Malaysiakini Letter

By-elections - beware of ministerial visit pitfalls

Bersih 2.0 Steering Committee  |  Published:

LETTER | Bersih 2.0 wishes to respond to the Election Commission chairperson, Azhar Harun who said today that in general, government activities are not against election laws as during a by-election, the government still functions.

While it is true that in a by-election, state assemblies and Parliament are not dissolved and the government of the day is still functioning, the election law is still clear on certain offences like bribery, treating, undue influence and excessive spending.

When a government minister visits a constituency where a by-election has been declared, he or she has to be mindful that these election laws are effective, even before nomination day because most of the offences listed in the Election Offences Act 1954 begin with "every person who, before, during or after an election.". As such, any activities that are perceived as "fishing for votes" even before nomination day, can be considered an election offence.

It is important that ministers during their "working visits" do not attach any conditions to their handouts or promises of development. Statements like "If you vote for my candidate or party, I will give you RM2 million", or "I will build you a new school if my candidate wins" would be considered as bribery using government resources.

Any announcement of goodies during a by-election should not be exclusive only to that constituency but general in nature. For example, to announce a special allocation just for schools in the by-election constituency may be deemed as bribery but if it is for schools nationwide, statewide or a large category that span beyond the by-election constituency, that would probably not be an election offence. Similarly, to remind voters of a fulfilled project in the by-election constituency is not an election offence.

When carrying out visits in their capacity as ministers, the prospective or confirmed candidate should not accompany them as it could be construed as campaigning using his/her government position. But if they don their party uniforms and the candidate accompanies them, then they would be campaigning in their capacity as a party leader.

Bersih 2.0 once again calls on the EC and all parties to come together to draw up guidelines to bring clarity to many such grey areas. Such heated public debate also underscores the urgent need for a parliamentary select committee on election and political parties to deal with precisely such matters in order to bring legal clarity as well as to introduce new legal amendments where it is needed. We call for such a parliamentary select committee to be established without delay.

Bersih 2.0 is encouraged that there is a greater awareness of the election laws and the desire of parties to ensure that elections are conducted cleanly and fairly. Let us all work together to strengthen our democracy by reforming our electoral processes and laws.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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