PETALING JAYA: Returning officers should not have disqualified a number of opposition candidates on disputable issues as that was depriving them the constitutional right to offer themselves to their constituents, lawyers said.
They said the objective of the returning officers, who were appointed by the Election Commission, should also be to assist candidates in filing their nomination papers.
The lawyers said the officers should not at any time play the role of a judge and jury by rejecting nomination papers and depriving prospective candidates of the chance to participate in the general election.
Lawyer S N Nair said the officers should have played a neutral role, especially as this was a highly charged election.
“Candidates will now have to go through a long process to nullify the election result by seeking legal remedy which will be costly,” he said.
Nair said it would have been prudent for the officers to accept the nomination papers when candidates were said not to be undischarged bankrupts.
“Since it was a Saturday and non-working day, the candidates should have been given the benefit of doubt,” he told FMT.
In any case, he said a bankrupt candidate who won the election could be punished by the election court to pay a high cost to the petitioner and the results revoked.
Yesterday, Pizi Jihat and Yaakob Osman, nominated by Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia were disqualified from contesting Bukit Pasir, Johor, and Penaga, Penang, for being undischarged bankrupts.
PPBM legal bureau member Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali said party lawyers had checked their status with the Official Assignee on the eve of nomination day and had been told the two were not bankrupts.
PKR’s Tian Chua was disqualified from seeking re-election in Batu, Kuala Lumpur, on the grounds that he had a criminal conviction that carried a fine of RM2,000. He said the decision to reject his papers was made by the returning officer.
Nair said this officer appeared to have played the role of prosecutor, judge and jury in making a judgment call
“This is a gross abuse of power and inconsistent with the terms of reference (of his appointment),” he said.
PKR candidate Dr Streram Sinnasamy was refused entry to the Rantau nomination centre in Negeri Sembilan for not having a candidate pass issued by the EC. He was quoted as saying he had not been informed about the need for a pass.
BN candidate Mohamad Hasan, the Negeri Sembilan Menteri Besar, was declared as being returned unopposed.
Lawyer Ragunath Kesavan questioned why Streram was not issued a pass by an EC staff after he paid the deposit.
“The election rules keep changing and it was the duty of the EC to hand over all documents, including the pass, to potential candidates once deposit is paid,” said Ragunath, a former Malaysian Bar president.
He said the pass was not the important criteria for entry as Dr Streram had evidence to show he was the candidate.
Ragunath said several incidents yesterday painted a negative perception that the nomination process was unfair and basic rules were not followed.
Another lawyer Syed Iskandar Syed Jaafar Al-Mahdzar said the returning officer should have come out from the centre to find out if any candidate or his agents had problems entering.
“The officer should have used his discretion to allow the candidate to file his papers as he was there to exercise a democratic right (offer himself as wakil rakyat for Rantau),” he said.
Eleven people have been disqualified from contesting in both parliamentary and state assembly seats nationwide.