Next election campaign period shortest ever, so that EC chief can keep his job?

21 November 2007

BERSIH reiterates its demand that the official campaign period for the general election be at least 21 days and urges Election Commission Chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman to be professional and consistent on the matter.

Tan Sri Abdul Rashid said at a recent press conference that “the campaign period may be shorter, if some parties continued to buat huru-hara (create chaos) and shout in the streets.”
It is regrettable that Tan Sri Rashid has chosen to ignore the resounding calls for electoral reform as evidenced in the November 10 gathering, and instead resorted to threatening the Opposition and the Malaysian public in general by proclaiming that he would make the next election the shortest in Malaysian history.
Or is Tan Sri Rashid merely currying favour with the Government in exchange for an amendment to the Constitution to increase the retirement age for EC members from 65 to 66, effectively giving the soon-to-be-65-year-old Tan Sri Rashid a lifeline of another year in the job. This would mean another general election under his watch.
BERSIH fervently hopes that Tan Sri Rashid’s threat is not part of the deal that’s keeping him in the job for another year. BERSIH strongly feels that Tan Sri Rashid owes Malaysians an explanation on the matter.
Most mature democracies allow for a campaign period that is sufficient for candidates to engage the electorate, and vise versa. In the case of Malaysia unfortunately, the situation has been one of decline and degeneration. The first federal election in Malaya in 1955 had a 42-day campaign period.
It was 5 weeks or approximately 35 days for the first three elections (1959, 1964, and 1969) after independence, and slightly more than two weeks for the 1974, 1978 and 1982 elections. Campaign period for the four subsequent elections (1986, 1990, 1995, and 1999) under Prime Minister Mahathir’s watch was either nine or 10 days. The 2004 election saw the shortest ever campaign period — seven and a half days.
BERSIH is calling for a modest 21-day campaign period, half of what we got in 1955, in order to allow the electorate to get to know their candidates and the message they are advocating.
This is especially important when the mainstream electronic media is one-sided in its reporting. A longer campaign period would help to level the playing field and empower the citizenry as they can scrutinize the candidates in a more meaningful way.