(Petaling Jaya, Monday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has defended his insistence that the election campaign for the coming general election be short, claiming that the short campaign period was "constitutional".
It is sad that Mahathir does not understand the thrust of my criticism last Friday that his statement that there should be a short campaign period for next general election was both unconstitutional and an attack on the independence and autonomy of the Election Commission.
I have never said that the holding of a short election campaign period is unlawful or unconstitutional, as it is provided for under the law.
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!
This however does not make it fair and democratic and it clearly detracts from any claim that Malaysiaís general elections are "free, fair and clean". Furthermore, it would be telling Malaysians and the world that the Election Commission is not an independent body as intended by the Constitution, again highlighting the increasingly authoritarian model of democracy practised in Malaysia, where the trappings of democracy are observed but not its essence and spirit.
When I raised the question of constitutionality last Friday, I was not referring to the legality of short campaign period, but Mahathirís unconstitutional action in intefering with the independence of the Election Commission by virtually giving directive to the Election Commission as to how it should carry out its constitutional duty to conduct elections, as the fixing of the dates for the issue of election writ, Nomination Day and Polling Day.
These decisions should be made independently by the Election Commission, without any directive from the Prime Minister, although the Election Commission should consult with all political parties on what is a fair election campaign period.
Mahathir has given spurious reasons to justify a short and undemocratic campaign period - to minimise tensions among the people. In fact, if Mahathirís argument is taken to its logical conclusion, then it is justification for the suspension of all elections until Mahathir steps down as Prime Minister!
With the 3Ms, namely money, media and machinery of government under Mahathirís control, a short election campaign period will enable the Barisan Nasional to make the election the "dirtiest" in history - as happened in the 1990 general election when the Barisan Nasional mounted an intensive last-minute attack on the then Semangat 46 President, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah over television, radio and Malay for selling out the Malay race and honour and betraying Islam for wearing a Kadazan headgear purportedly bearing a Christian cross!
Is the Barisan Nasional genuinely concerned that the coming general election should be trouble-free? The Opposition parties are prepared to commit themselves to ground rules for the conduct of "free, fair, peaceful and clean" election together with a mechanism to enforce their observance. Is the Barisan Nasional prepared to make a similar commitment?
Mahathir was being irresponsible and mischievous in claiming that the May 13 riots was caused by the lengthy campaign period of the 1969 general election, when the campaign period was 28 days between nomination and polling for the 1969 general election as compared to 35 days for the 1959 and 1964 general elections.
What is most unfortunate, however, is a clear deliberate policy of the Barisan Nasional leaders to use all sort of occasions and opportunities to raise the spectre of May 13 Incident - as part of a larger Barisan Nasional ploy to use the "May 13 scare" as a major electoral weapon for the coming general election.
The Barisan Nasional had been using the "May 13" scare in the past seven general elections from 1974 to 1995, to blackmail voters to support its candidates. The question is whether Malaysians are going to say "Enough is Enough" and tell the Barisan Nasional in the next election to bury the "May 13 scare" once and for all, as all Malaysians who support the Opposition want peaceful and not violent political change.
Mahathir should stop dictating to the Election Commission on the issue of a fair and democratic campaign period and should allow the Election Commission the independence to consult with all political parties to reach a consensus on the issue.
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, five days between Dissolution and issue of election writ, seven days between election writ and Nomination and three weeks between Nomination and Polling - i.e. a total of 33 days between dissolution and polling.
Or is Mahathir suggesting that Malaysian nation-building after four decades of nationhood is so fragile that it could not allow for a fair and democratic campaign period of 33 days from dissolution to polling, when the first two general elections in 1959 and 1964 provided for 53 days and 52 days respectively between dissolution and polling, while the 1974 and 1978 general elections provided for a 24 and 26 day period respectively between dissolution and polling.