The Transparency International president Paul Low refuted defacto Law Minister Nazri’s assertion in Parliament that giving cash and kind during election is not corruption. He reportedly draw the line on giving of cash as inducement for votes-which it consider a crime. Other than that all other pledges are electoral promises-which are also indulge in by the non-ruling parties and thus does not constitute a legal offense despite that it could be a moral problem. This position is refuted by Bersih’s spokeperson Ambiga who consider all inducement of votes to fall under the Election Offenses Act. Now; where is the line if we adopt not just a legal perspective -but also a standard from free and fair perspective?
A few issues immediately arise: firstly to be free and fair all election promises should be policy based so that the policy can be debated on its merits/dis-merit. Giving cash and kind to particularly targetted voters is definitely not fair. There are 2 grounds to this. Firstly public policies by nature should be debatable. The lack of access by Opposition parties to mainstream media mean that the offerings by ruling parties are beyond debate, giving an impression that they could be for bribing voters. BN only has itself to blame by putting its action beyond debate by its opponents. There could be a fineline between public allocations and private offerings -but the lack of debate give the definite impressions that the action could be an illegal bribery.
The missing debate could be eg giving of something eg computer, only to the voters in a constituency facing election cannot be a policy based offerings. Many countries make specific laws to prohibit it. Eg Philippines has a 3 month bar ahead of its general elections.
Then there is another issue: the offerings are made in the name of the Government departments, as though the departments/ministries’ resources can be tapped by the ruling parties for its party’s campaign purposes. This is definitely an abuse of power by the relevant politicians. In some instances the offerings are made by sitting Ministers eg from the Federal government when the election involved by-election. In other cases the `ministers’ are already existing in care-taker basis after the legislature has dissolved. In the former case there is a need to establish how making offerings just for a constituency facing election is not merely a coincidence. In most cases they are not.
In the 2nd type of cases the Ministers definitely disregard the care-taker role. In most democracies the care taker government cannot announce new policy, new projects or new allocations. Bangladesh even make laws to appoint a care taker government which is distinct from the incumbent parties.
The claim by TI that there is not enough law to take action on the giving of cash and kind in elections is questionable. If they are not appropriate and violate the spirit of free and fair elections the EC definitely has a role to show its disaproval eg When Dato Wan Ahmad reprimand Kelantan Chief Minister for giving Rm300.00 to new orang asli convert in the galas by-elections. Trouble is the EC is lost for words when the BN do it regularly. Worst: the EC Chairman even try to plead ignorant by claiming that he is no expert, which is true. if ex-judges, law academics and respected civil society leaders or professionals are made Election Commissioners they definitely will not plead to be `non-expert’ in election and yet insist on occupying the seat of power! The EC is the sole body required by the Federal Constitution to run the elections on fair basis. It is the most appropriate body to make its position clear when something controversial arise in elections. It should be the apex body on deciding on election matters-which the EC in Malaysia is not. On the contrary the EC Chair has been reported to defend the ruling parties’ vote buying by claiming that the ruling party leaders has sound legal advice to indulge in such unfair practices. So the issue is one of will and understanding than legal provisions.
Now: where is the legal platform to debate such an important issue that will recur and mar Sarawak’s state elections?