By Wan Saiful Wan Jan,The Edge, 6 November 2010
Election is a very important component on democracy. But merely having an election is not everything. For the country to be a true democracy, we need the liberal democratic institutions to function properly.
We need an independent judiciary, rule of law, free press, and proper check and balances of the executive powers. More importantly, the public needs to play their role too by voting responsibly.
Unfortunately, elections in Malaysia are riddled with corruption and abuse of power. Briberies abound everywhere, and they are so blatant. Just look at the recent by-elections. Publicly, voters were offered RM250 to pay for their “expenses” to vote. There were even promises of a mosque and a housing project. What are these if not election bribes?
Yes, even the promises of “development” can some times be taken as bribery. Development is the responsibility of the government of the day, be it the federal or state government. It is not something that is delivered only when your party wins that constituency.
In developing the country, the government, be it federal or state government, should treat everyone the same, regardless of their political believes. Only then the government can be said to respect the choices made by the people.
But in our elections today, you hear politicians and political parties saying that only if people vote for a particular party will the authorities do something to help them. In other words, “vote for me and I will pay you back.” This is not just wrong. It is also corrupt.
The federal government acknowledges that corruption is a problem in Malaysia. Hence the inclusion of fighting corruption as one of the six NKRAs in the Government Transformation Programme.
But when it comes to corruption and bribery during elections, we cannot put the blame squarely on the shoulders of our politicians alone.
I once saw an MACC poster that says “Don’t give. Don’t take”. This is very true. There are always two parties in all acts of corruption, including election bribery.
On the one side are those who offer bribes like paying RM250 for voting expenses, building a mosques, housing projects, paying for expenses, and the likes. Usually they are the politicians.
On the other side are those who celebrate the offer of these bribes, and gleefully receive the bribes. These are the voters.
This assertion may make unpopular, but, I would venture to say that perhaps, just perhaps, when it comes to election bribery, the voters are more to blame than politicians.
The principle behind this is quite simply one of supply and demand. For corruption to happen, including during elections, there would be no offer of bribery if there was no demand for it.
In 2007, I was a Conservative Party candidate in the English local elections. My agent was very explicit about the rules. Never offer my voters a ride in my car, and never offer to buy my voters a drink. We had to be very cautious.
But that caution was not primarily driven by fear of the law. The real motivation was the fear that these gestures could be misconstrued as a bribe. If voters mistakenly assumed that I was bribing them for votes, just by offering them a ride or a drink, they would turn their back on us. I would have lost their votes, no mater how pure my intentions were. Voters attitude there were very different indeed.
But when I visited Batu Sapi last week, it was palpable that some voters expect, even hope, politicians would bribe them. A few that I met were excited that an election was happening. They knew free rice and plenty of donations are on the way to them. Some said that they would travel to as many campaign rallies as possible because that’s where they expect the election goodies to be distributed.
I really hope I am wrong but I suspect the same attitude in Galas. In fact, I suspect this attitude is prevalent among some voters across the country.
If we are serious about tackling corruption, of course we must strengthen the MACC and ensure that those in positions of power are not corrupt. But it is equally important to educate the public about this matter.
As voters, we must change our attitude. We cannot blame politicians for all the corruptions and briberies, for without demands, there would be no supply. We, voters, must take some responsibility too.
The problem of election corruption can only be solved if we, the voters, change our attitude. The next time a politician shout “I want to make a deal with you. You help me, I help you”, we must not clap our hands in gratitude. Instead we the voters must avoid them like the plague.
Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my)
image credit : delcapo.wordpress.com