Govt backs off on proposed amendments to Election Offences Act

(The Sun) – The government has decided to withdraw the Election Offences (Amendment) Bill 2012 in the face of much resistance from both Barisan Nasional and opposition lawmakers.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said today he will table a motion in the Senate tomorrow to officially withdraw the bill which the cabinet, the Election Commission (EC), and the opposition had unanimously agreed upon.

The bill to amend the Election Offences Act 1954, which the Dewan Rakyat had passed on April 19, had been heavily criticised for amendments which among others, included the removal of:

Section 11(c), which required printed campaign material to carry the name and address of the printer and publisher;

Section 26 1(e) which allows for checking of the identity of any person entering a polling centre by the candidate or their staff; and

Section 26A Sub-sections (2) and (3) which allow for election agents or candidate to be present at election booths.

The amendments did not involve the 22 recommendations made by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms, which were passed by the Dewan Rakyat on April 3.

Nazri, who is also de facto law minister, explained that on receiving a memorandum from the EC proposing amendments last year, the government had “out of respect for the independence of the election commission” fully agreed to the recommendations.

He said, however, when the bill was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat, it was met with fierce resistance from the MPs.

“A lot of issues were raised in the Dewan Rakyat so we sat down with the opposition and we managed, with EC’s agreement, to amend (several) sections.

“However, when it came to the Senate, (we came to understand) there were plans to amend two more sections in the bill,” Nazri told a press conference in Parliament today.

He said after looking at the amount of resistance highlighted in the blogs and internet, the government decided it would be best to abort the bill as it would otherwise become too messy, adding that had the Senate proposed additional amendments, the bill would have had to be reverted to the lower house for its approval.

“We met with EC and the chairman (Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Yusof) agreed that if there were to be (more) amendments then the whole bill would become meaningless, so the EC also agreed that it should be withdrawn,” added Nazri.

DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang, who represented the opposition at the press conference, said the withdrawal of the bill was the best solution, under the circumstance.

“Events have shown that we still are a long way from introducing proper measures for free and fair elections,” said Lim, who urged the EC to seriously consider proposals particularly from Bersih 2.0.

In an immediate reaction, Malaysian Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee said the Bar Council welcomed the move to withdraw the bill.

Meanwhile, Bersih 2.0 steering committee member Maria Chin Abdullah lauded the withdrawal of the bill as a positive move as she claimed the amendments were very draconian and took away the right of candidates to monitor the elections.

She believed that the 250,000 people who turned up for Bersih 3.0 on April 28 had made the government realise its error in bulldozing the amendments through the Dewan Rakyat.

She added that Bersih 2.0 will continue to press for a full commitment from the government to meet its eight demands before the next general election is called.
“The government has not made any clear commitment to our eight demands,” said Maria, adding that Bersih 2.0 calls for the resignation of the EC leadership and for a more competent, transparent and accountable team to take over.

Commenting on the issue, EC deputy chairman Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar said the amendments to the Act had been proposed with good intentions to improve the electoral system and to ensure the process goes smoothly.

“The EC understands the problems as our workers really know what is happening and how to do the job. We would not have proposed something that creates more problems,” said Wan Ahmad, adding that the EC accepts Parliament’s decision to withdraw the bill from tabling before the Dewan Negara.