Where ringgit dares

Te whetu Orongo

It’s accepted fact. It’s legal bribery of political candidates.   

Jimmy Carter, former US President

I keep hearing that the 14th general election in 2018 cost RM750 million according to the Election Commission. Prima facie, that smacks of money politics. Is this what it costs the government and opposition candidates?

Wow! This triggers a naïve question:  If you are a candidate committed and dedicated to serving your constituency with no strings attached, and your constituents find you able, capable, ready and willing, shouldn’t you campaign voluntarily by spending your own money for travel, food, accommodation, etc., for yourself while other supporters are able to fend for themselves?

Must the voting constituents be fed, favoured, flattered and coerced with money? This does not make sense to me knowing that you hope and wish to be elected as a servant of the people unmotivated by power, influence and untold wealth hiding in the minds of the bribe-giver.

M K Mahatma Gandhi literally travelled by train, third class, all over India visiting just about every village because he believed that India’s soul was with the people in the rural areas who, as farmers, fed India’s teeming millions.

His Quit India Movement against the British mobilised millions of Indians, not millions of rupees.  The British merrily exploited India and were able to harness, regulate, control and limit the use of untold wealth wrought from Indian resources like land and labour.

Gandhi was able to inform, explain and convince the people that the British had to go, and go they did by August 1947. So, the Indians and its Congress Party won independence without spending unavailable “election money”. The price he paid was a martyrdom by three bullets from an assassin.

In the 1960s Martin Luther King, Jr, galvanised an entire African American generation into the Civil Rights Movement in America. People, including whites, who supported him as they were sick and tired of segregation with systemic discrimination under America’s “rule by law” political philosophy despite the post-Civil War constitutional amendments to free slaves with full citizenship and equal rights.

There was no government money expended or dispensed to him for campaigns throughout the South. In 1965, the Civil Rights Act became law, and he too attained martyrdom by an assassin’s bullets.

The point is that he was able to mobilise millions of people with zero campaign contributions compensated by millions of supporters for a Cause.

Nelson Mandela was released after almost 30 years in prison, and successfully led the African National Congress to take the reins of authority as the first Black South African government.

There is no evidence of millions of rands being spent for Black political campaigns invigorated by a dedication to the cause of freedom. Do you think spending millions would have made a difference even if the Afrikaners were leading the Opposition?

I agree money is required, but RM750 million for one general election? The Auditor General’s Office must surely have all the accounting details readily available for public scrutiny.

The phrase “money politics” is reportedly nothing new to the national pathos.

I refuse to believe that the candidate with the most amount of money stands to win because he or she spent millions. But if the people who voted for him or her were motivated by monetary gifts, isn’t that tantamount to buying votes? Or, is that the norm?

The US system of funding comes from both political parties and individual candidates fuelled by unlimited, unaccounted, and unquestioned campaign donations. 

In England, candidates have low spending limits. Parties are freer to spend, and until recently had no limits at all. The result is that most campaign money is routed through the parties.

The British Prime Minister can call for an election at any time during his or her term. This has led to shorter campaign periods than in the United States and as a result, less money spent campaigning.

One interesting feature of Japan’s finance law is that individuals and groups are only allowed to donate to parties during election periods. However, parties can distribute those donations to the individual candidates.

Disclosure is required from political organisations, but not from the individual candidates. Even so, there’s no monitoring system in place to review financial records or to police those who violate these finance laws.

Since parties can pass corporate contributions along to candidates, wealthy special interest groups are able to influence the outcome of elections.

Patronage and adulation — a most subtle form of inducing fear — is the norm in Malaysia. I wonder what would happen if personal money is spent for food, travel and accommodations for the intending election candidates without campaign donations.

I wonder if people will come out to vote. The voters’ motivation must surely rest with the doctrine of salus populi est supreme lege — the peoples’ welfare is the supreme law. Not the money, connections, power and influence during elections epidemic.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.