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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Finally EC budges a little: May extend campaign period but only by a bit

At last, the Election Commission finally agreed to concede some ground to Bersih, the free and fair elections watchdog body. It said it was looking “very seriously” into Bersih’s call for a longer campaign period during elections.

But EC deputy chairman Wan Ahmad Wan Omar said any extension of the campaign period would likely not meet the 21-day minimum demanded by the election watchdog.

“Definitely … we will consider that because that is within our power. The Constitution already says (the campaign period shall be) not shorter than seven days.

“It may not be 21 days but definitely ... it’s going to be a reasonable period of time,” he said at a forum organised by the Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham) here today.

Wan Ahmad said the EC had to take into account the views of the police, who are tasked with enforcing election law from the start of campaigning right up to polling day.

He said the police were opposed to any campaign period extension as “they cannot work 24 hours a day for 21 days”, triggering jeers from the 150-strong crowd.

This prompted moderator and Proham committee member Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam to point out that Wan Ahmad was merely conveying the objections raised by the police and ask that the audience allow him to speak.

Wan Ahmad said the EC agreed with the government’s position that the current campaign period of eight to ten days was sufficient as Malaysians had access to “sophisticated” communications technology and did not need three weeks to understand a party’s policies.

Bersih chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, however, countered that a longer campaign period was necessary for overseas votes to be counted and for voters to get to know the candidates, not parties.

“We want to know what the candidate is about. For crying out loud, look at some of the candidates that we’ve come up with,” she said.

“We may know your party’s policies but it’s everyone’s entitlement to know what the candidate is about. That’s why you need the campaign period to be lengthened.”

MORE TO COME

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