New rules by Malaysia election body seen as bid to block Mahathir posters from wider display

A supporter walks next to posters of Pakatan Harapan's chairman Mahathir Mohamad and de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim during the opposition coalition's election manisfesto presentation in Shah Alam on March 9, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's opposition has decried a move by the Election Commission (EC) that will effectively restrict the photos of Tun Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim from being used on posters across the country ahead of the May 9 election.

The EC on Tuesday (April 24) issued new guidelines for candidates stipulating that photos of only two leaders of a political party - the president and deputy president, or their equivalent - can be used on campaign materials, other than the photo of the candidate for that particular constituency. And the two leaders must be from the party that the candidate represented on Nomination Day, which is this Saturday.

The pictures of other officials are not permitted, according to guidelines published on the EC's website.

As Dr Mahathir, who heads opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), and other opposition leaders have said they will contest the election using the logo of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the rules mean that only pictures of PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Ismail and deputy president Azmin Ali can be used.

Likewise, photos of Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman Prime Minister Najib Razak and his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi can be displayed across the country, as can photos of PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and his deputy Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man in seats the party contests.

However, a candidate can display his photos in the seat he is contesting. This means Dr Mahathir - Malaysia's prime minister of 22 years who is leading the opposition's bid - can have his posters only in Langkawi where he will stand.

Photos of Anwar - PKR's de facto chief who cannot contest as he is serving a jail term, but who remains a powerful symbol for the opposition - would also be disallowed.

But photos of top party leaders with menteri besar and the candidate can also appear on the same campaign poster in a state.

EC chairman Mohd Hashim Abdullah said in a statement on Tuesday that the new guidelines will ensure the election campaign, which officially starts on Saturday, "will be peaceful, smooth and not confusing to voters". In the past, the EC has, with the help of town council workers and the police, taken down posters that they say failed to adhere to election rules.

The four main opposition parties in PH - PKR, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), Amanah and Dr Mahathir's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM)- decided to use only the PKR logo for the polls after their plan to get PH registered was blocked by the Registrar of Societies (ROS), which said PPBM had failed to satisfactorily submit documents relating to its meetings.

On Monday, the Kuala Lumpur High Court granted PPBM a stay against the ROS order for it to temporarily suspend all activities. But the PH parties are still going ahead with using only the PKR logo.

The opposition on Wednesday billed the latest EC guidelines as another government action to straitjacket them. Said PKR president Dr Wan Azizah: "It is a desperate move to forbid the usage of Pakatan Harapan's de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim and Harapan chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad from GE14 campaigning materials."

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said the ruling was clearly intended to stop Dr Mahathir's image from appearing on election posters.

"It's an effort by the Election Commission to help BN steal the election. It is not fair, don't let them do it," Malaysiakini cited Mr Lim saying at a press conference in Penang.

Apart from the new guidelines, the government has been accused of putting obstacles against the opposition by redrawing electoral maps to advantage BN, and holding polling day on a Wednesday as this gets in the way of Malaysians returning to their hometowns to vote.

Electoral reform group Bersih said of the latest rules: "There have been no problems with featuring other individuals in campaign materials of political parties for the past 13 general elections, so why are these additional regulations suddenly needed now?"

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