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Funding democracy, the BN way


(Permatang Pauh by-election pic by Danny Lim)

SINCE the historic March 2008 general election, it has become clearer to Malaysians that democracy is messy and expensive. Indeed, any politician who tries to convince the rakyat that democracy is an easy and frugal affair is guilty of trying to fool the masses.

But what have we been hearing about the unusual spate of elections the country has been having since March 2008, especially after it became apparent that Malaysia would be in for its sixth by-election in Penanti, Penang? Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders, most notably the prime minister himself, are calling these elections a drain on resources, a waste of public funds, and even a “publicity stunt” by Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

Could taxpayers’ money be better spent in other ways? And should Malaysians demand that our politicians and political parties get down to running the country instead of engaging in excessive “politicking”?

It adds up

There is no denying that the five by-elections we’ve had since March 2008 — Permatang Pauh, Kuala Terengganu, Bukit Selambau, Bukit Gantang and Batang Ai — have cost us money.

According to The Star, these by-elections have cost a total of RM33.4 million — no small amount.

Constituency

Date of by-election

EC’s expenses (RM)

Police’s expenses (RM)

Permatang Pauh

26 Aug 2008

409,000

2.5mil

Kuala Terengganu

24 Jan 2009

580,000

11.5mil

Bukit Selambau

7 April 2009

400,000

5.0mil

Bukit Gantang

7 April 2009

600,000

7.0mil

Batang Ai

7 April 2009

400,000

5.0mil

These figures should indeed be made public. But when the figures are publicised and they go hand-in-hand with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak declaring that by-elections caused by resignations are a “sheer waste of public funds“, some questions need to be asked.

Firstly, how else does the BN leadership envision a democracy should be run? If a seat is vacated, what other means does Malaysia, which the government says is a democracy, have to ensure that the people are represented according to the majority’s wishes?


Mohd Fairus (Source: mfairus.blogspot.
com)
Of course, the underbelly of Najib and other BN leaders’ statements about the resignation of PKR’s Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin as both Penang deputy chief minister and Penanti assemblyperson is that his reasons for resigning are frivolous. Nothing more than a “political ploy”, to quote Najib himself, because apparently Fairus didn’t quit for the “legitimate” reasons of being sick, bankrupt or convicted of a crime.

The same views have been echoed by no less than the Election Commission (EC). Plus, the EC has openly supported proposals by some BN leaders such as Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir and Tan Keng Liang to prevent “unnecessary” elections. These include suggestions for stricter laws, and penalties for elected reps or their parties should an elected representative resign for reasons other than what’s stated in Article 48(1) of the Federal Constitution.

This, the argument goes, would suggest that Fairus, or other elected representatives like him such as former Bukit Selambau assemblyperson V Arumugam, who also resigned, are doing their electorate a disservice.

And that disservice is being reflected in the amount of money that has so far been spent on the five by-elections we’ve had since March 2008.

Why so expensive?

But if protecting taxpayers’ money is really the intention of the barrage of criticisms against PKR, why isn’t the BN asking this question instead: Just why is it so expensive for the EC and especially the police to manage a by-election?

I, for one, would like a thorough breakdown of how every ringgit was spent by the EC and the police. In fact, it looks really incredible that the police should be spending millions. In fact, the police spend much, much more than the EC.

And since Bukit Selambau is way more accessible than Batang Ai, why did the police still spend the same amount of money in both by-elections? And in the case of Kuala Terengganu, the police spent RM6 million just on canopy rental alone, as was revealed by Deputy Home Minister Datuk Chor Chee Heung in the Dewan Rakyat.

Najib has already intimated that the BN may not contest in the Penanti polls apparently because it is mindful of the people’s interests. This will apparently save taypayers’ money from somehow being squandered because of a publicity-hungry PKR.

If that were the case, why then is the BN not asking the question of both the EC and the police about why their expenditure is so high?


At the nomination centre in Kuala Terengganu. Good heavens, how much did all this cost??
(Pic by Danny Lim)

What is really wasteful

If we were to extend the BN’s logic further, Malaysians should also conclude that any other candidate who contests against the PKR candidate in Penanti is being irresponsible about how public funds are spent.

Already, former Penang Wanita PKR chief Aminah Abdullah has said she will contest as an independent candidate. Surely she deserves to be vilified, too, for creating a situation where public resources would be unnecessarily drained again.

What really is a waste of public funds isn’t the necessary process of an election in a democracy. What really is, is when so much is spent by state agencies with little accounting for how the money was spent.

And as someone who files my taxes in full and on time, what irks me is not the messiness and costliness of the democratic process. What outrages me is when public funds are used to stifle democracy.

