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KQ: Monstrous Election Laws To Strangulate Opposition?
By Kim Quek

30/3/2002 1:29 am Sat

[Written on the eve of Ketari by-election, with a message for the electorate at the end of this article. - KQ]



The series of amendments to our election laws being tabled in Parliament now are so ridiculously hostile to the concept of democratic elections that the motive of such amendments are only too obvious - to strangulate the Opposition in future elections.

First, we have the Election Amendment Bill, which institutionalizes phantom voters and other malpractices, and which transforms an election into a game of the rich men's club.

Then, we have the Election Offences Amendment Bill, which makes electioneering so hazardous that it is like walking through a minefield.


Through this amended bill, the electoral roll will be made untouchable in any court of law. This means that tens of thousands of phantom voters that have been deliberately built into the electoral roll for Barisan Nasional's (BN) political leverage, consisting mainly of illegal immigrants in Sabah, will be permanently embedded as legal voters. It also means that all other current and future purpose built anomalies in the electoral roll will also be immune to legal challenges. Considering BN's traditional dominance over the Election Commission (EC), this new piece of legislation may become BN's deadly weapon against the Opposition.

In the same bill, the existing parliamentary election deposit of RM 5,000, which is already among the highest in the world, is increased four fold to RM 20,000. In addition, a candidate also has to put up another deposit of RM 10,000 to ensure prompt removal of election posters after the election, thus topping the increases to 6 folds, making it prohibitively high for many would be aspirants.

Further, the legally permitted election expenditure limit for a parliamentary constituency is lifted 4 fold from RM 50,000 to RM 200,000.

It is common knowledge that the opposition parties in this Country are poor men's parties, to which no rich person would want to join or to donate, for fear of reprisal from the BN led government, and hence these parties are always operating on a shoestring. In contrast, the ruling BN, being looked upon as stepping stone to wealth, has attracted abundance of wealthy membership and wealthy donors. A clear manifestation of this contrast is the free sumptuous meals that BN lavishes on over a thousand electorate every day since election campaign started in the current by-election in Ketari (total electorate is only 17,000), while the opposition party DAP holds only self-paid dinners during which donations are even collected from well wishers among the electorate. (Incidentally, such free meals are considered a 'corrupt act' under the current Election Offences Act, punishable by the successful candidate losing his seat. Invariably, EC closes its eyes on these offences by BN.)

The combined effect of these drastic increases of election deposits and election expense limits is to put the Opposition into even further financial embarrassment, deterring deserving potential candidates from standing for elections, while giving BN further legitimacy in exploiting its financial superiority over the cash-strapped Opposition.


A whole section has been added to this Bill to make it an offence 'to act or to make any statement with a view or with a tendency to promote feelings of ill-will, discontent or hostility between persons of the same race or different races or of the same class or different classes of the population of Malaysia in order to induce any elector or voter to vote or refrain from voting at an election or to procure or endeavour to procure the election of any person.' The maximum punishment is 5 years jail and/or RM10,000 fine; and a person so convicted shall vacate his seat (if any) and be barred from voting or be voted for 5 years.

One does not need much legal training to see that the ambit of this law is so all embracing and so loosely worded that practically any criticism of BN leaders or the BN government can be construed as a breach of this law. And that means that the Opposition will not be able to highlight to the electorate any of the numerous high scandals of corruption and mismanagement that are plaguing our Country today or to criticize BN policies and practices that violate the Constitution and endanger the Country's well being, without running the risk of being prosecuted. This law will therefore effectively muzzle the Opposition in an election.

It is the inherent nature of democratic elections that opposing parties should criticize each other, or else how could the electorate see the hidden weaknesses and make an educated comparison of the contesting parties? Outlawing criticism as defined by this law is to strip the essence and frustrate the purpose of elections, rendering the entire exercise a mockery of democracy.


A foreign observer unfamiliar with local conditions may legitimately ask: Why should these harsh election laws give nightmares to the Opposition and not to the ruling BN? Answer is: The implementers (police & attorney general) of these laws have been turned into instruments of oppression against the Opposition through 2 decades of progressive totalitarianism under Mahathir; so only the Opposition need to worry, not the BN.

Keep in mind that the newly appointed Attorney General (AG) is someone who has gained world-wide notoriety in the infamous Anwar trials and who has yet to answer charges of fabrication of evidence against Anwar, thrown at him in a sworn affidavit in an open court. And the Attorney General's Chamber has such an illustrious record of selective and politically motivated prosecutions - unreasonably prosecuting Opposition leaders and waving prosecutions against high crimes committed by BN leaders - that no one should have any illusion as to the future role AG will play in the implementation of these preposterously harsh election laws.

As for the police, their records of brutal suppression of the Opposition's constitutional rights are only too well known and need no elaboration. Also, these have been decently documented by the Human Rights Commission in its reports.

When the above authorities operate in conjunction with a EC known for its subservience to the ruling party, the devastating effect these new election laws will have on an already heavily handicapped opposition cannot be overstated.


On somber reflections over the above event, perhaps the most disturbing part is not so much the substance of the amendments as the unprecedented ruthlessness and daring with which such glaringly atrocious legislations (in speed, quantity and quality) are rammed down the throat of the people. Isn't Mahathir worried about riling the people, particularly on this by-election eve in Ketari, when such affront on people's democratic rights could easily cause a backlash in the electorate? No, obviously not.

Recalling that Mahathir was almost reduced to a lame duck not that long ago, following the fall out from his humiliation of his former anointed successor Anwar Ibrahim, climaxing in the Lunas by-election thrashing by the Opposition, his present bravado must be seen as a dramatic turn around of his political fortune, thanks to the unexpected windfall from the 911 attacks on US.

However, Mahathir would not have dared to make such a drastic move against democracy without the feeling of security that an ever compliant mass media could provide by ensuring that his abrasive move would not cause unacceptable damage to his political position. This is just another illustration of how important a free media is to the survival of democracy.

Well, the electorate in Ketari has an enviable opportunity to express on behalf of the Nation whether it approves or disapproves of the new political trend set by Mahathir for this Country when it casts its votes on 3lst March 2002.

Kim Quek.