Election Commission must prove its independence by being able to fairly fix the dates of nomination and polling after the dissolution of Parliament without having to comply with the secret and unconstitutional directive or duress from the Prime Ministerís Office
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Thursday): The whole country is now agog speculating the dates of dissolution of Parliament and the State Assemblies, as well as the nomination and polling dates for the eleventh national elections.
By now, nobody expects Parliament to reconvene on March 8, the date it is scheduled to be opened by the Yang di Pertuan Agong for a new parliamentary session. There is unanimity that Parliament will be dissolved before March 8, and the two hottest dates are March 5 or 6.
The hottest subject of speculation is the polling date, with March 21 the leading favourite, while the week between March 20 Ė 27 is regarded as the most likely period when the polls would take place. In fact, even before the Chinese New Year in the third week of January, there were already intense speculation that the polling day could fall on March 21. I myself publicly spoke on the likelihood of March 21 as the polling day for the general election at a DAP function in Pantai Remis on January 17 Ė which was attended by reporters.
It is most shocking and a reflection of the grievous damage to the independence of important institutions and organs of state in the past two decades that nobody thinks that there is anything amiss that there are insiders who seem to know when is the polling date Ė when the Election Commission knows nothing about it, although this is a decision which is constitutionally its sole prerogative which it should decide independently without having to submit to the dictates, secret directive, coercion or duress from anyone, whether the Prime Ministerís Office or the Prime Minister himself.
It is normal for the date of dissolution of Parliament to be speculated, as this is a political decision of the Prime Minister of the day Ė but something is very wrong and rotten about the independence of the Election Commission, the election system as well as the doctrine of the separation of powers and the institutional independence of important organs of state like the Election Commission when the nomination and polling dates are speculated in the same breath as the date of dissolution of Parliament.
This could only mean that the polling date in particular is part of the package of the political decision to dissolve Parliament, which is not only wrong, but unlawful and unconstitutional, as the nomination and polling dates should only be decided by the Election Commission after the dissolution of Parliament on factors which have nothing to do with the wishes or likes and dislikes of the Prime Minister or ruling party of the day.
DAP calls on the Election Commission to prove its independence by being able to fairly fix the dates of nomination and polling after the dissolution of Parliament without having to comply with the secret and unconstitutional directives or subject to any form of duress or coercion from the Prime Ministerís Office.
In the last general election in 1999, the Election Commission complied with the directive of the then Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to have shortest election campaign period in the nationís history of general elections - nine days between nomination and polling Ė marking a new low in public confidence in the independence, impartiality and professionalism of the Election Commission in the nationís history.
The nine-day campaign period for the tenth general election in 1999 was the shortest in the nationís electoral history, sharing this dubious honour with the 1986 general election, as shown by the following table:
1959 18 35 53
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 Tun 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 four general elections called by Mahathir.
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 Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has pledged to restore public confidence in the institutions and important organs of state.
I call on him to declare that he will fully 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" 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. This would mean that if Parliament is dissolved on March 5 or 6, polling would be around mid-April.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman