The beginning of the campaigns of the 3 by-elections has been marred by 2 happenings now: the Harakah & Suara Keadilan -2 party organs, have been banned without any excuse, and the disallowance and disruptions of PR rallies -the last being 2 `ceramah’s (public talks) in Bkt Selambau & Bkt Gantang. This certainly do not bode well for the chances of free and fair polls in these areas.
The banning of the 2 party papers cut off alternate sources of information to the voters, compared to the mainstream/party linked press. Democracy and the election mechanism depend on the voters making informed choices. Without getting information from all sides this is made impossible. The restrictions that party papers are to be circulated among the party members only fly in the face that the media/press survive everywhere on their readership demands. The restriction to party readership is arbitrary and reflect a partisan bias. It shows a fear of an open market of political ideas. No wonder that press freedom advocates like WAMI & CIJ has come out strongly to condemn the ban.
The ban on the party press is all the more appalling given that only party linked/owned press or media are allowed licensing in this country- a sign of oppressive rule in itself.
The other ways voters(actually a smaller percentage) can get alternate information is through the `ceramahs'(public talks). Yet the ceramahs are also under severe restrictions. Just after a ceramah was disallowed in Bkt Gantang, now there is another in Bkt Selambau being disrupted by FRU, by the use of tear gas. The government may argue that official campaigns have not started. However anyone visiting the 2 locations will find campaigning have already started by both -or all sides with a veritable poster wars being waged from all corners of the constituencies (see other reports in this web site). Not only that campaign activities have started in earnest by all sides. In this circumstance how can the police continue to disallow/disrupt campaign activities from 1 side without appearing partisan again?
Partisan civil service is a hall mark of dictatorship. Is the country reverting back to more dictatorship just when there is a change of PM? This question may form the background to our thinking for the struggle for free and fair elections in Malaysia.