INTERVIEW | As Malaysia goes to the polls on May 9, the country may see one of the closest elections in the country's history.
Malaysiakini posed several questions to leading constitutional lawyer Tommy Thomas on the democratic and constitutional processes involved in electing and forming a new government.
Following the dissolution of Parliament last month and the campaigning period taking place now, we have seen that the caretaker government under BN and also the Selangor and Penang governments under Pakatan Harapan are making promises and dishing out goods.
In your legal opinion, can this be done? And if the candidates are the ones giving out the goods, can the election results be challenged?
These are two separate and independent issues. First, caretaker governments are temporarily in charge until May 9, 2018, and possess very limited powers. They certainly cannot be deciding on policy matters like raising the minimum wage.
Secondly, “making promises and dishing out goods” constitute electoral offences under the law. Unfortunately, the courts have not decided in that manner with respect to similar blatant electioneering offences which occurred during past general elections.
Hence, the prospects of such legal challenges succeeding after the 14th general election do not seem rosy, based on the past track record of election judges.
We also saw a number of controversies during nomination day. PKR’s Batu incumbent Tian Chua's nomination was rejected, and similarly, caretaker Negeri Sembilan menteri besar Mohamad Hassan won the Rantau state seat uncontested.
In your view, did the Election Commission, or returning officer, take the right moves in both cases as there are questions surrounding their rejection?
In my opinion, the returning officers acted wrongly in law in rejecting Tian Chua’s nomination and in the Rantau state seat.
The effect of such misinterpretation of law is terribly costly because it disenfranchises candidates, and is therefore undemocratic. The choice for voters is also diminished by the disqualification of candidates, and the election process marred thereby....