QUESTION TIME When money is handed out during a by-election, with those receiving them being registered and their particulars taken down, what is one to think? That it is an incentive to come back and vote? Or would it be a bribe to vote in favour of a party, especially when posters and flags of Barisan Nasional were everywhere evident?

Malaysiakini actually saw and recorded the event taking place in at least two houses of village chiefs during the recent Kuala Besut state by-election which was won by BN with an increased majority.

NONEFollowing the reports, one of the village chiefs came out with a ratherstrange defence to this very obvious and open instance of handing out money to voters. His main contention is that the money was merely an incentive for voters to return and cast their vote.

Here is Kampung Beris Lampu village chief Yaakob Kadir’s comment in verbatim to Malaysiakini: “If it were bribery, it would have been done quietly. We gave it (the incentive) to everybody regardless of whether they voted for BN or PAS. Returning voters would surely support PAS (anyway).”

Well, here was a person who was caught red-handed dishing out money to voters, something that would be considered bribery by most, especially if it is clearly obvious that the person who is giving out the money is a BN supporter. He has to come up with something to say to justify what he had been doing. That’s understandable.

But he gets support from an unexpected quarter - some would say an expected quarter - the Election Commission (EC). Amazingly,the EC said that the practice of giving transport allowance during elections is not considered a bribe, provided that no conditions are attached.

azlanEC chairperson Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof said the practice would violate the law if the person dishing out the transport allowance urged voters to cast their ballots for a particular candidate.

“I was made to understand by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission or MACC (for example in the case of Sabah and Sarawak voters returning home from the peninsula) that if the money is given to voters and the voters are just told to go back and vote, then it is not an offence.

“EC has not received any official complaint with regard to this matter,” he added in a text message to Malaysiakini.

If that’s not flabbergasting, I wonder what else is.

Does a briber need to make his intention crystal clear to every single person and announce to the world that he is giving money to people to vote for a particular party, the BN, in this case before he he is deemed to have bribed? Surely no briber is going to do that but will couch his bribe in less subtle ways, although it was none too subtle in Kuala Besut?

Surely any reasonable person will look at the circumstances under which such bribes are given, the other evidence (such as posters, flags and the giver’s own voting preference) that the money is an inducement to vote in a particular manner?

Offering excuses instead

When those in authority refuse to acknowledge that bribes may have been given when the evidence is presented to them on a platter, but offer excuses instead, then one must inevitably draw the conclusion that they are not unbiased in the matter being investigated.

This entire episode is yet another incident which clearly demonstrates that the EC cannot be trusted to carry out its obligations without fear or favour and is in league with the ruling party to make elections more favourable to the BN.

azlanIt causes yet another dent to the badly scarred and scorned image of the EC which has been tarnished by the events such as the continued gerrymandering of election boundaries to make the concept of one-person-one-vote completely fiction, and the infamous indelible, edible, erasable ink catastrophe.

Malaysia needs to have free and fair elections. The principles of democracy such as one-person-one-vote, the right of all parties to be able to reach out to the electorate, a free and fair press, repeal of laws restricting personal freedom etc have to be believed and practiced for this.

Certainly, this is not the EC that will take the necessary steps towards this. That’s because its appointed by and answerable to government. That has to be changed but the question is who will do it?

Meantime such justification of open and clear-cut bribery - an inducement to vote for BN - by no less than the chairperson of the EC will only endear the commission to those who want elections to remain less than free, to further their own foul ambitions.

Shame on you EC!

P GUNASEGARAM is founding editor of KiniBiz

~ Malaysiakini