For example, when FRU and police are sent to disperse peaceful candlelit vigils, sometimes violently. Or when more than 100 tear gas canisters are lobbed into a crowd of peaceful Malaysians protesting because of a legitimate concern (I wonder how much each canister costs?). Or when state funds are used to maintain the Kamunting Detention Centre which continues to incarcerate people, without trial, under the Internal Security Act.


Tear gas going off during a protest on 7 March

That the BN is instead focused on demonising a legitimate democratic process because they don’t see the value in it is revealing. That they refuse to acknowledge public funds are really being wasted to undermine our democracy in concrete ways is even more significant.

Need Malaysians wonder anymore what the BN stands for?


Aristotle once declared that “democracy is when the indigent, and not the men [or women] of property, are the rulers.” However, Jacqueline Ann Surin believes the reality is that participating in democratic elections is costly. But if we didn’t spend that money on elections, the final price we would pay as a nation would be so much higher.

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16 Responses to “Funding democracy, the BN way”

  1. Arion Yeow says:

    Good article. I too would like a thorough breakdown of how every ringgit was spent by the EC and the police.

  2. kip says:

    Rightly spoken! We probably should petition for the public release of all expenditures by the EC and police during the three by-elections. That way, the public aka the taxpayers will know how their money is used.

    Talking about democracy and wastage of money … Corruption and money politics are not fully investigated and prosecuted. How can the public believe any word they say? I think there is “prawn behind the stones” for them to call it wasteful. Come on … Do your job! Ask for the list!

  3. Pratamad says:

    No, what Najib meant to say is each by-election is costing BN dearly in terms of the “election sweeteners” that they have to rain down on the constituencies.

    And the humongous police expenditure is at best explained by wastages and leakages, at worst part of BN’s intimidation strategy.

  4. victor says:

    That’s the problem. No one is watching the government budget. Where on earth does the government get so much money to bribe?

  5. OrangRojak says:

    What’s with the ‘[or women]‘ edits everywhere? Have you been watching The Life of Brian again?

  6. simon khoo says:

    Great article Jacqueline, well presented, points researched and put forth in a balanced manner. Thank you.
    Fair minded Anak Bangsa Malaysia will make up their mind what Umno/BN unscrupulous practices has cost the country.
    This artilcle will in some ways blunt the Umno/BN MSM propaganda.

  7. kahseng says:

    MPs should be asking questions as to why police cost per voter is as high as 6x to 20x (in KT) of EC cost per voter. These are preposterous.

    Hints about where to check, other then canopy contractors – are catering, transport, housing, senior officer accommodation, uniform, cleaning, equipments, other service contractors who are probably better connected than they are efficient.

    Other than police costs, even EC’s costs in Sabah and Sarawak need to be checked. From 2004 parliamentary election, about 1/2 of SPR’s budget was spent in East Malaysia, (even though the voter population in East Malaysia is about 1/9 of West Malaysia) due to the rugged terrain.

    A lot of the money is spent on helicopters and boats rented on short notice from the Philippines and Indonesia. Who are the middlepersons, and could that RM50 million have been reduced to even more reasonable amount?

    See EC documents at:

    http://www.spr.gov.my/index/general_election2004.pdf

    REPORT ON THE MALAYSIAN GENERAL ELECTIONS 1995
    http://www.spr.gov.my/index/1995_report.htm
    REPORT ON THE MALAYSIAN GENERAL ELECTIONS 1995
    http://www.spr.gov.my/index/salinan/E_1995.htm

    One-day Sarawak polls to cost RM 24m (Star 05/04/2001)
    http://www.spr.gov.my/index/star050401.htm
    http://www.spr.gov.my/index/newspapercuttings2001.htm

    ELECTION PANEL CAN SAVE RM10M FOR POLLS
    http://www.spr.gov.my/index/salinan/star020204.htm

    REPORT ON THE STATE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
    GENERAL ELECTION SARAWAK, 1991
    http://www.spr.gov.my/index/salinan/sarawakgenelec1991.htm

  8. Sonia says:

    If I’m not mistaken, BN at one stage gave an answer to your first question. There was a time when they gave the seat to those who came ‘runner-up’ in the elections, primarily in Sabah I believe. Oddly, most of those seats had been won initially by non-BN politicians.

  9. oldman says:

    Aiyo yo. Why the police only spent RM2.5 Million on Permatang Pauh by-election but a whooping RM11.5 million in Kuala Terengganu?

  10. chi pek says:

    Democracy and people’s freedom should not be equated to dollars and cents. Whether it’s a waste of money or not. Then government should cut down the unnecessary expenses. Who audits these accounts anyway.

