It now looks likely that the prolonged wait for the 13th general election will stretch into next year. Then again, to go by the latest rumour, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak may yet spring a surprise and call it next month.
It does not seem to matter to the power that holds the card that so many of us are fighting an election fever that comes and goes and then comes again.
Be that as it may, our immediate focus ought to fall on electoral reforms and the role of the Election Commission (EC) in ensuring a free and fair election.
A Concert Bersih will be held tomorrow (this Saturday) at Stadium Kelana Jaya, and this will be followed on Nov 3 by a Pakatan Rakyat gathering in Seremban. Originally, this rally was planned to take place at either the Bukit Jalil National Stadium or the Merdeka Stadium. Both are aimed at heightening public awareness of the need for fair elections.
The 13th general election will be crucial to the future of both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat and to the destiny of the nation.
Pakatan and its supporters have predicted that the conduct of the polls will be the “dirtiest” that the nation has experienced since its independence. BN, perhaps betraying its nervousness, calls it a “do-or-die” battle.
But as colourful languages go, nothing matches what I heard from a keen political observer. “It will be like a battle between Napoleon Bonaparte and Elvis Presley,” he said.
Noticing my puzzled look, he explained that Napoleon regarded power like a mistress, as reflected in a famous quotation in which he declared that no conqueror would allow anyone to take from him a conquest he had worked hard to keep.
As for the King of Rock and Roll, my friend reminded me about “It’s Now or Never”, one of his most memorable recordings.
I had to agree with him. BN must have got so used to embracing power that it probably would not be able to sleep without it. And for Pakatan’s ageing leaders, it is truly now or never.
In between are the rest of us, holding on to the hope that the EC will carry out its function responsibly and professionally.
Unfortunately, many observers who are familiar with the EC’s history do not see it as being impartial or even independent.
Bias and prejudice
“The opposition leader, Lim Kit Siang, has long accused the EC of consulting with the ruling regime in the electoral constituency delineation process,” said a report released by the PKR president in September 2006. “In fact, for the 2002 delineation [of electoral districts], the EC chairman openly admitted that he had actually met the prime minister at the start of the process.”
Non-partisan advocates for free and fair elections have long alleged bias and prejudice on the part of the EC, pointing to its tacit acceptance of such rulings as the ban on public rallies and BN’s control of the mass media.
“Doubts have long been expressed about the fairness, if not the freedom, of elections in Malaysia and these seem to be increasing,” wrote Associate Professor Lim Hong Hai in 2005 in a paper entitled “Making the System Work: Election Commission”.
“Criticisms have been made by opposition leaders and not just by scholars of both the extant electoral system and EC’s past performances in administering it.”
In recent years, even ordinary Malaysians have noticed a bias for BN in speeches and comments by top EC officials.
Furthermore, the commission seems content to shrug off accusations that it is dragging its feet in implementing reforms recommended by the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC).
Minister Mohd Nazri Aziz has even openly admitted that the EC’s day-to-day administration and management is under the ambit of the Prime Minister’s Department, which is sufficient to provoke accusations of conflicts of interest.
The statutory fact that the EC is answerable to the King, it would appear, does not automatically give it independence in enforcing free and fair elections.
So what can we, the concerned Malaysians, do? For a start, we can go and enjoy this weekend’s concert and join the Nov 3 rally. If, after all that, the EC still won’t listen to our call, then when the election finally comes, perhaps we should overwhelmingly vote for the party that is more convincing in assuring us that it will revamp the commission to ensure its impartiality.
Stanley Koh is a former head of MCA’s research unit. He is a FMT columnist.