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Media Statement by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Monday, 20th April 2009: 

Time has come for Election Commission to demonstrate that it is not the mouthpiece or tool of BN government but an independent and professional Election Commission as intended by Constitution

The time has come for the Election Commission to demonstrate that it is not the mouthpiece or tool of the Barisan Nasional government but an independent and professional Election Commission as intended by the Constitution.

Election Commission deputy chairman Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar was quoted in the Star today as saying that the time has come to amend existing laws to prevent abuse by political parties that force elected representatives to quit their parliamentary or state seats.

He said the move by a wakil rakyat to vacate a seat to fulfil a party’s agenda should be discouraged as the cost of holding by-elections had become a burden to the country. (Star)

It is most disappointing that since the appointment of Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Yusuf as the new Chairman for the Election Commission at the beginning of the year, the Election Commission has made decisions and taken actions which have further undermined public confidence in the independence and professionalism – which is quite an “achievement” considering the canyon the Election Commission had plunged into in terms of public confidence under the former Chairman.

The recent refrain by the Election Commission Chairman and Deputy Chairman, echoing the Prime Minister and the Barisan Nasional leaders, that the cost of by-elections had become a burden to the country must be challenged.

In the past few days, the mainstream media have reported that the five by-elections held since the March 8 general elections had cost Malaysian taxpayers RM33.4 million, comprising:

  Election Commission Police
Permatang Pauh RM 409,000 RM 2.5 million
Kuala Terengganu RM 580,000 RM 11.5 million
Bukit Gantang RM 600,000 RM 7 million
Bukit Selambau RM 400,000 RM 5 million
Batang Ai RM 400,000 RM 5 million
Total RM 2.4 million RM 31 million = RM 33.4 million

Actually, the total expenses incurred in the five by-elections are many times the total of RM33.1 million- easily by six or seven-fold - if the election expenditures of the competing political parties are taken into consideration.

The expenses incurred by the Pakatan Rakyat in the five by-elections would be negligible when compared to the total of RM33.4 million incurred together by the Election Commission and the Police.

Pakatan Rakyat candidates do not exceed the maximum expenditures permitted candidates under election laws – which is RM200,000 for a parliamentary candidate and RM100,000 for a state assembly candidate. This would mean a ceiling of RM800,000 for three parliamentary and two state assembly by-elections held since the general election last year.

How much did Barisan Nasional spend for the five by-elections, using not only party funds but also public funds, resources and machinery?

It has been estimated that the Barisan Nasional spent RM70 million in Batang Ai by-election alone. I will not be surprised if an independent and professional audit comes to a total figure of Barisan Nasional expenditures for the five by-elections in the region of some RM200 million, i.e. six or seven-fold of the RM33.4 million incurred jointly by the Election Commission and Police.

The problem is not the holding of by-elections but the corruption of the entire electoral process where elections and by-elections have become obscenely expensive. For Barisan Nasional, a by-election is a just splurge of money, not just in millions of ringgit but tens of millions of ringgit, often with the misuse and abuse of public funds!

If the election law is strictly enforced, with each candidate limited to RM200,000 for Parliament and RM100,000 for state assembly contest, and political parties banned from incurring any expenditures, and the expenditures for the Election Commission and the Police as incurred in the five by-elections slashed by 50% and 80% respectively, the question of by-elections being “a waste of time, energy and money” would not arise.

The ballooning of election expenditures to prohibitive levels for Barisan Nasional candidates is one indicator of how corruption in Malaysia has completely got out of hand in the past decade!

It is open secret that the four recent by-elections held this year under the new Election Commission Chairman were no different from previous elections and by-elections, that the election law limiting expenditures to RM200,000 per parliamentary and RM100,000 per state assembly seats were flouted by Barisan Nasional candidates, to the extent that actual Barisan Nasional expenditures run into tens of millions of ringgit each.

Had the Election Commission ever prosecuted and disqualified any Barisan Nasional candidate, whether for parliamentary and state assembly elections, for election offences for violating the election law limiting expenditures by 10, 50 or even 100 times since the new law was passed five years ago?

The cost of by-elections would not have become so burdensome if the Election Commission and Police are thrifty and economical in their expenditures.

Why is the Police spending RM11.5 million in the Kuala Terengganu by-election? In fact, Parliament was told on Feb. 18 that the police had spent RM4 million more, i.e. RM15.53 million, in the Kuala Terengganu by-election.

The Star of Feb. 19, 2009, under the headline “RM15 million for safe polls” reported:

POLICE operations for the Kuala Terengganu by-election on Jan 17 cost the Government some RM15.53mil, Deputy Home Minister Datuk Chor Chee Heung said.

Chor told Amran Ab Ghani (PKR - Tanah Merah) that among others, the expenditure covered costs for transport, communications and utilities, rental of canopies, supply of food and drinks, accommodation and living allowances.

“For the Kuala Terengganu by-election, the police mobilised 3,376 personnel from all divisions, including the Special Branch, Narcotics and the Criminal Investigation Department.

“Because of the extra security measures maintained by the police at the time, no untoward incident was reported,” he said.

The police also mobilised two helicopters, three armoured personnel carriers, 68 patrol cars, 296 motorcycles and 3,376 side arm rifles for the by-election.

This is not the only case of under-reporting of police expenditures in by-elections. The mainstream media in the past few days reported that police expenditures in the Permatang Puah by-election were RM2.5 million.

This is under-reported by four or five-fold if Chor had not misled Parliament, as evident from the same Star report on his same answer to Parliament on Feb. 18:

To a question from Dr Puad Zarkashi (BN - Batu Pahat), Chor said although the sum spent in Kuala Terengganu was slightly higher than for the by-election in Permatang Pauh, it was worth it because there was no tension felt at all during the campaigning period.

Can the new Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein explain the two great discrepancies in police expenditures in the two by-elections – RM4 million in Kuala Terengganu by-election and some RM10 million in Permatang Pauh by-election?

The time has come for the Election Commission to stop being a mouthpiece or tool of Barisan Nasional.

The Election Commission must demonstrate its independence, impartiality and professionalism and convene an all-party roundtable conference to introduce far-reaching reforms to election laws and the electoral system so that Malaysians can be proud of a free, fair and clean election system and to stop playing to the tune of the Barisan Nasional government to unilaterally and arbitrarily amend laws at its whim and fancy.

*Lim Kit Siang, DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor



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