Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What's the Electoral Commission up to now?

The Electoral Commission (EC) is probably one of the most important organisations for Malaysian democracy because it possesses the authority to decide on a democratic and fair election campaign, the balloting itself and the counting process that truly reflects the choice of the Malaysian people. But alas, its conduct thus far doesn’t give us much confidence.

Now EC chairperson Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman has emerged to declare that political parties had spent huge amounts on campaign posters alone. He revealed that in the last general election, a total of RM110 million was spent. He wants to stop that kind of wastage and introduced some form of control to minimise the rampant spending.

When it’s well-known that the ruling party controls the mainstream media, denying the political parties the ability to campaign through political posters will only advantage the ruling party. While there is a set financial limit to political campaigning, the EC should consider the implication of undue interference into the poster issue when there are far more important matters for it to conduct and manage.

Undue detailed prescription of campaigning methods is not and shouldn’t be its job. Neither is it in its terms of reference to evaluate what is wasteful or not? That is not its bloody job! The EC should stick to its role of ensuring that the elections are conducted fairly and in democratic fashion, and within the laws of the land.

Tomorrow it may be the posters, but what next then, telling candidates they may only speak for 15 minutes? The problem with the EC’s proposal is that it could and probably would turn out in the favour of one party. It should keep its hands off the traditional means of political campaigning but rather scrutinise the legality of the parties’ activities.

As far as S Arutchelvan, Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) pro-tem secretary-general, is concerned, Abdul Rashid in commenting on the posters expenditure had made nothing more than a farcical revelation.

He asked pointedly “What is the use of having elections in Malaysia when opposition parties cannot get registered?”

“The right to form a political party is a fundamental right under the constitution but the ruling party under the Home Ministry is the sole authority which can decide on which political party could be allowed registration.”

“PSM has numerous times called on the EC to be the authority involved in registering political parties. Forming political parties is an administrative issue but in Malaysia, like many other matters, it has become a political decision.”

Indeed, having the Home Ministry, which would be controlled by the ruling party, decide on the registration of another party involves a damning conflict of interest.

The PSM is yet to be registered even though it had applied in as early as 1998, almost a decade ago. And the EC instead of resolving with that as a purportedly neutral body has chosen to mess around with trivialities such as campaign posters.

Arutchelvan said the EC should focus on fundamental issues such as the right to stand in elections, misuse of government machinery as well as the need for free and fair polls, the last of which was rather dodgy or messily organised in some areas in the last general election, if we recall. Another area that reader ali allah ditta mentioned was gerrymandering, which could have been only achieved by a compliant EC.

According to DAP Lim Guan Eng, under section 19 of the Election Offences Act, a candidate cannot spend more than RM200,000 and RM100,000 for parliamentary and state respectively, which means that the BN which contested in all the 219 parliamentary and 445 state constituencies mathematically could not spend more than RM88.3 million.

Even allowing for the Opposition parties spending a total of RM10 million on posters, an amount which Lim doubted very much, the BN would still exceed the authorised limit. And this didn’t include other expenses like food, drinks, transportation, etc for its campaigners which would have effectively doubled the amount.

So what has the EC done about the fact that all BN candidates had violated the rules under the Elections Offences Act?

Lim added: “His refusal to take action on those who practise money politics is the real failure to exercise his responsibility to ensure that the EC uphold election laws without fear or favour. That Abdul Rashid can admit hundreds of millions was illegally spent without taking any action shows that EC is no longer an impartial, independent and fair body.”

Lim agreed with Arutchelvan of the PSM that the EC should be focussed on banning money politics than election posters, which brings us back to the reality that if posters were to be banned, then the party that controls the mainstream media would enjoy a humongous advantage.

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