Longer campaigning period for Malaysia

Move will benefit ruling coalition as much as opposition: Analysts
Friday • February 15, 2008
Nazry Bahrawi and Jessinta Tan
[email protected]

FOR once, Malaysian opposition parties won’t have much cause for complaint: Their wish for a longer campaigning period has just been granted.
In the coming general election – officially scheduled for March 8 – all political parties will have 13 days to go on the hustings – the longest campaign period in recent memory.
With nomination day fixed on Feb 24, the parties will now have five extra days to campaign compared to the 2004 polls, said Election Commission chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman at a press conference to announce the election date in Putrajaya yesterday.
The announcement caught many politicians off-guard since they had expected a shorter campaigning period. Campaigning in the last four elections before 2004 had lasted 10 days or less: Nine days in 1999, and 10 days each for the 1986, 1990 and 1995 elections.
Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), who had on Tuesday slammed Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for calling snap elections amid Chinese New Year celebrations, said he was “pleasantly surprised” this time round.
Another DAP politician, Mr Liew Chin Tong, told Today that a longer campaigning period is necessary because “voters should be given adequate time to understand election issues”.
“Opposition parties need to conduct plenty of face-to-face meetings with voters, compared to Barisan Nasional (BN) candidates who have access to more campaign tools such as the broadcast media,” Mr Liew, who is the election strategist to DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, added.
When contacted by Today, Mr Kamaruddin Jaafar, the secretary-general of the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), would only say that his party would make use of the polls to urge Malaysians to express their “real sentiments” about the ruling coalition BN.
Opposition politicians, however, are not the only ones who will benefit from a longer campaign period. Their BN rivals also stand to gain from 13 days of campaigning.
Malaysian political scientist Farish Noor, from the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the longer campaign will provide the BN “a chance to probe the opposition’s tactics”.
“For instance, they want to know which candidates the opposition parties will field at the different constituencies. They want more than the fact that Anwar Ibrahim’s daughter Nurul Izzah may take on Cabinet minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil,” he said.
On Monday, Today reported that the “reformasi princess” could challenge Ms Shahrizat – Minister for Women, Family and Community Development – for the Lembah Pantai parliamentary seat in Kuala Lumpur.
According to another political observer Tricia Yeoh, the lon-ger campaigning period would also allow “fresh faces” from the ruling coalition more time to interact with voters.
“In the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) alone, up to 30 per cent are fresh faces,” Ms Yeoh, who heads the Centre for Public Policy Studies in Kuala Lumpur, told Today. The MCA is a senior BN partner.
But while the 13-day period is welcomed by many politicians, the fact that Mr Abdullah announced the dissolution of Parliament on Wednesday – while the Chinese community was still celebrating the New Year – has upset many Chinese voters.
“Many Chinese businessmen had taken a break and just resumed business on Tuesday, a day before the dissolution. He has thrown politics into the 15-day celebration,” said Dr Ooi Kee Beng of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.