Malaysia is perhaps the only country where the death of an elected representative brings jubilation to the local residents.
Is it because elected representatives are generally hated by the people? No.
It is because a by-election will take place following the death of the elected representative.
Why should that bring joy to the local people?
It is because when the by-election comes, Santa Claus will also come. He will bring all kinds of gifts and he will make your dreams come true.
And who is that Santa Claus?
He is none other than the ruling coalition which has ruled the country all these 53 years after the country’s independence.
Rampant Election Corruption
No sooner is the dead buried, you will see the physical transformation of the constituency. Workmen working around the clock will start sprucing up the area. Amenities that are lacking or have been in disrepair for ages are suddenly fixed up: roads, street lights, drains, water pipes, etc.
VIPs that residents never dream they would ever meet will turn up. From Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and other ministers, down to civil service officials from the various ministries will come a-visiting in a continuous stream that will end only on polling day. Each minister will bring with him good tidings of ‘instant allocation of funds’ for ‘instant projects’, popularly known as ‘instant noodle projects’. These allocations are for renovation or building new schools, mosques, temples, clinics, roads, bridges and even cash incentives for residents and government employees.
You ask for it, and your wish will come true.
Needless to say, these expenses, which range from a few million to hundreds of million ringgit for each constituency, come from the pockets of taxpayers.
And of course, during the handing out of these goodies, residents never cease to be reminded who they must vote for. In fact, some of these promises are conditioned upon their electoral support and a Barisan Nasional (BN) (ruling coalition) win.
You may ask: aren’t these bribery?
Of course they are. In fact, they are serious breaches of our election laws.
Dysfunctional Election Institutions
So what does our Election Commission do about this?
They do nothing. They will say these are government projects for the benefit of the people. Or if the bribery is too obvious, they will say this is none of their business. Their job is to conduct elections. For bribery and corruption, you will have to report to the MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission) or the police. However, reports to MACC and police are never acted upon.
There is a proviso to this EC approach to election corruption though. That is, if the corruption is committed by BN. For BN’s opponent, the slightest indication of a mis-step will incur the wrath of EC, as in the case of the recent Galas by-election in Kelantan.
During that election campaign, PAS spiritual leader handed out a few hundred ringgit wang zakat (alms) to three newly converted aborigines. The Deputy Chairman of EC immediately pounced on this and declared: “Alms or not, in the eyes of the law, any money given by anyone to voters that can sway their votes is considered a bribe under Article 10 of the Election Offences Act 1954”. He said he had tipped off MACC to take action.
Then, what about the millions of public funds poured out for ‘instant noodle’ projects by BN to buy votes?
Aren’t these bribery a thousand times more serious?
It is such double standards that incensed our common decency.
One may ask further: what about our courts? Can’t they administer justice and defend our constitution?
To answer this question, let us take a look at the recent case of the Hulu Selangor by-election, reputed as the dirtiest, where the Prime Minister openly offered to pay RM3million to a locally run school on condition that BN won. BN won and the PM promptly arranged for the government to pay the RM3million two days later.
The PM was so proud of what he did that he even bragged about it during the election campaign in the Sibu by-election that followed soon after. He made a ‘deal’ with Sibu electorate that BN would allocate RM5 million to overcome the local flood problems provided BN won the election. To convince the electorate, he proudly cited his RM3million Hulu Selangor payment as proof of his ‘trustworthiness’.
(Incidentally, PM’s deal-making with the electorate was captured in video and uploaded in youtube, where it was widely viewed around the world)
The losing candidate (Zaid Ibrahim) in the Hulu Selangor by-election applied to the court to annul the election results on ground of corruption. This petition was promptly thrown out by the judge (Azahar Mohamed) on ground of ‘lack of evidence’ without even asking BN to submit its defence. Zaid decided not to appeal against this decision despite having iron-clad evidence of BN corruption, saying that our judiciary was such that it would be a waste of time and money to pursue further legal recourse.
People Power Reforms?
With the last defender of the Constitution, the judiciary, also crumbled under the hegemony of BN, and all other institutions equally dysfunctional, BN is virtually given a blank cheque to do what it wants with no regards to law, as exhibited in the ongoing by-elections in Kerdau and Merlimau, where the public is is introduced to a relatively new election culture, unique to Malaysia of course. Thousands of local residents are fed nightly with lavish dinners, stage shows, karaoke, complete with lucky draws that include motor cycles, TV, domestic appliances and numerous gifts, compliments from BN of course.
In the midst of these merry-makings, I wonder how many of the electorate realize how heavy their responsibility is when they cast their votes in a few days’ time. Only they can restore some integrity to our electoral system which has now become a total farce.
And only through the votes of our people can we revive the democratic dreams of our founding fathers.
Without any avenue to institute reforms and make corrections through the democratic means, there is only one way left – the people power reform as that currently raging in the Middle East.
Kim Quek retired as an engineer and started writing political commentary. When he eventually joined Parti Keadilan Rakyat in 2007, he did so expressing the hope that “truth and goodness will eventually triumph over deceit and evil.” He is also author of the banned book “The March to Putrajaya”.