Can We Overcome Money Politics?

Posted on January 14, 2016


In my article last week, I looked at the sources of political financing in Malaysia and how the Government of Najib Razak is able to access huge and almost limitless amount of money to win elections. Is it any wonder that Tun Dr Mahathir alledge that Najib told him that cash is king.

So, how can the playing field for the 14th General Election (GE14) be level when the access to political financing is not level? Make no mistake about it, money is needed by both sides to win the next election but there is no way the opposition coalition could find a donor willing to give RM2.6 billion without strings attached nor could they have access to huge amount of public funds to prepare the ground for the election.

If it is all about how much money one has, then it is a foregone conclusion who will win the election.

But whether cash is really king or not, depends on us, the voters. Is it really true that Malaysians can be bought over that easily? Have we lost our dignity to the extent that we would trade our future for a short-term and often measely gain?

Role of Citizens and Civil Society

Malaysia is at a crossroad, to continue as a modern, progressive and prosperous society or to regress into a failed state where corruption reigns and religion and race used to stoke communal tensions. All of us have to make a decision today – to stop the rot, live in denial or pack our bags.

Every civil society groups in this country, be it religious, social, business, consumer or political has a duty to the people of this nation to take a stand now or be condemned to irrelevancy. We cannot hide behind the delusion that politics is the domain of politicians and activists because politics affects us all now and our future.

Between now and GE14, every civil groups worth their salt must actively put out mantras like – “Say No to Money Politics, My Children’s Future is Not For Sale”, “Say No to Money Politics, I Want A Clean Government”, “My Dignity is Not For Sale”, or for the religious civil groups – “Money Politics is A Sin”. We must run campaigns after campaigns to get the message across so that we can negate the impact of money politics.

The stigma attached to those who receive money in exchange for their votes must be so distasteful that no one would even want to consider it. It doesn’t matter how much money is thrown at you, you’d rather sell your children than sell your votes. In a way, it’s the same, to sell your votes is to sell your children.

Volunteerism the Way To Go

While it is common practice to pay for services even to party workers and allowances for “volunteers” during elections, I believe that there is a rich resource of willing volunteers who would be more than happy to serve in any capacity to support the party or candidate of their choice. The coalition that wants to see an end to money politics must draw on this pool of volunteers.

During the last General Election and the mega Bersih 4 rally, we witnessed the spirit of volunteerism in all its glory with thousands of ordinary citizens from all walks of life volunteering. Money was not the motivation for them for there were none but instead they spent their own money to ensure that the task undertaken were accomplished.

From serving as polling agents to counting agents, to flag and banner installers, drivers & transporters, handbill distributors, cooks and cleaners. Many businesses, professionals and service providers also gave free services to candidates and parties. If monetize, all these free services and resources would probably be worth millions.

To fully exploit this almost untap wealth of volunteers, the opposition coalition need to have a wishlist of what they need to mount an effective election campaign and make it known to the public. Let the volunteers come forth!

The Role of the Government in Waiting

When people vote they need to know that there is a clear difference between the incumbent and the incoming. It has to be as clear as day and night, clean and dirty, principled or unprincipled.

If the opposition coalition indulges in any form of vote-buying, treating or threat to voters, it is no difference to the incumbent. The difference would just be in the size of hampers or angpows given and invariably without a RM2.6 billion endowment, the gifts of the wannabe Government would always be pale in comparison to Barisan Nasional. Why bother to bride when you can’t out-bride?

Pakatan Harapan (PH) may be short on money, state machinery and fair media coverage but it must take a principled stand when it comes to money politics. There is no better and clearer way to do so than to substantially adopt the Proposal for Political Financing Reforms in Malaysia by G25 and endorsed by 70 civil society organisations.

Cash Is Not King, People Are

By committing to a comprehensive overhaul of legislations, of relevant institutions and taking a firm stand against money politics, Pakatan Harapan would be offering real hope to the voters that real change is on offer and not just a cleaner government until it gets dirty later on because the laws and institutions were not reformed.

We need every Malaysians to lay aside our religious, ideological, social-cultural differences to be united in this great mission to save our country. If we have time, give time; if money, give money; if talent, offer it; if leadership, lead; if organising skills, organise; if writing, write; if serving, serve.

As Edward Burke the 18th century Irish statesman said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Doing nothing is not an option.