Longer campaign period: for message or mischief?


The call for a longer election campaign period is a double-edged sword. It can have both favourable and unfavourable consequences. But if the latter outweigh the former, there is merit in keeping the campaign period to the barest minimum.

James Ang 

So far, the call for a 21-day campaign period was made by Pakatan Rakyat which claimed it needed more time to reach the voters. Is this a reasonable request?

The campaign period permitted by law runs from the date of nomination day until polling day. The Election Commission (EC) has already said it will increase the previous period of seven days to 10 days for GE-13. So, is 10 days sufficient time?

There is only a thin line between a campaign period and a pre-campaign period.

In law, a “campaign period”, means the period during which any candidate or his election agent is allowed to hold election campaign in the candidate’s constituency. This includes, among others, the right to print posters, open offices, hold public rallies, meetings and displays; and distribute election campaign material. These activities are restricted to a candidate’s constituency.

The pre-campaign period extends from the end of one general election to the start of the next.

There is even a thinner line between an “election campaign” and “electioneering”. Electioneering is defined as activities that politicians and their supporters carry out in order to persuade people to vote for them or their political party, like making speeches and visiting voters.

Given this blurred distinction, it is true to say that political parties have in fact been campaigning from the last general election in 2008.

It is common knowledge that some political parties have been campaigning long and hard over the last five years. If during this period, they have not been able to get their message across to the voters, they probably never will. Leaders of these parties have held political ceramahs, held politically-motivated public rallies, used the compliant social media, and have even actively campaigned overseas. It was not too long ago when erstwhile election observers came-a-knocking from the Muslim community in the US. The aborted attempt by an independent senator from Down Under is another case in point.

On top of all these, the Opposition parties are also demanding fair airtime on government radio and television. The Information Ministry has said this would be allowed. So, wherefore is the need for a longer campaign period?

Truth be told, fatigue is already setting in among the people who wish to see the back end of elections so that they can go back to living life without the hype and hyperbole normally associated with excessive politicking. There are media reports of people, especially the younger voters, who say they are put off by the incessant political bickering so much so that they are wondering whether or not they should vote at all. Businesses are also being affected. Hotels claim that polls uncertainty has impacted their business. Room reservations, and seminar and wedding bookings have suffered since people are adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

By now, most people have already made up their minds whom to vote for. They know which political parties have the capacity to deliver and are aware of their track record.  They also know which politicians make excessive claims and promise the unattainable Utopia. A few are still undecided, and it only needs a brief period to convince them one way or another.

So, a 10-day campaign period is sufficient to put the finishing touches to what has been a protracted campaign. However, as I said, if after five years the parties have not got their act together and still have not got their message across, they are probably not yet ready to govern.

But, if an extension of the campaign period is being sought with mischievous intent, then no period will be long enough….