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MACC must not endorse election bribery

Kim Quek

spr-voting-2The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) heretical interpretation of the Election Offences Act 1954 (the Act) on corruption is most alarming, and warrants an emphatic rebuttal.

In the front page headline story of Sin Chew Daily yesterday (Feb 13), MACC’s deputy chief commissioner (Prevention) Sutinah Sutan was quoted as saying that for corruption offences committed during an election, our laws only deal with individuals – not political parties. As such, money or gifts given to the electorate to induce votes for a political party is not an offence. It is an offence only when the gift is given to induce votes for a specific candidate.

Sutinah further said that the Prime Minister or other Barisan Nasional (BN) leader’s announcements of allocations for projects are meant to benefit the people; such actions cannot be considered election bribery or abuse of power as they are meant to garner electoral support for BN, and not for the leader himself.

I have to differ with these interpretations of the Act taken by MACC.

Corruptly inducing votes for parties is also bribery

First, the definition of bribery is covered in Section 10 of the Act, but nowhere in the entire Section is there any mention that the object of inducement must be for an individual candidate. The Act only defines bribery as material benefit given out or pledged to induce votes without specifying whether such electoral support is meant for a political party or for an individual. Under the circumstances, how can Sutinah claim that giving out money to solicit electoral support for a political party does not fall within the ambit of the Act?

In fact, the pertinent criterion MACC should consider is the motive of the gift – whether it is dished out to solicit votes. Whether the solicitation is meant specifically for a certain candidate or for a group of candidates or for a political party is wholly immaterial.

Second, Sutinah (left) justifies the Prime Minister’s frequent dishing out of grants in his campaign trail as not acts of bribery or abuse of power on two grounds: that it is meant to gain electoral support for his party – not for his personal benefit; and that the grants are meant for the benefit of the people.

Sutinah’s first ground is legally untenable as already explained in the foregoing paragraphs. Her second ground is insupportable by facts as the motive of those grants has been made crystal clear when he often announces the grants in the same breath as he admonishes his audience to vote for BN.

Sutinah’s second ground that those grants will not lead to PM’s personal benefit is also manifestly untrue. How could the PM not have benefited personally, since those grants would lead to more electoral support for his party, which may result in his party being re-elected as the government, and he himself re-elected as the prime minister?

No immunity for political parties

Third, Sutinah’s claim that our election law is directed only at the individual and not the political party and hence it is powerless to bring errant political parties to book is dangerously misleading. It conveys the impression that a political party may commit election offences with impunity. This supposition is distinctly untrue.

When a political party breaches election laws, why can’t leaders, officials and agents that have participated in the offence be charged and convicted in court? We have sufficient laws to ensure that not only individuals but the entire political party can be punished, depending on the nature and severity of the offences.

The Malaysian election system, with its incessant scandals of massive rigging, is now world famous for its lack of a level playing field. Instead the odds are stacked heavily against the opposition, for which the lame duck MACC must take major responsibility in allowing this to happen.

With the most critical general election in the country’s history imminent, and the wind of change blowing fast and strong, law-enforcing institutions such as the police have already started moving in the direction of political neutrality as demonstrated in the recent KL 112 mass rally.

Will the MACC in this critical hour of our history also live up to the fervent hope of the people to shoulder its constitutional responsibility to safeguard a cleaner and fairer election without fear and favour?

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