  11. mindspring says:

    A quick google search “how much does a canister of tear gas cost” indicates a prices of USD 14.95 to USD49.00 in the US. Which probably means anywhere between RM150 and RM4900 to the Malaysian Police.

  12. Faris says:

    Dipetik dari Suara Keadilan (dari markas Angkatan Muda Keadilan)
    (http://www.suarakeadilan.com/sk/beritautama/2009/04/4408)

    Cadangan penalti RM50,000 bagi anggota dewan undangan negeri dan RM100,000 bagi anggota parlimen yang melepaskan jawatan tanpa sebab munasabah adalah satu cadangan keanak-anakan kerana tidak masuk akal kata Timbalan Angkatan Muda (AMK) KeADILan Faris Musa.

    Berikutan kenyataan Ketua Pemuda Gerakan Kedah Tan Keng Liang yang mahu penalti itu di kenakan ke atas mana-mana Adun atau Ahli Parlimen yang mahu meletak jawatan tanpa sebab munasabah.

    Beliau juga mencadangkan jika perletakan jawatan itu atas alasan bagi mendapat mandat baru daripada pengundi bagi Adun terbabit untuk menyertai parti gabungan, penalti itu perlu dikurangkan separuh.

    Sementara itu, satu lagi kenyataan yang dibuat oleh Ahli Parlimen Jerlun, Mukhriz Mahathir menyokong supaya Suruhanjaya Pilihanraya (SPR) mengenakan hukuman terhadap wakil rakyat yang meletak jawatan sesuka hati tanpa alasan yang kukuh.
    Katanya, perbuatan meletak jawatan dalam kalangan Anggota Parlimen atau Anggota Dewan Undangan Negeri pembangkang dengan sewenang-wenangnya, kini seolah-olah menjadi trend bagi memastikan parti mereka sentiasa mendapat perhatian.

    Perbuatan itu katanya merugikan rakyat dan negara kerana pilihan raya kecil memerlukan perbelanjaan besar setiap kali diadakan, selain mewujudkan suasana tidak selesa dalam kalangan penyokong parti-parti yang bertanding.

    Faris membidas kenyataan Tan dan Mukhris sebagai tidak masuk akal kerana amalan perletakan jawatan adalah perkara biasa yang diamalkan di negara-negara berasakan demokrasi.

    “Kenyataan itu amat tidak masuk akal serta agak keterlaluan dan memihak kepada kerajaan Barisan Nasional sahaja tanpa mengambil kira pendapat pihak lain,” jelas Faris kepada Suara Keadilan.

  13. Muhammad says:

    Excellent article Jac. Well done and keep it up. Anyway, here’s a belated hello from Christopher – SXI/ Holy Spirit Church.

    Warm Regards,

    Christopher

  14. Jonathan Lee says:

    Something which I found interesting at Lim Kit Siang’s blog just now. It shows the hypocrisy of this country’s Election Commission!

    Dear YB LKS,

    I support you to continue to show how BN is so hypocrite.

    For example, when Tan Keng Liang (Kedah gerakan youth head) suggested to impose a penalty for unreasonable resignation and to amend the Federal Constitution (for the five-year ban) to make it possible for assemblyman to call for by-elections to get people’s approval (to solve the crisis in Perak), the Election Commission only supported his penalty proposal (just because it makes PKR look bad in Penanti under the Fairuz scandal).

    So, what about the amendment to the Federal Constitution?

    I managed to search Google and found his proposal to SPR at his blog. – http://tankengliang.blogspot.com/2009/04/proposed-amendment-to-current-election.html

    SPR dares not even talk about his proposal for amendment of the five-year ban to allow by-election at Perak!

    If SPR wants to accept Tan’s proposal for the penalty, they must also adopt his idea for amendment to the Federal Constitution (to make exemption of the five-year ban). Otherwise, it is just selecting proposal for the BN ‘s benefit.

    If possible YB LKS,

    please highlight this hypocrisy of BN and SPR!

  15. Jonathan Lee says:

    Sorry, forgot to give the link to Lim Kit Siang’s blog.
    The well thought comment was found at near the bottom of the page, which shows the hypocrisy of SPR!

    http://blog.limkitsiang.com/2009/04/21/why-there-should-be-by-elections-in-the-three-state-assembly-seats-of-jelapang-behrang-and-changkat-jering-in-perak-and-the-parliamentary-seat-of-kulai/

  16. Eric says:

    “Need Malaysians wonder anymore what the BN stands for?”

    Sad to say lots of Malaysians cannot see this or meekly think BN is the lesser evil. Forced Undi Pos and (sometimes) downright cheating makes up for the difference.

    Hopefully PRU13 will solve this by sending BN where they belong.


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