SPECIAL REPORT Is there a need for a more stringent political funding law for Malaysia, or for the better education of the voters so that demands will not be made for handouts during election campaigns?

These two questions are among those being raised now, following reports by The Wall Street Journal and Sarawak Report on July 3 about RM2.6 billion from 1MDB deposited into Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak's personal accounts in March 2013, purportedly for the 13th general election.

In Malaysia there are 222 parliamentary seats and a total of 576 state legislative assembly seats.

Each candidate contesting for a seat in Parliament is limited to spend a total of RM200,000 during an election campaign, while a candidate for a state seat can spend up to RM100,000 for the campaign.

This cap is to ensure that each candidate is given a fair chance to get elected. However, are the expenditure declarations by the candidates the only way to govern legislative  elections?

If one were to calculate the total costs for a party, or a coalition, contesting all the parliamentary seats in the country, it would come to RM44.4 million nationwide, and for state seats it would be RM57.6 million.

Totalling them up would make it RM102 million to be spent by a coalition or party, if it were to contest all parliamentary and state seats in a general election and stick to the maximum expenditure allowed for each seat.

In the 13th general election, there was no contest for the state seats of Sarawak, meaning there were only 505 state seats contested nationwide, as Sarawak has 71 state seats.

Hence, the expenditure of RM102 million should have been much more less for the BN coalition, which contests all parliamentary and state seats in the country.

This raises the question as to where the RM2.6 billion went to, if this sum was indeed used by Najib for BN's campaign machinery. If so, it also raises the issue that the BN could have overspent in the GE13 campaign.

This is besides the allegation that the RM2.6 billion could be from public funds, with the bulk of it coming from the Pensioners Welfare Fund (KWAP) - and the crucial question on how the funds came to be deposited in Najib's bank accounts - matters now being investigated by the special task force on 1MDB.

So how much does a GE campaign cost?

Hence, the question: how much should a general election cost a party or a coalition? And, should there be regulations or laws to govern the expenditure?

Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) head Wan Saiful Wan Jan (photo) said the expenditure for each candidate is different from the sums spent by political parties, since there is no limit imposed on political parties.

Parties, can allocate funds for advertisements, billboards and posters, which can be separate from the expenditures of their candidates in the general election.

“However, I strongly disagree with state funding of political parties. Despite the parties being governed by the Registrar of Societies, some of the parties are well off, owning buildings, businesses and even media companies, and this is difficult to regulate.

“I agree there needs to be some form of regulation and it is quite obvious they (some candidates) spend more than what they should, or what they report,” Wan Saiful told Malaysiakini.

Bersih 2.0 chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah also told the news portal that she noticed the loophole, in that the declaration on election expenditure is limited to the candidates, where there is a limit.

However, this limit does not apply to political parties.

“This is the loophole the Election Commission should look into, as it allows excessive political financing by political parties and candidates, which are not monitored by the EC or the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission,” Maria said.

Global Movement of Moderates Foundation chairperson Saifuddin Abdullah, who contested in two general elections, in 2008 and 2013 under the Umno-BN ticket, said while he followed the requirements of spending RM200,000 and below, there was always the possibility of others not following the conditions.

Saifuddin (photo), a former deputy higher education minister who advocates strongly against money politics and even penned a book on it, questioned whether the limit was being followed, especially during by-elections.

“With every political party gunning with almost everything in its arsenal, surely it cannot be less than RM200,000 (per parliamentary candidate).

“I have contested for the Temerloh parliamentary constituency twice. I won in 2008 and lost in 2013. People who know me can tell that I was not a big spender. But people can also tell who the big spenders are, and even how much they spent,” he said.

“If we do not put a stop to money politics, there will be parties and individuals using money to gain power, and use the power that they secured to gain more money in order to secure more power. This will go on and on. It becomes a vicious circle,” Saifuddin warned.

Integrity in election expenditure

Wan Saiful, who had contested an election in the United Kingdom in 2007, said although there are regulations governing the expenditure of election candidates in that country, the candidates follow and abide by the regulations, as it involves their integrity.

“In Malaysia, while we have some laws governing elections, people, candidates and political parties try to find loopholes. This is so unlike in the UK, where a limit is set and they abide by it. They have integrity and abide by regulations.”

“This is the attitude adopted by candidates who have integrity. Some may advocate the strengthening of existing laws to curb excessive use of money during election campaigns.

“However, I think at the same time the public, especially Malaysians, should be educated not to be demanding on politicians by requesting handouts like Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia or dinners,” Wan Saiful said.

Maria (photo) said there is a need for monitoring of the holding of kenduri sessions, dinners, handouts of BR1M, development funds and advertising expenses, all of which are not regulated.

“These are all undeclared expenses, which are not included as part of Section 19 of the Election Act,” she said.

Saifuddin said perhaps the people do not see, or it is ingrained in them not to see money politics as being bad or something that should be ignored.

“It is worse, that some actually like it. Whatever it is, the effect is very bad: dirty politics, corruption, leakages, control by the rich, black money and people losing faith in democracy.

“Hence, I strongly support the formulation of a law on political financing. A political financing law is needed, among others, to regulate the use of money for political funding, on the part of parties as well as by individual politicians,” Saifuddin added.