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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tragedy of election under repression


vote-sprAt this time when Barisan Nasional leaders are indulging in an orgy of throwing public funds to buy votes in the current Sarawak state elections with polling only days from now (on April 16), it is indeed heartening to hear the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) categorically insisting that all forms of material inducement for votes, including election promises, constitute an election offence.

Bersih 2.0 chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan’s statement came in the wake of Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M) president Paul Low’s reservation as to whether election promises could be considered bribery andde facto Law Minister Nazri Aziz’s outright denial of any election goodies handed out during election as corruption.

Anyone who has read through Sections 10 and 11 of the Election Offences Act 1954 should not have the slightest doubt that the rampant bribery that is going now in the form allocation of funds for sundry projects and purposes by BN leaders is indeed a serious election offence.

These election goodies are no vague promises but actual allocation of funds with specific quantum to specific recipients, or for specific projects. In short, these intended disbursements are executive decisions already made by the BN political leadership, for the obvious purpose of inducing the voters to return BN to power.

Clear-cut bribery

Section 10 of the Act defines bribery, in meticulous and elaborate details, as material benefits or promises in all forms dished out to induce votes. And Section 11 provides that such offences of “treating, undue influence and bribery” shall be punishable under the Criminal Procedure Code. These laws are so clear-cut that there should not be any room for any offender, enforcement body or the judiciary to wiggle its way out from being accountable to the law.

Take for instance the announcement presently made (on March 30) by the Deputy Prime Minister cum Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in Kuching, Sarawak, that allocations of a total of RM73.68 million were made for three types of schools in Sarawak. He said RM25.68 million was for 130 missionary schools, RM20 million for 197 Chinese-type national schools and RM28 million for 1,266 national schools.

Muhyiddin further said that RM50,000 would be given to each missionary school in the near future through BN representative in the area concerned. The allocation’s initial disbursement of RM6.5 million to these schools will be followed by payment of the balance in the second round.

Now, isn’t that the clearest act of bribery? Any fool can see that such a sudden announcement of avalanche of ad hoc funds to the schools in the state only days before polling was intended to induce the electorate to vote in favour of BN.

And why single out Christian missionary schools for early payment? The reason is that Christians have been riled up by BN government lately through detention of their Malay-language Bibles and such promise of early disbursement would at least soothe some ruffled feathers to minimize electoral damage. And why only disburse through BN representatives? This is of course a subtle blackmail that unless the BN candidate in your constituency is returned in the election, you may not get the promised cash endowment.

EC must act

Muhyiddin and BN are therefore guilty of not only bribery and blackmail, but also abuse of power, as the funds that are used to buy votes are not BN money but public funds that belong to the people.

I see no reason why the Election Commission (EC) should not immediately give a stern notice to Muhyiddin that he has committed election offences; and the EC should also promptly make a report to both the police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission with a view to take the necessary action for prosecution under the Criminal Procedure Code.

BN leaders have been observed to flout election laws with increasing abandonment as exhibited in their openly corrupt conduct in the last few by-elections; and the current Sarawak elections may yet see them achieving new heights in this direction.

Only two days before the dissolution of the Sarawak state assembly, both Prime Minister Najib Razak and his deputy Muhyiddin individually made announcements in Sarawak allocating funds that total well over RM300 million.

On that day (March 19), Najib announced in Serian that BN had allocated RM252 million for infrastructure projects that included rural electrification, clean water supply, roads and health clinic for the 7,700 households in the district.

On the same day, Muhyiddin announced in Sri Aman that BN had allocated a total of RM81 million of funds for the area. These include RM60.8 million for building a school in Lingga, RM18.5 million for the 15km Stumbin-Tanjung-Bijat-Stirau road, RM50 million to upgrade the Sembau-Stumbin road, RM1 million for flood mitigation projects in five Malay villages and RM600,000 for several longhouses.

There are of course many other goodies, announced and unannounced, big and small, such as the 2,000ha of land awarded to Chinese schools for generating income to supplement their operating expenditure, and the ubiquitous 1Malaysia NGO organizing sumptuous meals daily, complete with stage shows and lucky draws to make the electorate happy – compliments from BN of course.

We have not reached the formal campaign period yet, which will officially start on nomination day which falls on April 6. God knows how many more millions of public funds will be abused and dumped on the Sarawak electorate and how much more ingenious inducement will be unleashed to procure votes for BN.

Collapse of law enforcement

The scenario of DPM Muhyiddin being nabbed by law as suggested earlier is of course a theoretical construct. In reality, none of the errant BN leaders is at risk of being convicted. This is due to the fact that the entire chain of law enforcement from EC and police to prosecutors and judges function more as henchmen of the incumbent power to preserve its rule, rather than as institutions which owe their loyalty to the country and the people.

Under these circumstances, the only constitutional redress lies with the electorate – if only they would exercise their votes to mete out punishment to the political leadership that has betrayed people’s trust. But that is a big IF.

The prerequisite to the people acting wisely as the final arbiter is that the people must first be enlightened of the truth. In a democratic country, this is no problem, as the people are well informed by an independent and free media. In fact, such flagrant transgression of election laws could never have happened in a democracy for the ruling party would have been hounded out of office by unstoppable media onslaught alone without waiting for the electorate to do the sacking. But not so in a repressive country like Egypt under Mubarak or Tunisia under Ben Ali, or for that matter, here under the Umno hegemony.

The reason is simple: In addition to iron-fisted control through repressive legislation and degraded institutions, the country’s tightly-controlled mass media ensures that the majority of people are kept in the dark.

Repression leads to people power

The people of Egypt and Tunisia succeeded in overthrowing their autocratic rulers because of a combination of factors. Through skilful utilization of modern information technology such as Internet and hand phone, people power managed to break the information stranglehold of the authorities. Digital info-tech enabled a large section of the populace to be instantly informed of the latest and true picture, as well as facilitated prompt mobilization of mass movement.

While it is outside the scope of this article to look into the various other factors contributing to these people power phenomena, one important lesson we must learn is about elections in a repressive country.

Take the case of Mubarak who reigned for three decades. At the last election in 2005 when he was re-elected for a fifth six-year term, he garnered 88% of the votes cast in a ‘democratic’ election. But when the people power came, he was literarily chased out of office.

The masses across Egypt irrepressibly expressed their anger, and almost unanimously. If the thumping majority he received in every one of the past five elections over three decades had been obtained through really democratic elections, is it conceivable that the entire population would have turned violently against him overnight?

The lesson is that the so-called democratic elections held under repressive conditions, such as those in Egypt, Tunisia and Malaysia, are potential time-bombs. The explosion will come when there are enough people who come to know the truth, ignited by a spark in a combustible atmosphere.

Let BN be warned that its unrestrained violation of democratic norms are moves that are channeling the country towards that regrettable destiny. - cpi

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