As elections draw nearer, news reports on vote-buying committed by both sides of the political divide keep streaming in – doubled BRIM payments, discounted groceries, promises to give free gym membership, free iPads, bonuses and the list goes on.
The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) is shocked to learn that these acts of corrupt practices continue unabated despite the fact that they are criminalised under the Election Offences Act 1954 (EOA).
Election Offences Act 1954
It is important to note that that the Election Offences Act was enacted, among other reasons, to prevent corrupt practices at elections.
The list of offences amounting to corrupt practices is provided for under sections 8 (treating), 9 (undue influence), 10 (bribery) of the act. It covers both direct and indirect acts committed to induce any person to vote or refrain from voting.
As regards ‘treating’ under section 8 of the act, a person is guilty of the offence if he/she commits direct or indirect vote-buying – giving or providing tangible items such as money, food, drinks, refreshment, provisions or tickets.
As for the offence of bribery under section 10 of the act, a person is guilty of the offence if he/she commits direct or indirect vote-buying – giving or offering money, office, place, employment, gift, or loan before, during or after an election.
Section 10 of the act also covers promises made to procure or to endeavour to procure valuable consideration in order to induce any elector of voter to vote or refrain from voting.
The legal provisions of the act dealing with treating, undue influence, and bribery use the words “every person” which is wide enough to make every single person – not only candidates – liable for committing these offences.
This deeply embedded culture of vote-buying is closely linked to unregulated political financing. It is empowered and emboldened by the absence of transparent and accountable political financing laws to regulate the conduct of political parties in sourcing funds to run their party activities and sustain the party’s survival.
It is noteworthy that among the worst cases of vote-buying at elections that were reported were from the early 1960s to the late 1980s—the Sabah state government, under Mustapha Harun and then Harris Salleh, was involved in mass vote-buying where every adult Sabahan was given RM60 through the Sabah Foundation prior to every Sabah state election.
In August 2015, the prime minister announced the setting up of a national consultative committee on political funding to work on legislative reforms in relation to political financing, following the RM2.6bn into the prime minister’s personal bank accounts.
Key civil society groups G25 and C4 Center had submitted comprehensive proposals to the government as well.
A political financing law should have been enacted and enforced to regulate activities connected to the coming general election, but unfortunately the ruling party did not have the political will nor courage to table it before Parliament was dissolved.
We call on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to immediately take action to combat these corrupt practices committed in contravention of the provisions of the Election Offences Act – in line with the power expressly provided for under sections 3 and 7 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009.
We would like to stress the need for of all relevant public institutions such as the MACC, the Electoral Commission, the police force, and the judiciary to act independently to combat corrupt practices at elections in order to uphold electoral fairness and integrity.
Stop it now – it is a criminal act
In light of these disturbing incidents, C4 Center demands all caretaker ministers and chief ministers who are involved in election campaigning to immediately stop resorting to vote-buying to gain votes. We also urge members of the public to come forward and report cases of corrupt practices to the newly launched joint operation centres set up by the Electoral CC and MACC or C4 Center.
In addition to vote-buying, abuse of power by a caretaker government during the election period has also been raised as an issue of concern because government resources were abused for partisan gain during the electoral period.
The Federal Constitution does not expressly provide for the appointment of a caretaker government after the dissolution of Parliament. However, there is a Commonwealth convention which provides that even though the government does not have to be reappointed after the dissolution of Parliament, it must remain politically neutral.
C4 Center would like to also remind both the federal and state caretaker governments to refrain from abusing government resources, which include official positions, government machinery, or funds for partisan gain during the electoral period.
This position is in line with the long-established Commonwealth convention which provides that a caretaker government must remain politically neutral during the interim period after Parliament is dissolved which includes election campaigning
We urge the caretaker governments to uphold this Commonwealth convention and conduct themselves in accordance with the existing laws and principles established to uphold electoral fairness and integrity.
It bears reminding that voters are very much aware of the pervasiveness of corruption in Malaysia and they are closely watching the conduct of those working to gain their votes.
Cynthia Gabriel is executive director of C4 Center.