EC’s choice of polling date – proof of subservience to UMNO

I am disappointed with the Election Commission’s choice of polling date for Bukit Gantang and Bukit Serembau by-elections for three reasons:

1.it clearly favours the interests of UMNO;
2.it is one of the shortest campaign periods in recent history; and
3.it falls on a working day.

Yesterday, the Election Commission Chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof announced that nomination for the two by-elections will be held on 29th March and polling on 7th April 2009.

The EC is pushing the limit as much as it can to delay the by-election, in order not to embarrass UMNO during the ruling party’s crucial Annual General Assembly – one in which a new leadership will be elected.

The two state seats fell vacant on 9th February and the EC was officially informed on the subsequent day. According to the Constitution, an election must be held within 60 days after a seat is declared vacant.

As the UMNO General Assembly is scheduled to be held from 24th to 27th March 2009, this decision is clearly a political decision to allow UMNO leaders to focus on the party election and not to be distracted by the two by-elections like they were in the Pematang Pauh and Kuala Terengganu by-elections.

More importantly, the EC is delaying the election to the latest possible dates allowed under the law to save UMNO any embarrassment from electoral loses likely to demoralise the party’s members before its most crucial general assembly in decades.

The official campaign period for these by-elections are also the shortest in recent history as it barely fulfils the legal requirement of campaign period.

BERSIH, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Election, has long argued for a minimum 21-day official campaign period to ensure that voters have sufficient time and access to information, as well as enable them to assess their candidates sufficiently. A 21-day campaign period is crucial especially when the mainstream media is mostly controlled by the ruling Barisan Nasional.

Another disappointment is that the by-elections both fall on a working day – Tuesday – thereby increasing speculation of concerted efforts to discourage those who work and live in urban centres to return to vote. It is also a widely held view that this group comprise younger voters who are likely to vote for the Pakatan Rakyat. Thus, the BN is hoping for a lower turnout from this group of voters.

Media Statement by DAP Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera and Member of the BERSIH (Coalition for Clean and Fair Election) Steering Committee Liew Chin Tong on 14th February 2009.

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