The following table shows the number of days between the dissolution of Parliament and Nomination and between Nomination and Polling for the previous nine general elections:
Between Dissolution Between 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
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 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, consult with all political parties to seek a consensus before fixing a fair period for election campaign in the next election.