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An Election Shadow Play: Zimbabe Today, Malaysia Tomorrow?

The Elections Commission, after every general and bye-elections, finds creative reasons why elections laws, rules and regulations must be rightened, and the Opposition hobbled. To it, all political parties not in the National Front (BN), even in Kelantan and Trengganu, is the Opposition. It ascertains, even before campaigning starts, the Opposition is out to make Malaysian democracy the laughing stock of the world. It prefers, it seems, issues in the campaign, and the raucuous campaigns comes with it, should be bottled up until one fine morning it bursts out into the open for the police and the armed forces to put it right. In conformity with the time-honoured Malaysia Boleh tradition of passing the buck. It cannot understand why elections campaigns should not function like government departments: orderly, unethusiastic, no sense of purpose, authoritarians, lackadaiscal, genuflecting to authority, decorous where even the lowliest can hold the unempowered to ransom with a flick of his finger. Or take the easy way out by bribing the fellow.

The Elections Commissions works to a set of laws, rules and regulations that should by now stood have stood the test. But it apparently is not. Its aim is so the world will know of yet another democracy functioning as best it should -- in ECspeak, docilely -- to elect the Government into power. Things go wrong, in its view, when the Opposition puts up a good fight, as in Pendang and Anak Bukit, and threatens the BN's composure. One gets the impression, the EC could, by hook or crook, deliver the results the BN wanted, and blames it on the Opposition when it cannot. It decides, after every poll, why Malaysia is not yet a democracy because the elections laws, rules and regulations do not restrict enough the rights of voters and candidates.

But is this what EC and elections are all about? The EC is the independent commission given the task of overseeing constitutionally mandated elections, in which all political parties should have the right to air their views and the people the right to listen to what they have to say and make their choice. The country is, strictly, in a state of emergency, which allows the government to restrict it.

But every independent country with a colonial past makes it the first order of day to restrict the democracy it professes an inherent to, and the government of the day adjusts the laws, rules and regulations so it would never every be defeated. India once took the drastic step, when Mrs Indira Gandhi was prime minister, to adjust the elections law, rules and regulations to the norm the Third World governments are comfortable with. It failed because the voter had become accustomed to public debate and discussion, and would not be denied it under any circumstance. But India lists to the Third World norm in that politicians are as amenable to greed and power as the worst of its class.

After the Pendang and Anak Bukit bye-elections, the EC wants candidates who utter seditious words be disqualified from contesting the elections. As usual it did not think through what it meants. Who decides the words uttered are seditious? The courts? The government? The EC? Malaysia's sedition laws are so tight even seditious words uttered in the legislature are not immune. It already covers elections campaigns. Yet the police has not arrested anyone in years for seditious remarks in a campaign. If seditious remarks are made during an election campaign, all the EC had to do is lodge a police report and let the law take its course. Now, how many citizens have been arrested and charged for uttering seditious remarks since the first elections in 1952? 10,000? 5,000? 2,000? 100? 50? 10? 5? Don't know? It is more likely 5 than 10,000. How many reports has the EC made of seditious remarks in an election campaign? It would surprise if it is more than None. In other words, for failing in its duty, it wants untrammelled powers that even bypass the courts.

Which is why the law minister by another name, Dato' Seri Rais Yatim, shot down the EC proposals. But did he mean it? Is it another "sandiwara" (shadow play) in the making? The EC proposals would place minefields in the electoral system the Government and the EC would have cause to regret at leisure. But the politician he is, Dato' Seri Rais, objected to them not for restricting the citizen's right to vote, but that it is "improper" -- in the same sense the EC finds exuberant electiion campaigns, especially by the Opposition, "improper". Both the government and the EC wants elections campaigns to be conducted like docile school literary and debating society elections, and do what it can to ensure it.

But make no mistake. The government would soon find the EC proposals attractive, and which could well end up as law. The EC floats a balloon, to attract flak; when the furore dies down, it invariably becomes law without even a proper discussion in Parliament or the agreement of political parties not in BN. Dato' Seri Rais already said the government is worried about exuberation opposition elections campaigns, which he also wants to reduce; and is for giving the EC more enforcement powers. It does not use the powers it has, so how does giving it more makes it more efficient? And he, judging from the remarks he made to malaysiakini, wants the EC to have the power to remove seditious banners and posters. In other words, elections officers in every constituency would have the right to decide. What is so difficult of asking the police to investigate? The EC and Dato' Seri Rais says that is not as easy as it seems.

Dato' Rais chairs a meeting with the EC next week to see how the laws could be tightened. But, typically, there is no report the non-BN political parties would send representatives to it. If the Elections Commission is as independent as it insists it is, it would not allow any cabinet minister to chair its meeting. If anything, its chairman would, and the minister could attend as a member to profer advise.

Not here. The EC chairman would not stand on his rights to demand that. It is not the done thing in Malaysia to second guess a minister, however wrong he is. As Dato' Rais is wrong here. If elections laws, rules and regulations must be amended, it must be with the consent of all political parties, not just the government of the day. For if the EC amends the law so BN could have an easy run, however this intent is masked, the time would come, make no mistake, when it would blow up in the government's, and the EC's, faces. Especially when the body entrusted to conduct elections considers its functions a chore and a bore. As elections go, Zimbabwe yesterday is Malaysia today. Would Zimbabwe today be Malaysia tomorrow?

M.G.G. Pillai
pillai@mgg.pc.my







______________________
Terbitan : 27 Julai 2002

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