JOHOR BARU, Oct 16 — The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) today urged the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government to set a higher standard for electioneering and for compliance to the Election Offences Act 1954.
“Bersih 2.0, together with the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC), are currently undertaking a comprehensive review of existing election laws with a view to bringing clarity to certain offences, to include new areas of concern and to empower the Election Commission (EC) to enforce the election laws.
“Until our recommendations become law, we call on all parties to observe existing laws and the principle of free and fair elections so that voters could make informed choices based on issues that are important to them and their constituencies and not out of any sense of fear or any unreasonable pressure placed on them,” the Bersih 2.0 steering committee said in a statement today.
The polls watchdog said it was dismayed that the PH government continues to abuse its position as the federal government when it comes to competing in by-elections.
“It was reported that Rural Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun made a ministerial visit to the constituency of P165 Tanjung Piai yesterday and handed out grants to the Tanjung Piai Village Management Committee.
“While current laws do not make it an offence for incumbent governments to use their position and state resources to campaign for their political parties, the principle of free and fair elections were violated when there is no separation of government roles and party duties in election campaigning,” read the statement.
Yesterday, it was reported that Rina had said in Kukup that a total of 23 grant applications were approved with an allocation of RM230,000 for the Tanjung Piai parliamentary constituency.
The visit was part of is part of the 469 village community programme grants worth RM10,000 each approved in Johor for each village for community activities.
Bersih 2.0 said it is aware that during by-elections, the function of government should continue as it would be unrealistic to pause every time there is a by-election, and the Tanjung Piai by-election is the ninth since the 14th general election (GE14).
Bersih 2.0 recommended several guidelines to ensure a level playing field for all competing parties in a by-election; among them is for official ministerial visits and functions to the constituency facing a by-election to cease the moment the Dewan Rakyat/State Assembly Speaker declares the seat vacant.
“No government resources like public funds, facilities, staff and vehicles should be deployed by ministers and deputy ministers who are campaigning as party leaders, with the exception of assigned vehicles and personnel for their security.
“Thirdly if any government aircraft, helicopters, and boats are used to travel to the by-election constituency, the equivalent cost of chartering such a conveyance from a private entity should be paid to the treasury,” Bersih 2.0.
The election watchdog also suggested that any new allocations, the announcement of projects or relief should not be exclusive to the constituency undergoing a by-election but it should be state or nationwide.
On Sunday, Malay Mail reported Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan Ahmad slamming PH lawmakers whom he alleged were using government machinery for their pre-campaign events in Tanjung Piai.
The Pontian MP also questioned the promise made by the PH government of not misusing government machinery.