Democratic values under threat
MAY 1 — I congratulate Barisan Nasional (BN) on winning the Hulu Selangor by-election last week. They mounted the greatest by-election campaign that money could possibly buy, and it appears that money for them did grow on trees. It was no object.
There is no disputing the fact that my favourite candidate, Zaid Ibrahim, lost the contest by 1725 votes.
The people exercised their right to choose the man to represent them in the Dewan Rakyat. That was what they wanted, and good luck to them. They deserve each other. But a question that simply refused to go away, as I watched the campaign unfolding before my eyes, was how much of the Barisan Nasional victory reflected a genuine return of confidence in the BN government, and how much of it had to do with the financial inducements and promises of more goodies where they came from.
Money was scattered with manic abandon like so much confetti at a society wedding? I must confess in all seriousness and fairness that BN had superb organisation where it mattered — on the ground. Their election machinery also enjoyed the great advantage of being lubricated with the best engine oil that money could buy — money itself.
Zaid gave an extremely good account of himself and there was certainly no shame in losing in an unequal contest. The whole apparatus of the Federal Government was ranged against him in Hulu Selangor.
Zaid lost the by-election in circumstances that were a damning indictment of Malaysian society’s declining ethical standards. BN leaders were obviously in no mood to allow the little niggling ethical or moral niceties to stand in the way of their larger design for Selangor.
After many by-election reverses, they finally found a rich harvest, no pun intended, in the Felda oil palm schemes. Years ago, the settlers were persuaded by the BN administration of Selangor to part with their land in a multi-million ringgit development scheme that went sour.
The land owners lost their land and the shirts on their backs. It was a typical greed-driven BN so called ‘fail safe’ get rich quick venture that incompetence, avarice and corruption all conspired to wreck even before the first brick was laid.
These settlers who had waited for their money for the last fifteen years, thirteen of which under successive BN state governments, quivered with excitement when they were told openly that there would be an initial small down payment with the rest on the way if BN won the Hulu Selangor seat.
I wonder what the Election Commission and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chiefs thought about all this business of cash for votes, but I expect they have already decided, in a show of ‘independence’ that they say they are, that it is probably not worth making an issue over such an entrenched Umno cultural norm. Please do not take my word for it, but Umno does not deny that it has problems with money politics. Hulu Selangor is but an extension of that culture. In spite of claims to the contrary by the government, Malaysia is not an open, democratic nation.
That is precisely why the election authorities did not see fit to step in smartly and disqualify the bribe giver and declare Zaid Ibrahim the winner. Evidence of serious breaches of both the elections as well as anti-corruption acts is clear for all to see. I reminded of a saying which goes something like this. “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” The person who coined this could well have been thinking of our EC and the MACC.
An electoral victory it might have been for BN, but to me it is a victory as hollow as it is immoral. If this is an example of BN’s cavalier approach to ethical issues, then we are being short changed on 1 Malaysia. It will remain a mere slogan without strong moral and ethical underpinnings. The financial seduction of voters is a criminal offence, and for Najib to claim that he was not bribing the voters but merely solving their problems is disingenuous, but as I have pointed out on another occasion, Najib does not disappoint us in his ability to perfect the art of the possible. To him, the means justify the end.
The government has admitted to spending millions on a makeover of its image overseas, but it is money down the drain if it persists in behaviour which is patently at odds with international best practice. In this case Mr. Prime Minister, you really have to lead by example or give up 1 Malaysia as a lost cause.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.