Election campaign activities should abide by free and fair election principles

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Source: freemalaysiatoday.com

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Election (Bersih 2.0) takes note of Anwar Ibrahim’s suggestion for the Electoral Commission and Bersih 2.0 to look into facilitating election campaigns and to ensure candidates and the electorate are able to access each other seamlessly during campaigns.

Bersih 2.0 indeed encourages interaction between candidates and the electorate during election campaigns. But we would also like to reiterate that these activities should not be done in contradiction with international principles of free and fair elections. These principles, among others, require that all stakeholders in an election ensure that it is free from all forms of bribery and vote-buying, that there is level playing field for all candidates and political parties, and that there is administrative neutrality and non-abuse of government machinery.

Bersih therefore supports Electoral Commission chairman Azhar Azizan Harun’s call that if Anwar is allowed to enter a military camp to campaign, other candidates should be accorded the same treatment to ensure a level playing field for all candidates and the principle of administrative neutrality of the Ministry of Defence. Otherwise, the ministry would be seen as abusing government machinery for the Pakatan Harapan candidate.

We also share the same concerns expressed by Lukut state assembly member Choo Ken Hwa on a free dinner for 3,000-4,000 people that was held in Lukut during the Port Dickson by-election. Such a dinner is no different from the feast thrown by Jho Low in Penang during the general election. Section 8 of the Election Offences Act prohibits giving treats of food, drinks, refreshments or provisions to induce voters to vote for a particular candidate.

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The dinner event should have been postponed until after the by-election. In the Sungai Kandis by-election, a free durian fest was postponed to after the by-election to avoid any breach of election laws. This good precedent should be followed.

In particularly, Bersih 2.0 would like to draw the attention of all candidates and political parties to Section 15A of the Election Offences Act, which prohibits expenses incurred by any person other than the candidate, his election agent and those authorised in writing by the election agent in an election campaign, whether it is for an open public meeting, open public rally or open public entertainment.

Section 19 further sets a cap on election campaign expenses at RM200,000 for a parliamentary seat.

Therefore, the expenses incurred in the free concert in Port Dickson during by-election should have been by the candidate, his election agent or those authorised by the election agent and should be included in the financial statement of the candidate’s election campaign expenditure.

Bersih 2.0 steering committee

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