State Providing Transport Subsidy for Returning Voters is An Election Offence if Selective or Conditional

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) refers to a news report from BERNAMA that the Sarawak state government is considering providing travel subsidy to Sarawakians living in the Peninsula to fly back to the state to cast their votes during the 15th General Election (GE15).

It is the view of BERSIH that this is an illegal practice under Section 20 of the Election Offences Act 1954 if they are not provided to all voters and comes with preconditions to vote for a particular candidate or party. If someone is convicted of this offence, he/she is liable to a fine of five thousand Ringgit, barred from voting or standing as a candidate for five years, and if the person is an elected representative, lose his/her seat.

But 20(5) made an exception for those who are sharing the cost of transportation such as carpooling or hiring a bus to transport themselves to their home constituencies.

Whoever offers subsidized fares to enable voters to travel home to vote must ensure that the offer is offered to all voters regardless of their political leanings and that the whole process and transportation itself do not carry any candidate’s or party’s emblem that might influence the way a person’s vote.

However, when a state or federal government offers subsidized fares, the issue of abuse of state resources during elections to gain an advantage comes into question, especially when it is directly or indirectly linked to supporting the candidates of the government. It gives the incumbent government an unfair advantage and is unethical but unfortunately current laws do not criminalize such acts.

BERSIH invites the Sarawak and Sabah state governments to join us in calling on the Election Commission (EC) to allow out-of-region voters especially for East Malaysians living in Peninsula, and West Malaysians living in Sabah and Sarawak, to have absentee voters right and to vote three days advance of polling day where mega voting centres could be setup in every state’s for these voters.

Statement issued by:
The Steering Committee of BERSIH