It's morally wrong but not illegal'
PETALING JAYA (April 18, 2007): It may be morally wrong but according to Malaysian laws, Barisan Nasional ministers cannot be prohibited from using government machinery and public resources during an election campaign.
"Morally, it is wrong but technically, it is not," Malaysians for Free and Fair Elections (Mafrel) chairman Abdul Malek Hussin said in an interview today.
"This reflects a serious discrepancy in Malaysian election law because it does not clearly prohibit public resources from being utilised for campaigning," he said, comparing this to other democracies, including India, where the law provides for government officials to be prosecuted.
Former Universiti Malaya law faculty dean Datuk Dr Sothi Rachagan said the law, as it stands, cannot prevent ministers from performing their official functions during campaigning in the constituencies where elections are being held.
Sothi, who authored Law and the Electoral Process in Malaysia, noted a previous court judgment that a minister's promises did not amount to bribing voters because they fell under the broad definition of the minister's duty in office.
"People who benefit from it (this loophole) will not want to change it. No one is going to vote themselves out," he said when asked if the laws needed amendment.
Instead, Sothi suggested the long-term process of public education.
"Currently, we put too much emphasis on a minister's promises. That in itself is not a deciding factor for many voters," he said, adding that many considered social issues and not all were blinded by development promises.
Abdul Malek ruled out the possibility of empowering the Election Commission (EC) to investigate election malpractices.
"They do not have the capability to conduct investigations. It is also dangerous should the power be abused," he said.
Instead, he said the EC should be empowered to referee the access to campaign resources, which have always been readily available to incumbent parties, in a bid for fairer elections.
He also suggested that the system allow and encourage domestic election observers nationwide, and allow international observers whose presence would hopefully deter parties from malpractice attempts.
On Monday, EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman said that ministers' development promises to voters during election was not considered vote buying.
Voters in Machap benefited from development projects and promises because of its recently concluded by-election.
The Selangor government announced today a RM36 million development allocation for Ijok where a by-election will be held on April 28. sun2surf