Blatant bribery in Tanjung Piai, says rights activist

(FMT) – Veteran rights activist Kua Kia Soong has questioned ruling politicians who justify government allocations in Tanjung Piai as the by-election campaign for the Johor federal constituency heats up.

Kua, a former MP who is the adviser to Suaram, also took to task the Election Commission (EC) and electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 for saying that the allocations were legal.

“Is this the ‘free and fair election’ reforms we marched for in all the Bersih rallies? Are the EC and Bersih not prepared to call a spade a spade and unequivocally condemn such last-minute constituency-specific allocations as outright electoral bribery?” he asked in a statement.

The allocations announced after the seat was declared vacant following the death of its incumbent Md Farid Md Rafik in September included grants for the Tanjung Piai Village Community Management Council, the installation of 264 street lights and RM3 million to improve six schools.

Kua said the election-season allocations showed there was no difference between Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional despite the former previously condemning such acts as election bribery.

“How can they condone such ministerial allocations now and say these are legal?” he asked.

He said Section 10 of the Election Offences Act clearly defines what constitutes bribery during an election. If clarification is still needed, he added, the EC and Bersih should initiate legal reforms to ensure that such acts are disallowed in future elections.

“EC chief Azhar Harun claims that the EC does not have the power to investigate electoral offences,” he said.

“If the PH government under no-nonsense Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is serious about ‘free and fair elections’ in the New Malaysia, isn’t it time to implement reforms to ensure that the EC has the teeth to step in and prevent blatant electoral bribery such as ministerial allocations before a by-election, and to investigate and penalise such electoral bribery?”

Last week, Bersih said PH had abused government resources in its Tanjung Piai campaign after the Johor menteri besar announced special cash aid for fishermen in the constituency.

It said the “attempt to fish for votes” was “clearly unethical” although not illegal under current laws.

Azhar meanwhile said any complaints over allocation handouts should be brought to the relevant authorities as the commission’s scope of power in this regard is limited.

“Only the courts can decide if they (the ministers) are guilty or otherwise of bribing, not the EC,” he said.