Do electoral ethics only apply to the opposition?

Mustafa K. Anuar

The Sungai Bakap state seat, which fell vacant following the death of PAS incumbent Nor Zamri Latiff on May 24, is expected to be fiercely contested between Perikatan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, June 17, 2024.  

GERAKAN president Dominic Lau has expressed moral indignation over Housing and Local Government Minister Nga Kor Ming’s recent announcement of RM18 million in funding for various projects in South Seberang Perai, Penang prior to the Sungai Bakap by-election.

Lau argued that the funding, which was allocated under the Sentuhan Kasih programme, could be interpreted as an attempt to impose undue influence upon the constituency’s voters ahead of the July 6 polls. 

The state seat, which fell vacant following the death of PAS incumbent Nor Zamri Latiff on May 24, is expected to be fiercely contested between Perikatan Nasional (PN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH). 

This was not the first time that Nga received flak from the public for dishing out goodies prior to a by-election.

Nga also announced a RM5.21 million allocation for Hulu Selangor residents before the Kuala Kubu Baharu by-election on May 11, which was considered unethical. 

But the exploitation of advantages that come with a sitting government should not have shocked and displeased Lau.

Barisan Nasional (BN), for one, also made use of state resources as a way of luring voters prior to elections when Lau’s party was still part of the then juggernaut governing coalition.

For instance, just before the Sibu by-election on May 16, 2010, then prime minister Najib Razak presented a cheque of RM10 million for 60 Chinese primary schools under the United Association of Chinese Primary Aided Schools and RM5 million to five private Chinese schools under the United Association of Chinese Secondary Schools.

He also presented a RM1 million cheque to SK St Mary and RM2 million to SMK Sacred Heart, both mission schools.

Najib reportedly assured that the BN was the only “true friend” that the Chinese educationists could rely on.

It’s the kind of government assistance that Najib unabashedly described as, “I help you, you help me”.

Lau also took umbrage at Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim who provided RM290,000 in donations to nine mosques and 20 surau in the Sungai Bakap state constituency in conjunction with Hari Raya Aidiladha.

What we’re saying here is that one shouldn’t attempt to occupy a higher moral ground to say, “what is good for the gander is not necessarily good for the geese”, only when one has been thrown out of political power.

PH had also criticised the abuse of state resources when it was in the political wilderness, the kind of sentiment that was shared by fellow travellers in the Reformasi movement.

It would seem that the many disadvantages faced by politicians and parties who have found themselves outside of government have forced them to embrace the notion that there has to be a level playing field for competing parties in their earnest endeavour to woo voters.

To be sure, fair and free elections should be a principle agreed upon by all, irrespective of where one is located in the political divide. 

While government leaders often insist that announcing development funds and assistance is part of their responsibilities to the people, the timing of the announcement, however, suggests a conscious strategy to woo voters by using state resources to which the opposition does not have access. 

Giving or promising government funds and assistance to the constituency concerned prior to an election may not necessarily translate into large vote gains, but the fact remains that it is unethical and unfair. 

In other words, unethical practices must not be normalised. 

That is why such civil society organisations as Bersih have recently condemned the use of government resources by Nga and Anwar.

Recognising the gravity of the matter, Bersih has called on the government to draw up comprehensive guidelines on non-caretaker and caretaker governments during election periods and subsequently make them into law to prevent the abuse of state resources. 

To reiterate, the concern for political reforms and electoral fairness should not be loudly expressed only when the political odds are felt to be stacked against you. 

Otherwise, it would invite public cynicism. – June 17, 2024.

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