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MGG: Wanted: Serious Candidates With Money to Burn
By M.G.G. Pillai
9/11/2001 4:33 pm Fri
08 November 2001
Wanted: serious candidates with money to burn
It had to come, this proposal to raise the electoral deposit.
The minister in the prime minister's department aka the law
minister, Rais Yatim, says it must be raised so high that only
serious candidates would stand in future elections.
Other changes include a shorter period between dissolution of
parliament and state assembly and the nomination of candidates
for the new legislatures, and other moves that could only hamper
the opposition political parties.
Rais insists that only "serious" candidates should be allowed. To
him a "serious" candidate is anyone who puts up twice more to
RM10,000 for a parliamentary, or RM5,000, from RM3,000, for a
state assembly, constituency.
It does not matter if he a rogue, or a cheat, or reprobate: if
he has the money for an electoral deposit, he is a "serious"
The proposals came from the Elections Commission, as yet another
move, we are told, to streamline election procedures. They live
in a glass ivory tour, and beholden to no one but the government
who appointed them; most are civil servants or those firmly
aligned with the National Front administration that has been
returned to office with a huge majority since the first election
The elections commission should have called in all political
parties and discussed this before submitting its prposals to the
government. As it now is, the cabinet discusses it, and
parliament passes it withough the opposition views taken into
Fair but flawed proposal
On the face of it, one cannot fault the proposals. As one cannot
fault the proposals of the Singapore elections commission, when
it wants to have a swift, short campaign and elections so that
the business of government could go on smoothly. To the National
Front in Malaysia and the PAP in Singapore, the general election
is a terrible inconvenience, as parliament is to the National
In reality, the raising of electoral deposits is to make sure the
opposition would only be token. The government, with the control
of the media, gets its voice heard well before the elections, and
the opposition runs hither and thither to make itself heard.
The opposition does not even have the time to print their posters
and have their election manifesto explained to the public. And
since public rallies are banned, it hampers their campaign.
The Malaysian opposition parties, like in Singapore, are feckless
and disoriented. Predictably, they opposed it for the wrong
reasons. The leader of the Opposition, Fadzil Noor, said: "Such
a proposal, if accepted, will only seek to profit Barisan
Nasional as it is a rich party. At present, the deposits are
already too high. The opposition candidates will not be able to
afford any further increase."
Statements like these play into the government's hands. That is
exactly why it wants the deposits raised. It is undemocratic and
unjust, as Fadhil says.
But it must be opposed for the principle it contravenes: the
right of a citizen to stand for election. The right to vote comes
with it the right to stand for election. Neither should come with
it a qualifying option other than age and being of sound mind.
Constitutional, not monetary
The electoral deposit, which a candidate loses if he does not get
one-eights the votes case, should not be onerous that it shuts
out those who want to make their views heard, even if they do not
have a chance to be elected.
If the present proposals are accepted, a party contesting all 192
seats must put up a deposit of nearly RM2 million and another
RM2.5 million for the state assemblies. This is beyond any
political parties that are outside the government in Kuala
But the larger issue is constitutional. By imposing a high
deposit, it restricts the right to be a member of parliament and
state assembly to those who have the money or are in a political
party with the funds to put up the huge deposits demanded.
It is interesting Rais is unhappy with the 65 independent
candidates for 62 constituencies in Sarawak, most losing their
deposits. Why should he be unhappy?
It is a sign that enough citizens are unhappy with how the
government is to be prepared to lost their deposits to show their
displeasure in public. Why should they be denied that right by
imposing an unacceptable financial burden, in addition to his
If people stand for frivolous reasons, that should be encouraged;
is a sign that democracy is alive and well. It might sometimes
cause fright, as when Shahrir Samad stood for a byelectionn in
Johor as an independent candidate in a byelection and won.
But that is what makes for interesting elections. Elections
should never descend into a solemn meeting of actuaries; they
should reflect the reality of life in the community.
So, while the proposal, on the face of it, has merit, in practice
it restricts unacceptably the constitutional right to free
elections. But matters of constitutional propriety is not why
the rules are changed: it is to make it as difficult as possible
for the opposition to more than dent its absolute control of the
Restricting electoral process
If these changes come with the government, in the interest of
fair play, announcing the dissolution in sufficient time so that
the actual process of elections can be dispensed with quickly.
But even those are restricted with each change in the rules.
The rules as they stand do not allow the opposition enough time
to get their electoral machinery into operation, print enough
posters, and before they are ready, the elections are over.
Despite the constitutional provisions, and the seeming sense in
the statements, every change in the electoral rule is in practice
a strangling of the democratic right to free elections.
But even the opposition parties do not see it that way: they
concentrate their attack, as the governing coalition expects them
to, on the money. As long as it is, the National Front is home
We get the politicians we deserve. Rais wants 'serious'
candidates, but the parliamentary process, as we see before us,
is a huge joke.
Issues are not discussed, there is no debate worthy of note,
cabinet ministers and members of parliament consistently play
truant, parliamentary decorum is emphased in a debating chamber
that will not discuss what must and discuse only what makes them
the joke it is.
Into this august chamber, do we need "serious" candidate with the
money to burn?