The line between Raya and ‘pilihanraya’

Mustafa K. Anuar

Hari Raya Aidilfitri open houses are a common sight where the Malay-Muslim hosts welcome visitors from diverse backgrounds to celebrate with them after the end of the blessed month of Ramadan. – The Vibes file pic, April 29, 2024.

HARI Raya Aidilfitri open houses are a common sight where the Malay-Muslim hosts welcome visitors from diverse backgrounds to celebrate with them after the end of the blessed month of Ramadan.

In fact, a plan was already afoot recently to hold a much bigger Raya party by the Pakatan Harapan-led Selangor state government supposedly as part of the celebratory mood.

But therein lies the rub. The Raya event, which was held last Saturday (April 27), happened in Kuala Kubu Baharu shortly after the nomination of candidates for a by-election (pilihanraya kecil) that is scheduled on May 11.

The Kuala Kubu Baharu state assembly seat fell vacant following the death of its three-term assemblyman, Lee Kee Hiong, on March 21 owing to cancer.

Predictably, the state-sponsored celebration had raised concerns among the general public, particularly the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih), which insisted that throwing such a big party at a place where a by-election is to be held would breach provisions under the Election Offences Act 1954. 

Why couldn’t the party be held elsewhere, such as Klang, Shah Alam or Sg Buloh? 

According to Selangor Journal, published under the auspices of the Menteri Besar Selangor Incorporated, Kuala Kubu Baharu was chosen as the venue for the Raya open house because of the town’s “distinct charm and cultural heritage”. But this may not be the primary motivating factor for the guests, particularly those from the local communities. 

Bersih is also concerned that the event would possibly involve using state government resources, which would suggest power abuse.

A sitting government has access to resources that could be used in the calculated efforts to win the hearts and minds of the voters, thus making the playing field uneven.

Seen from this perspective, the purported generosity of the state government to hold a big party appeared to be misplaced.

But, this was not the first in recent times that Bersih felt that the line had been crossed.

Bersih earlier criticised Housing and Local Government Minister Nga Kor Ming for having announced a RM5.21-million allocation to upgrade public infrastructure facilities in Kuala Kubu Baharu before the by-election.

It didn’t help that Nga reportedly said in a rather cavalier fashion: “It’s not just because of the by-election. We chose this area because it’s an auspicious place. The ‘feng shui’ here is good.”

One could perhaps argue that any place has good “feng shui” if it serves a certain agenda. 

It is noteworthy that the minister also reportedly contributed RM10,000 to the volunteer fire brigade in Kuala Kubu Baharu and RM127,050 for upgrades to the Sri Sithi Vinayagar temple.

In addition, there’s also a contribution of RM250,000 to Persatuan Penganut Dewa Siaw Kong dan Dewi Lee Ma to repair its house of worship. 

Such funding can be read as an inducement to vote for the benefactors. 

The Kuala Kubu Baharu constituency has mixed ethnic demographics of 46% Malays, 30% Chinese, 18% Indians and 6% others. So, the Malay and non-Malay components of the constituency are split in the middle. 

When posed the concern about the elaborate Hari Raya do, Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail responded that the public could make their own decisions on whether election laws were broken in the build-up to the Kuala Kubu Baharu by-election. 

That’s not the answer that we’re looking for. The public might have formed their own conclusions on this important matter, but what then is the Madani government’s principled stand on it?

To be sure, election offences are nothing new. In fact, both the government and the opposition were implicated in the past.  

For instance, in the Seri Setia and Balakong by-elections in 2018, both ruling PH and the opposition were found by Bersih 2.0 to have committed election offences. PH committed more offences than their rivals. 

In Seri Setia, PH gave out white T-shirts and organised banquets in both by-elections. MCA, on the other hand, gave free medical check-ups in Balakong.

Both MCA and PAS gave out gifts to voters in their campaigns for both by-elections.

Two wrongs obviously don’t make a right. That is why we would expect a government with a reformist agenda to make a difference in the interest of democracy.

Or, has the line become too fuzzy over time to make a distinction? – April 29, 2024.

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