When I saw this statement posted in the Facebook by several of my friends recently, my first reaction was ‘How true’.
This dilemma has been plaguing many elected representatives, especially in rural constituencies under the ruling party.
I am not implying that assemblymen and members of parliament in ruling parties are more inclined to buy their support from voters.
Rather, it is because they are in a position to give out aid through government grants and projects and are expected to announce some goodies every time they meet their voters.
The trouble is many people also expected the ‘YBs’ to give from their own pockets as well.
This expectation stems from the perception that elected representatives from ruling parties are rich through their ‘connection’ to lucrative business deals.
That assumption is not always true as a state assemblyman from Sarawak United People’s Party once told me: “Many people thought I have many contracts and am making a lot of money, @#x&*! (expletive) that is rubbish. I too have to struggle to meet my commitments.”
Some years ago, I accompanied another state assemblyman on a trip to his rural constituency and saw him giving money to a student going to college, bought the jerseys for a local football team and donated to a bereaved family.
Although these acts of charity are noble, they were tainted by the fact that if he had not done so, he would lose support and be branded as stingy.
Later, he confided to me he needed at least RM15,000 to meet the requests for help from people in his constituency.
I am not sure if the amount was blown up but it is a fact that many people in rural constituencies expect their elected representatives to help them out personally.
I have heard cases of some candidates who, after winning their elections, hardly set foot in their constituencies after that because they could not cope with the demands of the people.
It is sad that many voters still support the candidate who could give out the most goodies instead of looking into their track records in speaking up for them and addressing the needs of the community.
However, the real tragedy is that this is the mindset perpetuated by some politicians with deep pockets who found out that it is the most effective strategy to win elections.
The people are as much to blame, perhaps more so, than the politicians because they are willing to sell their votes for freebies and money.
Those who handed out these ‘bribes’ know full well it is wrong but that is what it takes to win the election.
‘Beri salah, tak beri kalah!’
I must admit if I were in that position I will ‘beri’ lah! – the candidate who goes into an election riding the moral high horse has just two chances – slim and nil.
Campaigning before elections often resembles celebration of festivals in many rural areas with food and drinks, sponsored by some candidates, flowing freely.
As a result, pressing issues facing the local people and the nation were lost amidst the merrymaking and freebies dished out by the campaigners.
The people must be weaned off this addiction to small short term gains. They should vote for those who are fired by the desire to genuinely serve them instead of going for those who could give the most freebies.
Can this be achieved?
Thankfully, the answer is yes it will happen as educational level rises in rural areas and people become more aware and independent in their views.
This has already happened in urban seats where voters now look at the bigger picture and base their decisions on the calibre of the candidates and their stand on issues affecting them.
The ‘times they are a changing’ but alas in Sarawak, it is changing slowly.