Vote-buying claims show need for political reform

Emmanuel Joseph

Perikatan Nasional is making headlines for all the wrong reasons after two of its parties, Bersatu and PAS, find themselves under investigation for corruption. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, February 8, 2023.

OVER the past few weeks, two political parties came into the limelight for electoral misconduct.

PAS is under probe over a viral video that showed an alleged party representative distributing cash during election season while Bersatu has had its accounts frozen pending an investigation by the MACC. 

While supporters of Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional (BN) are cheering on the probes, Perikatan Nasional (PN) supporters are calling them a witch hunt.

Political funding has been a thorny issue that has missed several opportunities for reform over the years. 

Many parties, including those in PH, oppose it, for legacy reasons. The BN regime pre-2008 was a behemoth in every sense of the word.

When Dr Mahathir Mohammad handed over the reins in Umno to Ahmad Abdullah Badawi, he declared that the party had RM1.4 billion in cash.

Umno at that point owned large shares of government-linked companies, publications, hotels and nearly every party division had its own building.

Similarly, MCA owned banks, insurance houses, universities and newspapers while DAP and PKR depended on donations from Malaysians to eke out an existence, barely surviving before they took control of several states.

The playing field is far more level now. Yet for perhaps tactical reasons, PH parties have opted not to build their business empires, which was the norm for parties in power.

As a result, the PH parties are still dependent on public funding.

Meanwhile, PN has amassed a large amount of funds in a short period of time, raising suspicions.

With parties now having such divergent funding strategies, it is not enough to simply require them to declare their assets.

There needs to be laws on political funding and spending, and not only during elections.

Laws must also be introduced to regulate canvassing, lobbying and political appointments.

Elections aren’t the only time corruption can occur. Existing election laws aren’t broad enough and financial transparency laws are too specific to keep graft at bay. 

Political pressure, properly applied, could persuade parties to self-govern in this respect.

In more mature democracies, charity and politics are clearly demarcated. 

Yet here, our political constituency division and local government elections are based on political expediency and what benefits the ruling parties.

Political reform must be free of interference once the process begins. 

In Malaysia, there should be guidelines on what can and cannot be used as campaign material. Boogeymen tactics that could disrupt our sensitive cultural and religious harmony and affect national security must not be allowed. 

We have thus far been extremely fortunate. Politicians have for years tried to milk racial and religious incidents for political mileage. This could have threatened our relatively peaceful coexistence.

In the long term, political stability is only assured when there is a level and safe playing field for all. In the absence of mature politics, Malaysia will not thrive regardless of who governs it. – February 8, 2023.

* Emmanuel Joseph firmly believes that Klang is the best place on Earth, and that motivated people can do far more good than any leader with motive.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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