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Feb 28, 2003

Law restricting displays is largely ignored

Tonight we think it’s fair to say that most people, including political operatives, and to be sure the media, are suffering from acute election fatigue and are more than ready for next Thursday morning to arrive. For one thing, it would mean an end to all these radio, newspaper and television ads that have both amused and frustrated our society for the past two months. And speaking of all that red and blue, a check of the law reveals that–believe it or not–by election day, all that party paraphernalia like signs, banners and flags is supposed to come down. That’s right. The Representation of the People Act states:

(1) No person shall furnish or supply loudspeaker, bunting, ensign, banner, standard or set of colours, or any flag, other than the national flag, to any person with intent that it shall be carried, worn or used as political propaganda, on polling day, and no person shall, with any such intent, carry, wear or use any such loudspeaker, bunting, ensign, banner, standard or set of colours, or any flag, other than the national flag on polling day.

And…

(2) No person shall furnish or supply any flag, ribbons, label or like favour to or for any person with intent that it be worn or used by any person within any division on polling day, as a party badge to distinguish the wearer as the supporter of any candidate or of the political or other opinions entertained or supposed to be entertained by such candidate and no person shall use or wear any flag, ribbon label or other favour as such badge, within any division on polling day.

With all that legal jargon means is that the election day scene that we’ve all become used to: political signs strung across the street on poster plastered lamp posts while party supporters dressed to a “T” in their respective party’s colours converge below…is…illegal. So how do the politicians get away with it? A check with a local attorney reveals that while the intent of the Representation of the People Act is clear, the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression takes precedence. Although the constitutionality of the law has never been tested, a compromise of sorts has been worked out under which all party propaganda is kept a hundred yards from the polling station. We’ll have to classify this practice under the heading: If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. And by the way…those political ads on radio and television, by similar convention, will cease at midnight on Tuesday night.

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