Commentary Politics

It looks like a tit-for-tat bout in Cameron Highland

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Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

January 15, 2019

A commentary by Zaidi Azmi

IRONIC has the battle for Cameron Highland seat become as the shenanigan – palm greasing – that had triggered the by-election, due Saturday next week, was reportedly acted out by the very party that was previously victimised by such trickery.

And to justify their alleged wrongdoing, Pakatan Harapan (PH) claimed that the cash handouts it disbursed to its “volunteers” during nomination day on Saturday, were mere fuel allowances, which was part of the coalition’s election expenses, hence, lawful.

But is it? It would be if the PH’s election expenses, including the contentious allowances, do not exceed the RM600,000 threshold as per to Article 19(1)(a) of the Election Offences (EO) Act. Even so, this article does not bestow those invoking it an absolute protection.

Because apparently, what PH did can still be argued as an election offence under Article 8 of the EO, which defines a crime called ‘treating’. The excerpt below is the verbatim wording of the article:

Every person who, corruptly, by himself or by any other person, either before, during or after an election, directly or indirectly gives or provides or causes to be given or provided, or is accessory to the giving or providing, or pays or engages to pay wholly or in part, the expense of giving or providing any food, drink, refreshment or provision, or any money or ticket or other means or device to enable the procuring of any food, drink, refreshment or provision, to or for any person for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person or any other person to give or refrain from giving his vote at such election or on account of any such person or any other person having voted or refrained from voting or being about to vote or refrain from voting at such election, and every elector or voter who corruptly accepts or takes any such food, drink, or refreshment or provision or any such money or ticket or who adopts such other means or device to enable the procuring of such food, drink, refreshment or provision shall be guilty of the offence of treating.”

Gosh. What a confusing clause.

“Basically, it states that anyone involved in giving anything that pays the expenses of providing foods, drinks, refreshments or provisions or money for the purpose of influencing that person to either vote or not is committing treating,” lawyer Fatihah Jamhari clarified.

She along with several other lawyers also believed that PH’s petrol allowances can be considered as treating because it is essentially a type of provisions. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) however, was less wordy, in saying the practice a crime.

“In the eyes of the law, offering voters any form of inducement, be it cash or gifts, is bribery,” said deputy commissioner (operations) Datuk Azam Baki, in 2017, whose contention was also echoed by a number of electoral watchdogs in the country.

For now, it is unclear if the Election Commission (EC) will probe the controversy as its chairman Azhar Harun had, through a series of tweets, indicated that the matter was a mere hearsay until the EC receives concrete evidences.

“It is hearsay when  a person relies on another person’s statement to make an allegation. A picture is hearsay unless the one who took it gives testimony or statement,” read Azhar’s tweet over the controversial pictures of PH’s fuel handouts.

Why Azhar continues to harp on the need for the EC to do forensic analysis on the original copies of the pictures despite the fact that PH and DAP senior citizen Lim Kit Siang, had admitted to giving the RM20 cash handouts to its Orang Asli “volunteers” is anybody’s guess.

While the quibble over the legality of such practice continues, it is interesting to note that the Election Court’s ruling, which nullified Barisan Nasional’s Datuk Sivarraajh Chandran’s victory at Cameron Highland, on May 9 2018, suggested that the mere act of giving money to voters was enough to bring the matter to court.

“I find that the corrupt practice was committed in connection with the election with the knowledge of the respondent. It is not in dispute that the orang asli would welcome any assistance be it cash or in kind from all parties. In fact, the evidence showed that the money given was used for daily expenses. However, the intention of the recipient is not relevant,” was Justice Datuk Azizah Nawawi’s December 1, 2018 ruling.

At press time, related authorities – except the police which said that the matter is under MACC’s jurisdiction – have yet to announce anything about the controversy and in the meantime, DAP continues to reiterate that it is okay to disburse money during election campaign as long as the recipients are party “volunteers.”

What a convenient excuse.

Election watchdog, Bersih 2.0, had also pushed a similar narrative, arguing that the contentious allowances are legal if it is a part of PH’s election expenses. This however, was a peculiar stand that had contradicted the watchdog’s report on GE13, where it regarded fuel allowance as a form of bribery.

Alas, it is up to the court to decide the legality of such practice and if PH receives an unfavorable verdict, we’ll end up with another Cameron Highland by-election. Yippee.

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About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at [email protected]