Patronage politics is not new. It has been going on for some time, particularly if we look at rural areas of the predominantly Malay diaspora. You can even draw the scene to be similar to that seen in “The Art of Killing” – an Indonesian documentary regarding those who carried out the anti-communist purge in the country ages ago.
That said, is it right to advocate doing exactly that for a Malay political party, openly, during their annual general meeting?
Or, should we let this reality continue to be cloaked behind closed doors and just ignore it?
The first question we have to ask ourselves is why does patronage politics or political bribery pretty much exist even now?
Is it because the population does not know any better? Do people not know that accepting cash for their votes is wrong and unethical?
Or perhaps because they are poor and believe – rationally or irrationally, that they deserve the bribe money they receive, that it is owed to them anyway?
The only way to deal with any of these questions, of course, is to look into political and electoral expenditure laws and regulations.
This is where it is important to enforce two parts when it comes to bribery – the ones who offer, and the ones who take it. Unfortunately, the focus continues to be on those who offer rather than the ones who receive.
But then again, would you really like to see hundreds of people in a kampung be sent to jail for accepting RM150 or even RM200 in exchange for their votes?
Plus, how would you prove that they even voted as they were bribed to do so, since votes are secret with no way to trace it, or even with it being a breach of privacy?
Or even more so, how would you look at candidates offering cash, without a single idea of what to add on to regulations in the long run?
Can there be an immediate disqualification and appeal process during the campaigning period, or do you have to wait until they win as what we saw in Cameron Highlands?
On top of this, how long will it be until those who have not filed their electoral expenditure are declared to void their seats, rather than just a fine and a police report as highlighted by the Electoral Commissioner?
Shouldn’t the election be voided, rather than just a fine and a police report?
Furthermore, are personal donations and monies collected from the public accounted for into the campaign funding for a single candidate, or does it just go directly to the political party? Is this dealing transparent and open for public scrutiny?
The only reason patronage, by hook or by crook politics work is because there is no transparency whatsoever when it comes to political donations and expenditure, nor is there any move to push for the accounts of each individual politician to be scrutinised either by parliament or having an avenue for such information to be accessed by the public.
Or to make it short – where is the Freedom of Information Act that would allow the public access to each individual politician’s accounts?
The moment this comes into play, where a Freedom of Information Act would compel regulators like the Registrar of Societies, Parliament and even individual politicians and linked companies to disclose the information involved, it would end the ability of politicians to play patron.
Political party divisions, branches and even ministries and government linked agencies would all have to disclose whatever is requested for public scrutiny, and with a thriving media platform, harp on whatever is seen as excessive, or even news worthy.