Paying a high price for democracy

By Maclean Patrick, Free Malaysia Today

Inflation is a really bad beast. Since January 2006 to February 2011, the average inflation rate for Malaysia has been 2% to 2.77%, reaching a historic high in July 2008 when it reached 8%.

Aside from rising the price of goods, inflation is the reason the coming Sarawak state election will cost taxpayers RM45 million, an increase of RM15 million from the previous 2006 state election which cost taxpayers RM30 million.

An increase of RM15 million seems steep and to blame it on inflation seems almost plausible, but if one spends more thought on it, it just seems ludicrous to spend tax-payers’ money on a process that is an exercise of getting the people’s mandate on who should govern.

Election Commission (EC) chairman Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusuf gave a fine example when he said that five years ago “nasi lemak” cost RM1 but now ( 2011) it cost RM1.50; the prices of beverages have also gone up, which means that the price for tents, helicopters and boats have also shot up.

Is an increase of 50 sen over five years an indication that the average inflation rate has been 2% for the past five years? You do the maths.

Also, it is safe to say that the increased cost of transport (helicopters and boats) is mainly due to the high cost of fuel. And who had a big hand in raising the price of fuel the past five years?

The fact is that Sarawak, being the largest state in Malaysia, presents a logistical headache when it comes to moving people and materials to 1,740 voting stations throughout the state.

Thus, RM45 million is the figure submitted by the EC but then, does it really have to cost so much?

Isn’t it high time that money be spent on making the democratic process in Malaysia less taxing on taxpayers?

Desperate need

Besides, the amount of money promised by Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman Najib Tun Razak for various projects in Sarawak the past few months totals hundreds of millions.

From building roads to providing better educational infrastructure to settling housing debts of the Bakun Dam resettled residents – it all points to the desperate need for BN to maintain its hold on Sarawak, its “fixed-deposit”.

All this money contributes to the democratic process – assuring the current government remains in government. Sadly, this form of development funding only comes around when a state election is round the corner.

But there is another cost that is high, an intangible cost not measurable by ringgit and sen and that is the cost to the people when their representatives do not do the job they were voted to do.

There is a lot of emphasis at this moment on “winnable” candidates. And when “winnable” candidates are voted in, they are on the payroll of taxpayers.

The notion that the voting public needs “winnable” candidates is a mockery of the democratic process. “Winnable” candidates are “winnable” only in the eyes of the party they are affliliated with but they can be “losers” in the areas they have won.

In the pursuit of “winnable” and bankable candidates, is Malaysia witnessing a scenario where it is the political parties and candidates who choose the voters rather than the other way around?

And when the representatives choose the voters, this will result in the common practice of gerrymandering by the EC. Thus, in Sarawak, the EC saw the need for 1,740 voting stations, which in turn will raise the cost of running a state election each time the season arrives.

‘Winnable’ candidates

Voters are fed on the idea that only “winnable” candidates can best serve their needs; whether the elected candidate serves well or not, the cost is borne by the voters. What’s wrong with having candidates that have proven themselves at the community level?