Press Statement by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim, Kit Siang, in Petaling Jaya on Thursday, 26th July 1990:
Dr. Mahathir should consult the Opposition parties before sending the terms of reference for the Commonwealth Observer Mission to the Commonwealth Secretariat
I welcome the Cabinet decision yesterday to proceed with the invitation to the Commonwealth Secretariat to send an observer team for the coming general elections.
If the Cabinet decides to back out of the earlier decision to invite a Commonwealth Observer Mission, Dr. Mahathir’s international standing and stature from hosting the Kuala Lumpur CHOGM last October will suffer a great setback.
I am disturbed however by the statements made by the Prime Minister after the Cabinet meeting yesterday, for they seem to indicate that he is not only seeking to confine the Commonwealth Observer Mission to very narrow limits, but even to change the character and purpose of the Mission.
Dr. Mahathir said that Commonwealth Observer Mission would be invited to watch our elections in the manner that the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom invited foreign dignitaries, including journalists, to watch their elections.
He said that it was never the intention of the Government to allow the observers to meddle in local politics and with the work of the Election Commission or to make official reports on the conduct of the election.
Let us be clear right from the beginning that the purpose of inviting the Commonwealth Observer Mission is not the same as the invitation of foreign dignitaries by the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom to watch their elections.
I believe that many Barisan Nasional leaders, including several Ministers in the past, had been invited to watch elections in the United States, Australia and United Kingdom. These were in the nature of study tours, to understand how elections are conducted in these countries.
These visitors may return to their country to report about what they have seen and learnt, but it was never intended that they have any role in these elections.
Commonwealth Observer Mission not invited because it is Visit Malaysia Year
The purpose of inviting the Commonwealth Observer Mission to Malaysia for the coming general elections is very different. It is not for the other Commonwealth countries to learn about the Malaysian elections process, to see whether there is anything they can learn or copy.
Nor are they invited because this is a Visit Malaysia Year and it is a good gimmick to publicise Malaysia’s tourist attractions – in which case, the Commonwealth Observer Mission would come under the charge of the Tourism Minister, Datuk Sabarrudin Cik!
The Mission is neither invited to ‘meddle in local politics’ nor just to come to have a ‘look-see’.
The Commonwealth Observer Mission is invited to play a role in the coming general elections, to observe and ensure that the general elections is free, fair, clean and honest.
If the Commonwealth Observer Mission is to be able to play this role, then it must have the fullest freedom of movement and access during its visit as well as to make a report on the conduct of the elections as to whether it meets the four criteria of being free, fair, clean and honest.
This is why I am astounded when Dr. Mahathir said yesterday that the Commonwealth Observer Mission is not allowed to make any report before, during or after the general elections.
How then does Dr. Mahathir expect the Commonwealth Observer Mission to discharge its term of reference, or is the Observer Mission merely asked to come to Malaysia for the coming general elections to observe and to immediately forget about the conduct of the elections?
I am very disturbed by the tenor of the statements by Dr. Mahathir for he seems to have changed his mind from what he had agreed with me when we met for an hour in the Prime Minister’s Department on July 9 on the question of the Commonwealth Observer Mission.
As I said in my press statement the next day on 10th July, Dr. Mahathir had greed that the Commonwealth Observer Mission should have the widest brief to observe that the conduct of the general elections meets the four criteria of being free, fair, clean and honest.
Has Dr. Mahathir changed his mind about the four criteria for the general elections as ‘free, fair, clean and honest’?
Dr. Mahathir did not say anything yesterday about the Commonwealth Observer Mission ensuring that the general election is free, fair, clean and honest. Has Dr. Mahathir changed his mind about these four criteria as the terms of reference for the Commonwealth Observer Mission?
When during our meeting, I had wanted to discuss with Dr. Mahathir as to the ground-rules governing the functioning and operations of the Commonwealth Observer Mission, Dr. Mahathir said that it is up to the Commonwealth Observer Mission to decide on its modus operandi. In response to my question, Dr. Mahathir promised that the government would not put any restriction or limitation on the activities or access of the Mission.
Dr. Mahathir also concurred with me that a ‘free, fair, clean and honest’ general elections does not merely mean the voting process on polling day, but the whole elections process, including the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and other conditions to ensure that competing political parties and candidates have fair and free access to the voters to explain their policies and programme.
The Prime Minister also concurred that the Commonwealth Observer Mission should not have monopoly of observer role, but that there could be a multiplicity of observer groups, whether local or international.
I urge the Prime Minister to adhere to the substance of our agreement in our discussion of the Commonwealth Observer Mission on July 9.
Dr. Mahathir said that the Government would be writing to the Commonwealth Secretariat soon to set out the terms of reference for the Commonwealth Observer Mission. Before Dr. Mahathir sends the terms of reference of the Commonwealth Observer Mission to the Commonwealth Secretariat, he should consult with the Opposition parties first to reach a consensus on it.