Saturday, April 17

Financial subsidies for political stability?

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Give our women the legislative and executive power. — Bernama file photo

WE have heard of subsidies for padi, pepper planting, fishing, anything. And soon, if Bersih 2.0 (Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections) have their way, and if the federal government agrees to the proposals, there will be financial subsidies for political parties in the country. Financed how, you ask?

The Steering Committee of Bersih 2.0 (The Borneo Post, Jan 27, 2021) has rationalised the use of taxpayers’ money in order to “increase the transparency of political funding in the country and level of playing field … so that partisan politics is more stable, institutionalised, and professional”.

They cite findings of a study on political funding given out by other countries (unnamed) to substantiate their proposals. “Progressive states like Sarawak, Selangor, and Penang can pave the way for implementing the proposals,” we are told.

They are talking about an annual grant of RM133 million to be equally shared among all parties. Just in case any party leaders get too confident that their organisation may be one of the recipients of this largesse, please check and verify with Bersih whether or not your outfit meets all the terms and conditions of the offer of financial help.

Bersih 2.0 have put forward a couple of recommendations, namely, “Firstly, vote-based public funding to political parties for regular party and campaign expenses and the amount of public funding will be given proportionately to the number of votes the party received in the most recent election.”

That looks like a condition of sorts to me. Just how many political parties in the ‘progressive’ state of Sarawak have taken part in elections and have thereby received votes in the recent election? Isn’t it the fact that since 2016 there has been no election, not even a by-election to the State Legislative Assembly?

Am I right in saying that any new party which was formed in the state after 2016 is not qualified to get the subsidies because it has not taken part in an election?

Look at the second recommendation by Bersih 2.0, “The threshold for the political party’s eligibility to receive this fund is 2 per cent in any of the regions of peninsula, Sabah, or Sarawak. The threshold based on these three regions aims to ensure that regional parties in Sabah and Sarawak are not discriminated against, and also to respect the spirit of the 1963 Malaysia Agreement.”

I wasn’t aware of any press conference organised by Bersih 2.0 via Zoom, during which reporters could have asked for elaboration or elucidation of the points that Bersih 2.0 wanted to tell the world. However, any political party interested in the subsidy scheme may like to approach Bersih 2.0 representatives in your area for further clarification. May be there is something in it for you.

Women power 

One good thing – Bersih 2.0. have a soft spot for women. They stress the importance of women’s role in politics; there should be more and more women’s meaningful representation in the state assemblies as well as in Parliament. Not only must they be represented in the legislatures but they must also be given executive positions. And, I may add, in the other institutions of government as well as in the semi-government organisations or government-linked companies. What men can do, they can do better, my editor has reminded me. After all, the hand that rocks the cradle can also rule the world.

Bersih 2.0 would like the government to allocate a sum of RM10 million, in addition to the RM133 million, to parties which will field more women candidates. For a party with a Women’s wing, this is the chance to get into this scheme and use the money for legitimate expenses of its field workers. Just assure the taxpayers that you send more qualified and dedicated women with personal integrity to walk in the corridors of power.

Interests of Sabah and Sarawak

I note that Bersih 2.0 have also mentioned Sabah and Sarawak in their recommendations for political reform – level playing field. Obviously, the two states have factored in the calculation of Bersih 2.0 – how much of the funds will go to the constituencies in each of the Borneo states.

As many people know by heart, the Parliament of Malaysia has 222 seats. Sarawak has 31 seats and Sabah has 25 seats. If Bersih 2.0 talks about the spirit of Malaysia Agreement in the allocation of political funds for the Borneo states, they should refer to the recommendation by the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee (MSCC) as a better clue to what is the mind of most Sarawakians and Sabahans. They should have got: for Sarawak 31 plus five and for Sabah 25 plus five, out of the 15 seats which had been allocated to Singapore before her separation from the Federation in August 1965. Talking about spirit, the MSCC had envisaged Malaysia as a partnership of four entities, not 14 states! So for the purpose of funding for political parties, MA63 and the Constitution are irrelevant, both in the letter and in the spirit.

On the whole, the proposals by Bersih 2.0 should get the support of many people who want to see reforms in the electoral system in Malaysia. That proposal relating to empowering more women in lawmaking at both levels of government is particularly important in terms of electoral reform. I hope the government of the day will give the proposals due consideration and eventual approval for the sake of sustaining parliamentary democracy, which Malaysia has adopted since its formation.

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