THE education minister has overstepped his powers when he barred teachers and education officers from taking part in the democratic process, said Bersih 2.0.

Calling Mahdzir Khalid’s comments a blatant abuse of his position, the election reform organisation said the remarks violated all principles of governance.

“It (the comments) violates all principles of governance, for a person of his stature to see it fit to threaten those who are subordinate to him  ,” it said in a statement tonight.

“Mahdzir’s comment, saying civil servants are welcome to join the government, also displays his ignorance, as he is not able to distinguish the roles and responsibilities of a government from that of a political party.

“This is appalling and truly puts into question his integrity as a minister and a civil servant.  

Bersih 2.0 said the act of instilling in civil servants the fear of economic loss violated their rights, as voters, to choose their own representatives.

“It also contravenes their freedom of expression and right to dissent.

“Civil servants are not the living property of the ruling coalition. They are citizens of the country, and their rights are enshrined in the federal constitution.

“This kind of intimidation should not be tolerated as civil servants form a large portion of the workforce in Malaysia, and are under the direct control of the government.”

The electoral watchdog said a change of government was not necessarily negative, but increased political competition where incumbent parties would be placed under pressure to ensure better laws and policies.

It also called on the Election Commission to investigate the matter, to protect the rights of citizens to vote without fear or favour.

Earlier today, it was reported that Mahdzir had warned teachers and education officers not to criticise the government or hold any posts in opposition political parties.

If votes are secret, how can minister threaten teachers, lawyers say 

EDUCATION Minister Mahdzir Khalid’s warning to teachers and ministry officers not to support the opposition was illegal, say lawyers.

It also begs the question if Putrajaya has ways to check who civil servants voted for, which violates the principle that a person’s vote is secret, they said.

Chinese-daily Kwong Wah reported Mahdzir as saying that disciplinary action would be taken if civil servants backed the opposition.

Lawyers said the statement was not only unethical, it violated several laws concerning what statements cabinet members could make regarding voters’ choices.

Former Selangor Bar committee legal aid co-chairman KA Ramu said votes by public servants should remain a “secret affair”.

“Are there any rules that say you cannot support the opposition or the ruling government? Any circular? No. At the end of the day, it’s between the teachers and the ballot box. It’s a secret affair.  

“The rakyat pays their (teachers) salary. Who are they (government) to say they cannot support the opposition? The opposition are also Malaysians. Are they saying that they’re frightened of losing power?

“What they’re doing is very unethical. It’s not right. Basically you’re threatening them. They want to make the teachers subservient to the ruling government and that is wrong,” he said.  

Another lawyer, Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla, said the federal constitution protects the right of every Malaysian citizen who has been registered as a voter to “vote their own choice who gets to be in the government.”

“It doesn’t matter if the voter is a public servant or not. The only limitation on the public servant is the person cannot bring politics to work. He can be involved in political activities or political parties but it must stay out of his work time. That is all,” said the lawyer of Pakatan Harapan chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“If a person’s vote is supposed to be a secret, and the government minister makes this sort of remark, it gives the impression that the government has a way to find out who the voters vote for. Then you can’t blame the public if they think the government has access to the voters’ list.

“You are admitting that you have one way or another, wrongly and by crooked means, to get the information on the voters’ list. That is completely wrong. And that would create the assumption that the government is using the help of the Election Commission.  

“The commission must now also answer to this issue raised by Mahdzir. Are they assisting the government in informing who the voters vote for?”

Haniff said it was wrong for a minister to come up with threats of intimidation when the election is just around the corner. The 14th general election must be held by August after the automatic dissolution of Parliament on June 24.

Haniff said Mahdzir’s statement could be considered criminal intimidation under Section 506 of the Penal Code. It could also be an offence under the Election Offences Act 1954, which protects the rights of voters and the maintenance of secrecy at elections, he added.