Barisan Nasional (BN) has topped a list of 23 election offences documented by Bersih 2.0 throughout the recent Cameron Highlands by-election campaign, followed by Pakatan Harapan (PH) and PAS.
The BN campaign was guilty of 14 offences, PH five and PAS two. The two independent candidates did not commit any offence, Bersih said.
The electoral reforms group said the “most worrying” of the offences were racial and religious incitement and use of identity politics, mostly by BN.
These included speeches by Umno Youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, PAS Youth chief Muhammad Khalil Abdul Hadi as well his father, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang.
PAS had backed BN during the election.
Bersih said the BN campaign had tried to stir up racial sentiments by raising the death of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim following clashes outside a Hindu temple in Selangor last November.
“Bersih strongly condemns such campaign tactics and calls on the police to investigate these incidents without delay and hold the perpetrators accountable for what they said in order to preserve intercommunal harmony among Malaysians,” it said today.
Bersih said PH, meanwhile, had abused government assets in its campaign, citing the use of a four-wheel drive vehicle belonging to the Pahang Forestry Department.
“There were also numerous ministerial working visits two weeks before the campaign period started on nomination day,” Bersih chairman Thomas Fann said in a press conference.
Fann said the by-election, the fifth since the May 9 polls last year, had seen the most election offences so far.
The 23 election offences consisted of treating (four cases), abuse of state resources (three cases), bribery and undue influence (two cases), inciting ill feelings on race and religion (four cases), campaigning on polling day (nine cases) and one other case.
Fann said the high number of election offences recorded could be due to greater awareness by all parties involved, adding that “both PH and BN held each other accountable”.
Bersih recommended in its observatory report that the EC be given more power to enforce election laws, including the authority to fine candidates or those who commit offences such as BN’s distribution of free ice-cream at Pos Terisu and food in Kampung Belau, and Manogaran’s appearance at a polling centre wearing a shirt with his party’s logo.
Meanwhile, a lawyer has called on the Election Commission (EC) to lodge a police report against Abdul Hadi Awang, who told voters in the Cameron Highlands by-election that it was the duty of Muslims to vote only for Muslim candidates.
Syed Iskandar Syed Jaafar Al Mahdzar said in doing so, the PAS leader had violated the law by using religious sentiments to woo Muslim voters.
“The EC must show that it is serious and that no one is allowed to flout the law like using race and religion to rile up a section of the community to vote in a certain way,” he told FMT.
He said failure to act might encourage leaders from both sides of the political divide to do the same in the upcoming Semenyih by-election, whose campaign will begin after nomination day on Feb 16.
Hadi had said it was the religious duty of Muslims to vote only for Muslims in order to bring an “Islamic voice” to Parliament.
He urged Muslim voters to trust only Muslims to represent them, saying non-Muslims had no concept of sin and heavenly reward. This, the Marang MP reportedly said, made them unfit to sit in Parliament.
Syed Iskandar said the EC must be consistent in its action as it had lodged a police report against Pakatan Harapan candidate M Manogaran for wearing a shirt with the coalition’s logo at a polling station.
The EC, which lodged the report at the Sungai Koyan police station, said Manogaran had violated the Election Offences Act (EOA) 1954.
Syed Iskandar said he believed Hadi had violated the same act by promoting feelings of ill will or hostility.
Section 4A of the EOA states that any person who before, during or after an election, makes any statement with a view or tendency towards promoting feelings of ill will, discontent or hostility between persons of the same or different races in order to induce electors to vote has committed an offence.
Those found guilty can be jailed for up to five years, fined a maximum of RM10,000, or both.
He or she will also be barred from contesting in an election for five years and removed from the list of voters.
Lawyer Lim Wei Jit said the provision was included in the EOA as the legislature had seen the effect of attempts to stoke racial and religious divisions during election periods.
“Politicians should also bear in mind that it is a crime under the Penal Code to make racially and religiously divisive statements,” he said.
He said this could be seen in multiple provisions, including Section 298 (uttering words with the intent to wound the religious feelings of others), Section 504 (intentional insult with the intent to provoke a breach of peace) and Section 505 (uttering statements conducive to public mischief). – FMT