Commentary Politics

A bad day at the office for Johor Police & the EC

Campaigning in Tanjung Piai was mainly incident free for the first 10 days yet an unnecessary late condition was imposed.

Written by Aziz Hassan

November 14, 2019.

Recollections & Reflections

IT has been one hell of a circus but hopefully common sense eventually prevails and this embarrassing episode not repeated.

Except for minor incidents involving mainly campaign materials, campaigning for the Tanjung Piai by-election this Saturday had gone on smoothly from November 2 to a few days ago. Certainly there were no fights between rival supporters, no throwing of chairs or other projectiles.

Then Johor Police pulled the rug from under everyone’s feet by announcing a condition three days ago to require the contesting parties and individuals to apply for a police permit for their walkabouts, a traditional Malaysian campaign style known to all and sundry since the days of the first prime minister. Naturally a big hue and cry followed.

State police chief Datuk Mohd. Kamarudin Md. Din said the requirement was to avoid confrontations, which could threaten public order as well as to enable police to monitor the campaigning.https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2019/11/14/new-ruling-to-prevent-confrontations

The conduct of an election is the EC’s jurisdiction

The Election Commission pointed a finger at the police but based on what we have been told so far, it was clearly a unilateral and arbitrary decision devoid of sound legal advice. In the process the EC, chaired by former practising lawyer Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun, once a fierce critic of the Barisan Nasional government who is assisted by a law lecturer also known to be a vocal BN critic, appeared to have allowed the police to dictate on the conduct of an election, which under the law is the EC’s jurisdiction.

An attempt by the opposition to have the issue debated in Parliament was rejected by the speaker and calls by the political parties for a rethink came to nothing. Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, whose portfolio includes the police, even asked the cops to be fair.

Muhyiddin is the deputy president of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, whose candidate Karmaine Sardini is contesting against five others to try and retain the seat Pakatan Harapan won in last year’s general elections.

The minister said he did not want to be seen as misusing his position as minister.

“I have received complaints that the ruling is a bit strict. I have handled many elections before and never has there been such a directive.”

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) too not surprisingly joined in the debate and quoted sections of the law to remind the EC where it had gone wrong.

“We call on the EC as the highest body for electoral management to reject the PDRM’s proposed condition as it is not based on the law and restricts the freedom to campaign. There has never been such a restriction in the history of elections in Malaysia.

“Bersih 2.0 wishes to remind the EC and all that it is mandated by the federal Constitution to request assistance from public authorities to assist in the conduct of elections as provided in Article 115(2). The police cannot go beyond the limit set out in Section 24B of the Election Offences Act which states that the candidate only needs to obtain a permit from the police if he wishes to organise any meetings, a rally, display, or such entertainment involving speeches or lectures.” https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2019/11/14/why-the-need-for-a-door-to-door-campaigning-permit

“EC boss said it was a police decision”

Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan also expressed dismay over the ruling, which he called troublesome.

“I got worried after I was informed about this when I was campaigning at the Parit Ismail district polling centre earlier Tuesday.

“So I immediately texted the EC chairman and he told me it was the police’s decision.”

If indeed the law provided for this condition, surely it would have been imposed decades ago but the fact that it wasn’t led to questions about why Johor Police decided to do this. Worse was the fact that they did so mere days before polling.

There was also a rather odd statement from Datuk Liew Vui Keong, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department who oversees legal matters, during ministers’ question time in the Dewan Rakyat, when he said the EC had set the condition well before the campaign began.https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2019/11/14/law-minister-denies-malice-in-permit-requirement-for-all-campaigning-events/1809830

And there was a statement also in the Dewan Rakyat to say that the police would not impose the condition but because it did not state its source the statement too was puzzling.

Finally there is clarity from this statement by Attorney-General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas, who said that the provisions under which the EC cited the need for a permit for walkabouts and door-to-door campaigning have been wrongly cited.

“The declaration by the police for the need for such police permits is based on Section 24B (3) of the Election Offences Act 1954.

“With respect, this provision does not expressly refer to walkabouts and door-to-door campaigning. The words used in the provision cannot, under any circumstances, be interpreted to extend to walkabouts and door-to-door campaigning.

“The historical fact is that since 1955, these methods of appealing to the electorate are the ones most popularly used by candidates of all political parties, and without the need for such permits,” said Thomas.http://www.bernama.com/en/news.php?id=1789731

All in all a bad day at the office for both the Election Commission and the police.

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About the author

Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.