Who are the so-called 1Malaysia Penang Welfare Club and 1Malaysia Brothers Club organising free concerts, dinners and lucky draws in Penang, wonders Francis Loh.
It is now clear why we have had such an uncommonly lengthy period, 17 days, from the dissolution of Parliament on 3 April to Nomination Day on 20 April. This is the longest period since 1964. From 1974, the average was 7 to 10 days, except for 1985 (5 days) and 2008 (11 days).
Aliran had highlighted this fact while welcoming the Elections Commission (EC) announcement that there would be 15 days of campaigning between nomination day and polling day.
Then, Aliran noted that flags and buntings were already being put up, lots of money was being spent, rallies being organised, manifestos being unveiled, and the media already lapping it all up.
Aliran expressed concern that although the Barisan Nasional (BN) government had become a caretaker government, it had continued to use government resources, vehicles and personnel to organise party political functions. For instance, the BN manifesto was launched on 6 April 2013 at the indoor stadium in Bukit Jalil on the occasion of the 1Malaysia People First Assembly, apparently, a government function.
Aliran also took to task the warped logic of Minister of Communications Rais Yatim who argued that the BN government could continue to use government facilities and resources until nomination day, although Parliament had been dissolved!
Now that those 17 days are almost up, it has become clearer why there was such an uncommonly lengthy period.
In Penang, perhaps elsewhere as well, numerous so-called ‘charity buffet and lucky draws’ have been organised by a pro-BN organisation, unheard of until now, called ‘1Malaysia Penang Welfare’ Club.
The mode of operation for these dinners usually involves first, identifying and renting a public space to use – the parking lot of a market like in Tanjong Bungah, Pulau Tikus, Perak Road or Mt Erskine; or the grounds of a Chinese association or temple; or even the Penang Chinese Assembly Hall on a particular evening.
Second, booking and arranging for all the hawkers and food stalls in that area to provide for the ‘charity buffet’. Employ a ‘song-and-dance’ troupe to provide live entertainment.
Third, the highlight, after all this eating and entertainment, conducting a lucky draw at the end. Prizes included motorcycles, bicycles, electric fans and other appliances.
And oh, putting up 1Malaysia blue flags, and the BN flags, also blue, at the locale and all roads leading to the locale.
Yes, the mood is pasar malam-like but also festive. With free food and entertainment provided, the 1Malaysia Penang Welfare Club charity buffets have been well attended. People also stay till the end when the lucky draws are held.
In fact, you also take home with you political pamphlets announcing the BN candidates for the constituency. A standard flyer reads: “Thank you so-and-so for your hard work and dedication in helping such-and-such constituency.” In some places, the BN candidate gives a little speech and presents the prizes.
Hence, the event is not simply a buffet dinner and lucky draw. It is very much a BN event.
Ask any Penang voter and s/he can tell you that BN ceramahs, unlike those of the DAP, have traditionally been poorly attended. By offering free food and lucky draws, however, it appears that the BN, via 1Malaysia Penang Welfare, has finally succeeded in drawing in the crowds.
But several considerations come to mind.
First, it is really very pathetic of the BN to try to gain the attention and support of Penangites in such a crass and crude manner. It certainly belittles the importance of the upcoming GE13, potentially the ‘mother of all elections’. Shouldn’t important issues be raised and discussed in the run up to GE13?
Second, who is this 1Malaysia Welfare Club which is apparently funding these dinners and lucky draws and distributing grants ranging from RM5,000 to RM200,000 to various NGOs and welfare bodies? Apparently, this is why these events are titled ‘charity buffets and lucky draws’.
It is common that Malaysian philanthropists identify themselves. Under the auspices of corporate social responsibility, most companies wish their company name to be made known too. Besides, these CSR donations can be deducted against the taxable income of the company. In this case, however, the funders behind the 1Malaysia Welfare Club seem shy about identifying themselves. Might it be true that that they are performing their crony social responsibility as some have suggested in blogs and the social media? Or that they are wealthy people keen to fund the BN candidates so as to reap potential benefits should the latter succeed in getting elected?
And while we are at it, who is 1Malaysia Brothers Club, the people organising the ‘1Malaysia Penang International Charity Drive’ which will be held at the Han Chiang School Field, Penang (the same space where PSY performed during the BN’s Chinese New Year open house). Who is actually paying for the likes of Red Foo of LMFAO, Busta Rhyme, Ludacris, and Eric Moo, Gigi Leong, Leon Lai, Alan Tham, and Ning Baizura to perform ?
Third, we wish to remind all candidates, especially those from the BN who have participated in these charity buffets and lucky draws, of the limits to electoral spending contained in the Election Offences Act 1958 viz a maximum of RM200,000 for a parliamentary seat and RM100,000 for a State seat.
It is immoral, though they will argue that it is not illegal, for these BN candidates to be involved in these 1Malaysia Penang Welfare Club dinners and lucky draws and the 1Malaysia Brothers Club International Concert.
Under the Election Offences Act Section 8 it is deemed an offence to provide or give, engage wholly in giving money or ticket or food and directly or indirectly purposely corrupt others by influencing the way they vote. While it might be true that the BN candidate might not be directly involved in these corrupt practices – by funding these dinners and lucky draws, the international concert, and donations for various welfare bodies – these pro-BN 1Malaysia organisations certainly are. It is very shrewd of them to conduct all these activities during this uncommonly lengthy period between the dissolution of parliament and nomination day.
Nonetheless, and finally, we call upon the Election Commission to look into this connection between the BN candidates and these pro-BN welfare organisations which are clearly trying to induce and influence voters through this slew of events.
And yes, the Registrar of Societies should also investigate who is behind 1Malaysia Penang Welfare Club and the 1Malaysia Penang Brothers Club.
We are confident, too, that Penangites will see through these unethical and immoral, maybe even illegal tactic on the part of these BN and BN-friendly bodies.