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LETTER | Should cash handouts be banned during campaigning periods?

LETTER | As the Chinese parents are handing out ang pows to their children amid the Chinese New Year celebration, the issue of vote-buying is raised again when Terengganu Umno filed a petition against Perikatan Nasional for the court to nullify the GE15 results of three parliamentary seats in the PAS-led state, namely Marang, Kemaman, and Kuala Terengganu.

According to them, PN candidates had handed out hundreds of ringgits of cash to different groups of voters a few days before the polling day; therefore, violated the provisions under the Election Offences Act.

Vote-buying is a problem that has been happening during election periods for decades, especially among the candidates of the incumbent ruling party. This is because they have the resources and the cause to cover up their actions; for example, handing out cash to teachers as a form of aid, which they never do while they are in power.

PN secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin has said that cash handouts to voters are okay as long as the intentions are good, which is another nonsense.

There is no way to prove intentions from the legal aspect. And even if a candidate has good intentions in handing out the cash during campaigning periods, his or her action will still inevitably affect the voters’ decision, which is something that we should work to eliminate.

Throughout the six decades of BN hegemony, voters were trained to have a short vision, causing them to be easily swayed by one-time cash handouts of a few hundred ringgits to cross BN’s logo on their ballot papers.

As strong as the then opposition party’s rhetoric, manifesto, slogans, and appeals to reform the country, BN, controlling all the monetary sources and election-related agencies, was able to manipulate the voters and election results via money.

We hoped things would change when Pakatan Harapan finally won Putrajaya in 2018, but it just turned worse after Sheraton Move, where we saw a huge democratic backslide.

Now that we finally have a government led by a reformist, it’s time to completely eliminate the ugly practice of money politics from our country.

In my view, any form of cash handouts should be completely banned during the campaigning period, no matter from which side the candidates are from.

This is simply because, as mentioned above, there is no way to prove one’s intentions from a legal aspect, and the cash handouts during the campaigning period will inevitably affect the results.

We don’t want to see voters making decisions with a short vision. We also don’t want the candidates and parties to only focus on one-time cash and welfare distribution during the campaigning period but forget the more important aspect of policy discussion that shapes the country.

The government should also liaise with the Election Commission to establish a town hall system during the campaigning period so that all contesting parties and candidates have an equal chance and space to present their ideologies to the voters.

Every time during an election, independent candidates or those from small parties lose very badly because they don’t have the financial support from parties or coalitions to be known by the voters in their constituencies.

Democracy upholds the public sphere, and the public sphere grants an equal amount of respect to all sorts of ideas and ideologies.

Establishing a town hall system could minimise the financial gap between giant coalitions and small parties in terms of ideology promotion, granting the voters the chance to listen to more perspectives for a more informed decision.

Since Undi18 is officially implemented, we have been talking about voters’ education to make Malaysians more mature in terms of voting. Therefore, the practice of vote-buying via cash must be curbed once and for all, for a better quality of elections in the future.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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