Install caretaker government during polls period

0
56

To ensure that the ruling party does not exploit government resources and machinery to win elections, the concept of a neutral caretaker government has been adopted by many countries, says Faisal Hazis.

In many representative democracies, elections are practically the only means whereby citizens can participate and hold political parties, candidates and the incumbent governments accountable for their promises and performance. Elections are often the only opportunity that citizens have to reward or punish candidates on the basis of their integrity and performance. But the exploitation of government resources and machinery by the ruling party during the election period undermines the fairness of the election process, hence rendering the election process meaningless.

The distribution of new developments projects during the campaign period and the use of government resources (vehicles, government premises, officials, etc.) are two main examples of the abuse of government resources by the ruling party in Malaysia during the election period.

In Sarawak, the ruling party has constantly politicised development projects by using them as a bait to entice voters (see Table 1).

Apart from that, it has also used government resources (vehicles, officials, premises, etc.) in their campaign, which puts the opposition at a disadvantage. This practice is not unique to Sarawak since the ruling party has adopted this strategy to win elections in other constituencies across the country.

To ensure that the ruling party does not exploit government resources and machinery to win elections, the concept of a neutral caretaker government has been adopted by many countries such as Bangladesh, Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia.

READ MORE:  Facebook's role in Brexit - and the threat to democracy (video)

A caretaker government is a type of government that rules temporarily. A caretaker government is often set up following a war until stable democratic rule can be restored or installed, in which case it is often referred to as a provisional government.

In some countries (including Australia and New Zealand) the term is used to describe the government that operates in the interim period between the normal dissolution of parliament for the purpose of holding an election and the formation of a new government after the election results are known.

Caretaker governments are expected to handle daily issues and prepare budgets for discussion, but are not expected to announce/launch any new government policy, introduce a new government programme or introduce controversial bills.

Recommendations

The caretaker period begins at the time the Parliament or State Legislative Assembly is dissolved and continues until the election result is clear or, if there is a change of government, until the new government is appointed.

During the caretaker period, the business of government continues and ordinary matters of administration still need to be addressed. However, the caretaker government should follow a code of conduct, which aims to ensure that their actions do not erode the integrity of the election process and does not bind an incoming government nor limit its freedom of action.

The code of conduct also aims to prevent controversies about the role of the public service distracting attention from the substantive issues of the election campaign.

Below are some proposed elements to be included in a code of conduct that ought to be implemented by a caretaker government in Malaysia

  • Major policy decisions – Governments must avoid making major policy decisions during the caretaker period that are likely to influence voters. Whether a particular policy decision qualifies as ‘major’ is a matter for judgement. Relevant considerations include not only the significance of the decision in terms of policy and resources, but also whether the decision is a matter of contention between the Government and Opposition in the election campaign.
  • Significant appointments – Governments must defer making significant appointments during the caretaker period. When considering the advice it would give on whether an appointment qualifies as ‘significant’, the agency should consider not only the importance of the position but also whether the proposed appointment would be likely to be controversial and an issue in the election campaign.
  • Major contracts or undertakings – Governments must avoid entering into major contracts or undertakings during the caretaker period. When considering whether a contract or undertaking qualifies as ‘major’, agencies should consider the dollar value of the commitment and whether the commitment involves a routine matter of administration or rather implements or entrenches a policy, program or administrative structure which is politically contentious. A further consideration is whether the commitment requires ministerial approval.
  • Government resources – A caretaker government should not use its resources or position to support the ruling party during the election campaign. During the caretaker period, agency provision of entitlements for Ministers and their staff should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Agencies should not cover claims relating to the election campaign or a political event, as these costs are to be borne by the respective political party.
READ MORE:  Review criteria for polling stations; speed up ballot counting

The Election Commission should make sure that caretaker governments adhere to the code of conduct, failing which the affected electoral contest should be declared null and void.

Conclusion

The formation of a caretaker government aims to ensure that the ruling party does not use government resources to cling on to power. Voters should be allowed to assess the performance of their elected officials and governments objectively. On top of that, the ruling party should not exploit public funds to win electoral support which eventually creates an unlevel playing field for the contesting parties. Hence, it is strongly urged that the Parliamentary Select Committee for Electoral Reform accept the proposal to form a neutral caretaker government and also to adopt a code of conduct that incorporates (but does not limit itself to) the four key elements as proposed in this paper.

Dr Mohd Faisal Syam Abdol Hazis, an Aliran member, made this submission to the Parliamentary Select Commmittee on Electorate Reform in Kuching on 9 December 2011

Thanks for dropping by! Apart from the views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed, the opinions in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

Our voluntary writers work hard to keep these articles free for all to read. But we do need funds to support our struggle for Justice, Freedom and Solidarity. To maintain our editorial independence, we do not carry any advertisements; nor do we accept funding from dubious sources. If everyone reading this was to make a donation, our fundraising target for the year would be achieved within a week. So please consider making a donation of whatever amount you can afford to sustain Aliran. Please make payments to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB Bank account number 8004240948.

And why not become an Aliran member or subscribe to our FREE newsletters.
Avatar
Dr Faisal S Hazis, an Aliran executive committee member and co-editor of our newsletters, is the author of Domination and Contestation: Muslim Bumiputera Politics in Sarawak (2012). He is presently a senior fellow at the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (Ikmas), UKM. His research interests include electoral politics, democratisation and rural informatics.

Join the conversation

avatar
750
  Subscribe  
Notify of