Finally, the Elections Commission (SPR) has decided that polling for the 13th general election will take place on 5 May 2013 and that nomination day will be on 20 April.
Given our recent history regarding general elections, allowing 15 days for campaigning is most welcome. The last time we had a similar campaign period of 15 days was in 1982. In 1986, it was 10 days, 1990 – 10, 1995 – 10, 1999 – 9, 2004 – 8, 2008 (under Abdullah Badawi) – 13. So, 15 days is an improvement from recent years. In the first three general elections after Merdeka, the campaign period was 35 days, which would be the norm in more mature parliamentary democracies.
We note with concern that there is an uncommonly lengthy period from the dissolution of Parliament on 3 April to Nomination Day on 20 April, i.e. 17 days. This is the longest period since 1964. From 1974, the average gap was 7-10 days, except for 1986 (5 days) and 2008 (11 days). It must be a coincidence that the Barisan Nasional secretary general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor announced on 3 April, on the day Parliament was dissolved, that the Umno-BN was hoping to announce the names of their candidates over a period of seven to 10 days before nomination.
We wonder why the gap between dissolution of Parliament and Nomination Day (17 days) is longer than the official campaign period (15 days). What is the difference between the period from dissolution to Nomination Day and the official campaign period after Nomination Day? Look around us: flags are being put up, money is being spent, rallies are going on with earnest, manifestos are being unveiled and the media have lapped it all up. The BN manifesto, for instance, was launched by Najib on 6 April 2013 at the indoor stadium in Bulit Jalil on the occasion of the 1Malaysia People First assembly, apparently a government function.
Is it because, according to Rais Yatim’s warped understanding, in spite of the dissolution of Parliament, a ruling coalition can continue to use government resources, vehicles, and personnel until Nomination Day? Does that mean more handouts can be delivered during these 17 days? This goes against all notions of what constitutes a caretaker government. Once Parliament is dissolved, the government of the day should immediately switch to caretaker mode.
The Election Commission should come out with strict guidelines on how a caretaker government should behave. These should be presented to the Attorney General, who, with the cooperation of the Bar Council, should come up with the necessary constitutional amendment. We note that there has been no constitutional amendment for the last five years due to the BN’s lack of a two thirds majority. In this case, regardless of who comes to power in Putrajaya, we call upon the incoming parliamentarians to vote unanimously across party lines to amend the Constitution.
Dr Francis Loh
10 April 2013