BERSIH calls for reform of election financing

Press Release
7 November 2007

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) calls for a thorough reform of the law that regulates election financing, to ensure that the election is a level playing field for all citizens, rich or poor.

The ineffective cap on expenses should be replaced with strict regulations on transparency and reasonable cap on donations. Qualified parties and candidates should also enjoy subsidies on their campaign financing to reduce their dependence on business donations.
BERSIH criticizes the current caps on electoral expenses — RM200,000 for parliamentary contests and RM100,000 for state ones — as completely irrelevant. Malaysians know too well that BN candidates spend at least 10 times that amount but they get away with it by claiming that their election workers are voluntary or having others (including their own parties) pay for the expenses.
The Election Offences Act 1954 fails to prevent over-spending because it takes individual candidates and not political parties as a unit of accounting. In reality, major expenses like advertisements and campaign materials are paid for by party headquarters or their proxies.
If parties are taken as an accounting unit, BN (which ran in 219 contested parliamentary seats and 504 contested state seats) will only be able to legally spend RM94.2 million nationwide. In other words, BN candidates would have little to spend after deducting the huge cost of advertisements in the broadcast and print media.
BERSIH proposes strict regulations to ensure transparent records of all donations and contributions to the electoral campaign, whether in cash, kind or labour. This would allow the public and the media to check if the Government or politicians return any ‘favours’ after the election. Such a rule can also prevent misuse of the funds of government-linked companies (GLCs) in an election.
Should there be any cap, it should be on the contribution rather than the expenses. A cap on donations can limit the ability of the rich and business owners in purchasing influence. On the other hand, a cap on expenditure such as the current ones can be easily evaded and manipulated.
BERSIH further proposes the introduction of state financing, as electioneering is both necessary to inform citizens and becoming increasingly expensive. With the state reasonably subsidizing all parties and candidates whose vote share have met a certain threshold, say 12.5% in past elections, the contestants can reduce their dependence on private funders.
BERSIH urges all concerned Malaysians to wear yellow for the next few days running up to the People’s Gathering (Himpunan Rakyat Aman) on Saturday, 10 November, to signal their desire and determination for electoral reforms, which are part and parcel of a wider end-all-corruption campaign.