BERSIH calls for reform on election financing

Press Release: 8 December 2007
The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) echoes the call of Dato’ Seri Megat Najmuddin Khas, Federation of Public Listed Companies, on making political contributions more transparent.

Dato’ Seri Megat, who is also a member of UMNO’s disciplinary committee and Exco member of Transparency International (TI) Malaysia, said public listed companies should be allowed to provide funding to political organizations, as long as there is a transparent and accountable system for them to do so.
Megat said this at the launch of TI’s “Global Corruption Barometer Report 2007” on 6 December 2007. The Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) is a public opinion survey which explores how corruption affects the daily lives of ordinary citizens.
BERSIH would like to take it a step further and 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 or in kind. This would allow the public and the media to check if the Government or politicians return ‘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.