Extend the Campaign Period
One unique thing about Malaysian democracy and Malaysian elections is the brevity of our election campaigns. Where other countries have at least a couple of weeks, if not months, to gauge those vying for their votes, Malaysians often have a few days.
The practice of short campaign periods originated during the Emergency, when the government thought it unsafe and possibly tempestuous to permit drawn-out campaigns.
This in itself seems to be flawed reasoning; does it really harm the nation if we have a month to see who has the better ideas, the better credentials?
Of course, the thinking goes, the events of 1969 prove that long campaigns are dangerous. The 1969 election witnessed one of the longest-ever campaign periods in this country, and in its aftermath, one of the bloodiest riots.
This fallacious thinking — that a coincidence of two separate events indicates one causes the other — has been used to justify denying Malaysian voters sufficient access to those who wish to represent them in Parliament and the state assemblies.
It is bad enough already that opposition candidates can hardly communicate their platform to many voters. The flagrant denial of equal access to the mass media and campaign rallies already puts everyone but the ruling regime at a significant disadvantage.
The Malaysian people have a right to know what they are voting for and against — and that right is being denied. One simple way to address this right is to extend the campaign period — to give people time to ponder their choice and candidates time to reach as many voters as they can with their various messages.
BERSIH, a non-governmental organisation for electoral reform, recently called for an extension of the campaign period to 21 days. This in itself is paltry; it is theoretically illegal for anyone to advertise or otherwise reach out to voters before the campaign period commences, so if anything, we should be having longer campaign periods.
The government loves to treat Malaysians as petulant children, immature folk who need to be guided. Perhaps we are. But if the independent-minded and supposedly mature people of developed democracies need weeks, sometimes months or even years (witness the campaigning for the 2008 US presidential election) to make an informed decision, is it not presumptuous to argue that the Malaysian people are so brilliant, they can make that same informed decision in a matter of days?
The Malaysian voters deserve better treatment than hypocrisy and denigration. Let us extend the campaign period; let us make campaigning fair. Only then can we say we have done our country good, by giving everyone an equal opportunity to influence the direction our nation will take.