(fz.com) - TODAY marks five years since the March 8, 2008 general election, which has been described as a turning point in Malaysian politics. It saw the ruling coalition losing its two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time since 1969, in addition to losing control of five states.
Malaysia has not been the same since.
For one, more Malaysians have taken interest in the election process and issues pertaining to it. This has also contributed to the rise of civil societies calling for free and fair elections, including a cleaning up of the electoral roll and introducing reforms to bring about a more transparent election process.
Caught in the middle of it all this and under constant scrutiny is the Election Commission, which is entrusted with regulating and conducting elections in the country.
Amidst accusations from opposition parties and civil society groups that the EC is an ineffective institution that is biased in favour of the federal government run by Barisan Nasional, fz.com approached its chairman, Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, for a response.
Despite his busy schedule, he made time and amiably received us at his office in Putrajaya. The interview started off in a brisk, business-like manner but as he warmed up to us, he became more animated and firmly stood his ground in maintaining that the EC has nothing to hide.
On Campaign Funds
Did the EC impose rules on spending on campaign funds in 2008?
Yes, we did. The candidates were allowed to spend RM100,000 for each state seat and RM200,000 for each parliament seat, and they had to submit details of their expenditure.
But when we asked them for such details, they claimed that their respective party headquarters had funded the printing of posters or dinners. They only provided us details of their personal expenditure.
So the relevant election law does not cover party expenditure during a campaign?
No. The law only mentions the candidate.
Have any initiatives been taken to plug this loophole?
The EC does not have the power to audit a candidate or party's expenditure. That power belongs to the Registrar of Societies (ROS).
Will the EC work with the ROS to resolve this issue?
Yes, but we need a big enforcement team on the ground for people to conduct checks and audits. We will look into it before the next election because candidates have said that RM200,000 isn't enough. They want to spend RM20 million for a parliamentary seat (laughs). So what is a fair amount?
We also have to decide who is allowed to be a political funder and the maximum the person is allowed to contribute. Right now the only thing that disqualifies them from the next election is if they fail to submit details of their expenditure.
The Use Of Government Resources During Elections
What about the use of government resources, such as government vehicles and personnel, during the campaign period?
It is not allowed during the campaign period for campaigning. If it is an official function then it is fine.
What about the use of government resources to campaign now?
That is all approved in the Budget, by Parliament. We have no control over what happens outside of the campaign period.
Does this mean that during the campaigning period, even the prime minister cannot use government vehicles?
Not for campaigning. If it is for an official function, then yes.
What happens if one were to use an official function to campaign?
It is not proper and against the law as they are using official duty to campaign. It has to be separate functions.
How well is this enforced and monitored?
It is really hard to monitor the situation throughout Malaysia, but observers can help with it as well. As for enforcing the law, a report has to be made, an investigation has to be done, a charge has to be filed with the court.
In order to charge somebody, you must have sufficient evidence, otherwise it is not easy.