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Electoral Commission must maintain restrictions on campaigning by ministers

The new Electoral Commission line-up in the new Malaysia

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The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) urges the new Electoral Commission to maintain its restriction prohibiting ministers from election campaigning during working hours.

The restriction is both reasonable and necessary to avoid any abuse of state resources.

Electoral Commission chairman Azahar Azizan Harun must stand firm on this restriction to avoid any perception that the commission is controlled by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who has called for its relaxation.

Restricting “political or other activity of public officials outside the scope of their office” is in line with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 51/59 “Actions against Corruption”.

Similarly, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in its Code of Conduct for Political Parties: Campaigning in Democratic Elections urges parties not to “use official State, Provincial, Municipal or other public resources for campaign purposes.”

India’s Election Commission expressly prohibits ministers from combining official duties and the use of official machinery and personnel during elections – nationwide for general elections and in specific constituencies for by-elections.

Similar restrictions are also adopted in Australia, Barbados, Canada, the Republic of Ireland, Ghana and Namibia.

In addressing the PM’s concerns that electoral restrictions would disadvantage the incumbent parties, Bersih would like to propose the following:

  • Ministers or public officials who are also political party leaders should apply for annual leave or unpaid leave if they wish to be involved in campaigning during working hours.
  • Apart from the official vehicle, driver and a reasonable number of security personnel assigned to the minister or public officials, no other government assets or personnel should be deployed to accompany them during election periods.
  • On the use of aircraft, helicopters or other modes of mass transportation to travel during campaign periods, due to security and safety concerns, an exception could be made for the prime minister – but we propose that the political party or coalition pays for the equivalent of a first-class commercial fare for the PM and all his entourage. This would be similar to what the US president and his entourage has to do if they are involved in partisan activities using Air Force One. On this, we commend the positive model set by the PM by chartering a private helicopter during the Cameron Highlands by-election.
  • In order not to drain political parties of their funds by such expenses, the Pakatan Harapan government should expedite the implementation of public funding of political parties based on the vote share received at the last election.
  • The Electoral Commission should exercise its power under Article 113(5) of the Federal Constitution to work towards producing a comprehensive ethical code of conduct in the direction of its Indian counterpart that covers the functions of government during by-elections and of caretaker governments during general elections.
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The new Electoral Commission is one of the most shining models of reforms in the new Malaysia, with its long-damaged credibility being rehabilitated gradually with greater transparency and reforms.

Bersih 2.0 calls upon all stakeholders to cherish the Electoral Commission’s efforts even if it does inconvenience both the government and opposition parties.

Satukan tenaga, Malaysia baru!

Bersih 2.0 steering committee

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