Bersih 2.0: Misconduct during Tanjung Piai polls indicates worsening trend of misusing govt funds

Bersih 2.0 chairman Thomas Fann speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur November 29, 2019. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Bersih 2.0 chairman Thomas Fann speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur November 29, 2019. — Picture by Choo Choy May

PETALING JAYA, Nov 29 — Electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 today said among the top issued faced during the Tanjung Piai by-election includes abuse of state resources and additional restrictions imposed by police.

Bersih 2.0 chairman Thomas Fann said a total of 21 cases of election offences and 10 cases of misconduct were recorded by its five observers.  

“Of the 21 cases, three were recorded as treating and gifting during the campaigning period, and the remaining 18 as breaching the limitation of campaigning on polling day,” he said during a press conference at Bersih 2.0’s headquarters.

Fann said the 10 cases of misconduct indicate a worsening trend of misusing government resources for campaigning.

“All cases involved Pakatan Harapan federal ministers and the Johor mentri besar announcing new development projects and allocations that targeted Tanjung Piai’s constituents, amounting to RM23.93 million.

“In addition, we note the restriction imposed by police on the requirement for a permit to conduct door-to-door campaigning during the by-election,” he said.

Fann said that although Bersih recognises the need of the federal and Johor state governments to continue operating during by-elections, utilising state resources for the ruling coalition’s candidate is unethical.  

“The Pakatan government should adhere to the principles of free and fair elections by withholding announcement of any new project or allocation during the by-election period, making a clear separation between what constitutes government function and party activities.

“As the Electoral Offences Act 1954 does not have any provisions regulating the use of government resources for campaigning at present, we urge lawmakers to support electoral reforms and amendments to the Act to ensure a level playing field among candidates,” he said.  

Fann said the by-election’s result, which saw BN’s Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng win over Pakatan’s Karmaine Sardini on November 16 by a majority of 15,000 votes, is also an indicator that inducements no longer work in winning voters’ hearts and minds.

Fann also said Bersih condemned the police restrictions, since it has no legal basis and infringes upon the freedom of campaigning.

“We wish to remind the police, the Election Commission (EC) and all parties that when it comes to elections, the EC is the constitutionally mandated authority to conduct elections, not the police.

“Unless there are actually security or public order concerns, freedom to campaign is a key element of free and fair elections,” he said.

However Fann added that for the Tanjung Piai by-election, there have also been visible improvements in other aspects.

“To be fair, the process of conducting the election by the EC has seen more professionalism, increased transparency, and a greater degree of openness in receiving feedback from the public and NGO organisations.

“Though the number of offenses are a concern, fewer cases were recorded this round compared to previous by-elections. This may be in part due to increased awareness by voters, resulting in less room to commit violations,” he said.

Ultimately Bersih said it wanted to see new standards and ethics from political parties during election campaigning periods.

“We share the disappointment of Tanjung Piai’s people that ethical standards were not observed. Many do not see any difference between the new government and the old one in this election,” Fann said.

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