Bersih: EC must stand firm against PM on campaigning by ministers

The Election Commission must stand firm in restricting election campaigning by ministers, even if the Prime Minister calls for a relaxation of such guidelines, says electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0.

(The Star) – The Bersih 2.0 steering committee said Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s lament that he could not use government assets during campaigning due to curbs by the EC was not in line with international resolutions against corruption.

“EC chairman Azhar Azizan Harun must stand firm on this restriction to avoid any perception that the EC is controlled by Dr Mahathir, who has called for its relaxation.

“Restricting ‘political or other activity of public officials outside the scope of their office’ is in line with the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 51/59 ‘Actions against Corruption’.

On Tuesday (May 14), Dr Mahathir said the EC should reconsider prohibitions against ministers and politicians with government posts campaigning during working hours.

“The EC drew up these conditions, and we find it grossly unfair to the government. We are going to ask the EC to reconsider their condition against government officers from campaigning (during working hours),” said Dr Mahathir.

He further said ministers usually worked beyond the normal office hours while the opposition faced no such restriction.

In its statement, Bersih 2.0 pointed out that countries known for democratic elections such as India, Australia, Barbados, Canada, Republic of Ireland, Ghana and Namibia too prohibits ministers from combining official duties and the use of official machinery and personnel during elections, nationwide for general elections and on specific constituencies for by-elections.

“The new EC is one of the most shining model of reforms in the New Malaysia, with its long-damaged credibility being rehabilitated gradually with greater transparency and reforms.

“Bersih 2.0 calls upon all stakeholders to cherish the EC’s efforts even if it does inconvenience both the government and opposition parties,” said Bersih 2.0.

The electoral watchdog also said ministers and public officials could apply for leave in advance to campaign but, except for vehicles and a reasonable crew for safety reasons, no other government assets or personnel should be deployed to accompany them during election periods.

“On the use of aircraft, helicopters or other mode of mass transportation to travel during campaign periods, due to security and safety concerns, exception could be made for the Prime Minister but we propose that the political party or coalition pays for the equivalent of a first-class commercial fare for the PM and all his entourage.

“This would be similar to what the US President and his entourage have to do if they are involved in partisan activities using Air Force One. On this, we commend the positive model set by the PM by chartering a private helicopter during the Cameron Highlands by-election.

“In order not to drain political parties of their funds by such expenses, the Pakatan government should expedite the implementation of the public funding of political parties based on vote share received at the last election.

“The EC should exercise its power under Article 113(5) of the Federal Constitution to work towards producing a comprehensive Ethical Code of Conduct in the direction of its Indian counterpart that covers the function of government during by-elections and caretaker government during general elections,” said Bersih 2.0.