Three issues to watch out for in the run-up to the general election

As the election approaches, some of us may have made up our minds; others are still reflecting and pondering over their choice

Apr 20, 2018

By Anil Netto
As the election approaches, some of us may have made up our minds; others are still reflecting and pondering over their choice.

That is fair enough. We have until the eve of polling to make up our minds.

Most of us are hoping for a free and fair election. But here are some points to think about ahead of the general election.

1) The latest round of electoral boundary changes have been controversial, to say the least.

The Electoral Commission is constitutionally obliged to ensure that the number of voters in all constituencies are “approximately equal” (as required under section 2(c), of the thirteenth schedule of the Federal Constitution).

But the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) has pointed out that “with the exception of Perlis, Terengganu, Penang and Kuala Lumpur, the ratio between the smallest and largest parliamentary constituencies within the states is above two. The ratios were even amplified by the exercise itself – in Selangor (from 3.94 to 4.05), Johor (from 3.05 to 3.17), Kedah (from 2.53 to 2.70) and Malacca (from 2.17 to 2.50)”.

Also, those constituencies won by the present ruling coalition in 2013 would have only about 48,000 voters on average while those won by the opposition would have nearly double the number, about 79,000. So the disparities are obvious and hardly “approximately equal”.

These disparities undermine the fundamental principle of “one person, one vote, one value”.

2) Watch out for electoral bribery or vote-buying

Excessive election campaign expenditure, handouts and the dishing out of goodies is a clear violation of the Election Offences Act. The Act makes it an offence to use undue advantage and influence, bribery, government machinery and excessive spending in an election campaign. In fact, spending should not be more than RM200,000 for a parliamentary seat and RM100,000 for a state seat.

So we should not condone the doling out of handouts (or crumbs) ahead of the election campaign, whether from the ruling parties or opposition parties.

3) Respect caretaker government principles

The federal and state governments should uphold the principles of a caretaker government once Parliament and the state assemblies have been dissolved.

It is not enough just to hand back official cars to the government. A caretaker government involves many more principles.

The civil society Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) has issued guidelines for how a caretaker government should behave. Just to elaborate:

A caretaker government should not be making major decisions or entering into large contracts or announce new financial grants – especially decisions that will commit a future government or deplete the national budget or public funds.

Elected officials should not attend “official public functions involving the launching of government programmes or initiatives or the distribution of government funds that are pre-planned before dissolution of Parliament or state assembly”. Instead this should be left to the apolitical civil service to handle on behalf of the caretaker government.

A caretaker government or elected officials should not use their official positions or advantages when they engage in election campaigning.

What this means is that federal government officials and state exco members cannot combine their official visits or duties with their election campaign work. They also cannot make use of machinery, resources, agencies, government-linked companies, transport vehicles and other facilities belonging to the government when campaigning.

Ruling parties (including those at state level) also cannot monopolise public spaces, halls and state-owned media like RTM when campaigning. Other parties and politicians too should be allowed fair use of these avenues and free-to-air media.

Public money should also not be used for political advertisements.

These are some of the basic principles of a caretaker government. Many hope that the Electoral Commission and the
Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission will play a key role in ensuring that federal and state governments, elected officials and civil servants do not abuse their official positions, government machinery, state-run media and public funds for campaign work.

In the meantime, we should continue our process of discernment and reflection ahead of polling day. We should not be “sheeple”, accepting what is told to us at face value. Instead, we should be thinking, discerning and informed voters who can differentiate right from wrong – even if the wrong is committed by our favoured parties or politicians.

Most of all, we should be guided by the principles of social justice, fundamental freedoms, good governance and care for the environment when we cast our votes.

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