Ministers should take leave if they want to campaign, Bersih says

Pakatan Harapan leaders at a ceramah for the Semenyih by-election in March. Bersih 2.0 says ministers who wish to campaign for elections during working hours should apply for annual or unpaid leave.

PETALING JAYA: Electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 today urged the Election Commission (EC) to maintain its rule barring ministers from campaigning for elections during working hours, saying they should apply for annual or unpaid leave if they wish to do so.

In a statement by its steering committee, it said this is necessary to prevent any perception that the EC is “controlled” by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who said yesterday that he would ask the commission to reconsider the directive.

It also suggested that no government assets or personnel be deployed to accompany ministers on the campaign trail aside from the official vehicle, driver and “a reasonable number of security personnel”.

On the use of aircraft such as helicopters or other modes of mass transportation due to security concerns, it said an exception could be made for the prime minister.

“But we propose that the political party or coalition pays for the equivalent of a first-class commercial fare for the PM and all his entourage,” it added.

“This would be similar to what the US president and his entourage must do if they are involved in partisan activities using Air Force One,” it said, adding that Mahathir had set a good example of this by chartering a private helicopter during the campaign for the Cameron Highlands by-election.

In order not to drain parties of their funds for such expenses, it proposed that the government expedite the implementation of public funding for political parties based on the vote share received at the last election.

Mahathir said yesterday that it was unfair to prohibit ministers and politicians with government posts from campaigning during working hours.

He also said the restriction could hand the advantage to the opposition “because they don’t have any work”.

However, Bersih said such restrictions are in line with the United Nations’ General Assembly Resolution 51/59 “Actions against Corruption”.

It added that similar restrictions have been adopted in India, Australia, Barbados, Canada, Ireland, Ghana and Namibia.

“The EC should exercise its power under Article 113(5) of the Federal Constitution to work towards producing a comprehensive Ethical Code of Conduct in the direction of its Indian counterpart that covers the function of the government during by-elections and the caretaker government during general elections,” it said.

“Bersih calls upon all stakeholders to cherish the EC’s efforts, even if it does inconvenience both the government and opposition parties.”