The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said in Kota Kinabalu yesterday that the court decision in declaring null and void the election for the Bukit Begunan seat in Sarawak was a warning that “money politics” did not pay and that he did not condone the use of money politics, even in UMNO.
The Prime Minister should uphold in full both the spirit and substance of the judgement of Sarawak election judge, Mr. Justice Ian Chin, who found that it had been established as a fact that there had been extensive bribery and money politics, and advise the Sarawak Barisan Nasional not to re-nominate the PBDS candidate, Mong Anak Dagang who was elected Assemblyman last September.
Although Mong had not been disqualified as there was no evidence in court to show that he had exceeded the legal limit of RM30,000 for election expenditures by a State Assembly candidate, the Barisan Nasional must accept that Mong cannot disclaim liability unless he could convince the Sarawak and Malaysian public that he had no knowledge or had not given consent to the extensive bribery and vote-buying carried out by his party stalwarts to secure his election.
Otherwise, the re-nomination of Mong in the forthcoming Bukit Begunan by-election would make a total mockery of the judgement of the Sarawak election court as well as the Prime Minister’s call for an uncompromising war against money politics.
I would in fact go one step further and call on Mahathir to update the election laws immediately to end the scandalous situation where Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and Barisan Nasional MPs are forced to violate their oath of office in their first action after election.
The oath of office all Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and Barisan Nasional MPs must take on assuming office is to swear to “bear true faith and allegiance to Malaysia” and to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution and the laws of the land.
However, under the existing election law, the first action of Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and Barisan Nasional MPs is to violate their oath of office to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution and the laws of the land.
This is because under the Election Offences Act 1954, election expenditures for a candidate in a parliamentary constituency should not exceed RM50,000 or it would be an “illegal practice” leading to the disqualification of the person convicted from holding any elective office.
I will like to know which Minister, Deputy Minister, Parliamentary Secretary or Barisan MP could declare with all sincerity and truthfulness that he or she had been able to keep the parliamentary election expenses to within RM50,000!
It is not conducive to promote a healthy respect for the rule of law when there is not only no accountability for election expenditures but where the election law is so universally flouted - and yet still allowed to remain on the statute books.
I would support the doubling or even the trebling of the legal limits on election expenditures on the proviso that there should be a mechanism to strictly monitor and audit all election expenditures to ensure that there is no violation of the new legal limit.
The law should also permit citizens’ groups, like Election Watch, to provide a close scrutiny of all election expenditures by all candidates, and where all expenditures incurred on behalf of a candidate to secure his/her election are fully accounted as part of the election expenses.
This amendment will go a long way to ensure that general elections in Malaysia are “free, fair and clean” and to root out the curse of money politics.
The declaration by the Sarawak election court that the Bukit Begunan election in the Sarawak state general elections last September was null and void because of extensive bribery and money politics has highlighted the urgent need for changes to the election laws to restore public confidence in the integrity of the electoral system.
Other amendments which should be made include a clear-cut provision that candidates are held liable when excessive expenditures or general bribery had been committed to secure their election by their agents, whether by their political party or prominent backers; and that no election court should deprive the voters of their fundamental democratic and constitutional right to elect the MP or Assemblyman of their choice - as happened in the Bukit Bintang case in 1995.
These are more important and weighty matters than what the Election Commission is thinking about - namely the proposal to increase deposits for candidates for Parliamentary and State Assembly candidates.
The Election Commission should abandon the proposal to increase deposits for candidates for Parliamentary and State Assembly elections, as this would make no contribution to check money politics but would provide an unreasonable obstacle to Malaysians to offer themselves for elective office by placing too great a financial obstacle. The present deposits of RM3,000 and RM5,000 for State Assembly and Parliamentary candidates are already too high and should not be increased.