(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): I welcome the statement by the Election Commission that the nomination and polling dates for any election are determined independently by the Election Commission.
Election Commission secretary, Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar, said the Commission will make an independent decision on the campaigning period after the dissolution of Parliament.
What Wan Ahmad states is the law but the onus of proof is on the Election Commission that this is also the practice, that it is really independent to decide on the campaign period without having to act on the dictates of the government of the day.
Although Wan Ahmad said that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had the right to express his opinion on the risks associated with a long campaigning period, the Election Commission has the further onus of proof to convince Malaysians that the Prime Ministerís views that there should be a short campaigning period in the coming general election does not has the effect and force of a "directive" to the Commission.
Although Wan Ahmad stressed that the Election Commission "does not listen to anyone" when deciding on the campaigning period, this is not borne out by its record.
In the four previous national 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.
This is in sharp contrast to the Sabah state general election in 1994 which was then under the PBS State Government. The PBS State Government dissolved the Sabah state assembly on January 10, 1994 but Nomination Day was held only on February 7, 1994 - a 28-day interval between dissolution and nomination, which was completely unheard-of in Malaysian general elections. The reason for the inordinate length of time was obvious - to benefit the Sabah Barisan Nasional which was then in Opposition in the Sabah state. The Polling Day for the 1994 Sabah state general election was February 18-19.
It is with this background that I had said that the Prime Ministerís statement that the next general election should have a short campaigning period is an "unconstitutional" interference with the independence of the Election Commission, as his statement would have the effect and force of a directive which could only be ignored by a really independent Election Commission. Do we have such an Election Commission in Malaysia which is prepared to ignore the Prime Ministerís expressed wishes?
This is like the Prime Minister interfering with judicial independence when he declares that the conviction and sentence in a trial is fair, when the case is still awaiting appeal - for it tantamounts to sending a warning to the appellate courts not to overturn the conviction or sentence from a person who is responsible for all judicial appointments and promotions!
The Election Commission should be mindful that a fair election campaign period is an important ingredient as to whether it is discharging its constitutional duty to conduct a "fair, free and clean" general election. Is the Election Commission prepared to demonstrate that it is answerable only to the Constitution and not to the government of the day as far as the conduct of the coming general election is concerned?
I call on the Election Commission to declare whether it is prepared to accept that bearing in mind the constitutional provision for the holding of a general election within 60 days of the dissolution of Parliament, a fair and democratic election campaign period would comprise three miminal conditions: 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.