Is Election Commission Chairman Rashid preparing the ground to justify the Commission’s lack of independence and integrity in having to comply with the nomination and polling dates decided by the Prime Minister’s Office and the fixing of a short campaign period?
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Tuesday): Is the Election Commission Chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman preparing the ground to justify the Commission’s lack of independence and integrity in having to comply with the nomination and polling dates decided by the Prime Minister’s Office and the fixing of a short campaign period for the nation’s eleventh general election?
Any such act is not only unconstitutional in rendering the Election Commission completely subservient to the Executive, it also makes a total mockery of the pledge by the new Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to restore the independence and integrity of important institutions and organs of states like the Election Commission, the Anti-Corruption Agency, the Police, the Judiciary and Parliament to usher in a system of good and responsible governance.
In the past two months, speculation on the eleventh national general election had focused not only on the dissolution of Parliament, but also on the nomination and polling dates – the most current being dissolution of Parliament on March 5, nomination on March 13, and polling on March 21.
There is nothing unusual for the date of dissolution of Parliament to be speculated, as this is a political decision of the Prime Minister of the day – but something is very wrong and rotten about the independence and autonomy of the Election Commission and the election system 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 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 political agenda or time-table of the Prime Minister of the day.
Malaysia is not making a new start towards a system of good governance, what Abdullah had said as “First World Infrastructure, First World Mentality”, when there are people who know more than the Election Commission as to when would be the nomination and polling days.
In preparing to comply with the nomination and polling dates decided by the Prime Minister’s Office, Rashid seemed to have taken the pre-emptive step to justify the fixing of a short election campaign period of eight to 10 days by claiming that there was no reason for a longer duration.
Rashid said: “When I ask the Opposition why they need more time, even they cannot tell me.” (New Straits Times)
I challenge Rashid to name the Opposition leaders who could not explain to him why a eight-to-ten day campaign period is indefensible, undemocratic and most unfair, not only in underlining the lack of independence, integrity and professionalism of the Election Commission, but also because it is against all understanding of the concept of a “free and fair election”.
It is very disturbing to read Rashid’s qualifications about “free and fair election” which seem to make it sound like a dirty concept, like freedom of the press – something to pay lip-service to but not to enforce by throwing up doubts about its abuses and malpractices.
Rashid said: “Yes, I believe in free and fair elections. These are the very basic foundations of democracy. But there have to be some restrictions because individual rights are not superior to the collective rights of the people”. (NST)
It is most shocking that Rashid is not fully committed to the concept of “free and fair election”. His position is no different from Barisan Nasional leaders who pay lip service to press freedom with the qualification that there could be no absolute freedom – when nobody ever advocated absolute or unlimited freedoms!
Can Rashid list out the restrictions that the Election Commission finds it necessary to impose on “free and fair election”?
Rashid has rightly warned political parties not to “dupe” voters with false promises, like promising a passage to heaven which violates the very concept of a “free and fair election”, but is the Election Commission also prepared not to “dupe” voters with pretensions of independence, integrity and professionalism when it has to submit to the dictates of the Prime Minister’s Office on the campaign period, nomination and polling dates – apart from other blemishes like the failure to prepare a clean and comprehensive electoral register?
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 Minister’s Office.
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".
Abdullah has pledged to restore public confidence in the independence, integrity and professionalism of important institutions and 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 expected on Friday. In other words, the Election Commission would not have to comply with the polling date decided in advance and communicated to it by the Prime Minister’s Office.
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 the nation’s history, by fixing a reasonable period of campaign period for all political parties, particularly bearing in mind the traditional 3M abuses by the Barisan Nasional - namely, money politics, mass media manipulation and abuses of government machinery and resources - which had made previous general elections so one-sided, undemocratic and unfair.
A fair campaign period will be a 10-day period between dissolution of Parliament and Nomination Day and a two to three week campaign period between Nomination Day and Polling Day, i.e. period of between 24 to 31 days for the holding of general election to elect a new Parliament from dissolution to polling as compared to the 60-day period allowed by the Constitution. This would mean that if Parliament is dissolved on March 5, polling would be between March 29 to April 4, 2004.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman