Bersih 2.0 moots public funding for political parties to level playing field, curb corruption

Soo Wern Jun
·3-min read
Party flags are seen during the Sabah state election campaign in Luyang, Sabah September 14, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Party flags are seen during the Sabah state election campaign in Luyang, Sabah September 14, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 25 — The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) has urged the prime minister, political parties and the Election Commission (EC) to support a policy to publicly fund political parties that it said would curb corruption and ensure fair contests in elections.

“Motivations for public funding include curbing spending in elections, reducing the influences of private funds, promoting a more level playing field, shifting the focus away from fundraising to performing duties and moderating partisan appeals,” said research analyst Ooi Kok Hin who conducted the study and produced the research paper.

At the same time, Ooi said it was timely for the Malaysian government to consider this proposal as two-thirds of the world’s countries already have laws that provide for public funding for political parties.

Based on the research, the Bersih 2.0 proposed an annual public funding policy of RM133 million for political parties at parliamentary level, which the EC would disburse based in three possible methods.

The first would be a vote-based direct public funding to political parties for regular party and campaign expenses.

“The amount of public funding will be given proportionately to the number of votes the party received in the most recent election.

“The threshold for the political party’s eligibility to receive this fund is 2 per cent in any of the regions of Peninsular (Malaysia), Sabah or Sarawak,” said Ooi.

He added that 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 1963 Malaysia Agreement.

The second is a seat-based direct public funding to promote women’s representation in Malaysian politics where RM10 million would be set aside for this proposal.

“The main purpose of this recommendation is to promote women’s representation in Parliament. To be eligible, parties only need to elect at least one woman as a Member of Parliament (MP).

“This allocation will be distributed proportionately based on the number of women MPs in the party,” he said.

In addition, the usage of the amount is earmarked for the parties’ programmes and staffing in promoting women’s participation in politics, he added.

The more women MPs there are, the more funds the party will receive annually.

“Small parties can also benefit by nominating female candidates in competitive seats. For example, if a small party has only a single MP, they will probably receive only a small amount of public funding under the first recommendation.

“But if their sole MP is a woman, the party stands to gain additional public funding.

“This provides an incentive to political parties to not only nominate more women candidates, but also treat them as serious candidates by putting them in winnable seats,” he said.

The last method is indirect public funding through the subsidies such as broadcast, printing, postal and free use of government and public buildings.

“This proposal will cost less than the previous two proposals and can provide valuable assistance and resources to political parties,” Ooi said.

Bersih 2.0 previously urged the government to impose regulations on donations to political parties and candidates.

It said the Election Offences Act 1954 only regulates campaign spending by candidates during election campaigns while spending by political parties and others, including those for the benefits if the candidates are left largely unregulated.

The election watchdog made this call in light of Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Mansor’s testimony in court last year during his trial for bribery.

Tengku Adnan was accused of taking RM2 million bribe from a businessman, who wanted to buy two plots of land belonging to the Kuala Lumpur City Hall.

He, however, said he did not benefit from the RM2 million and instead was channelled to help Umno in the Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar by-elections on June 18, 2016.

The party’s candidates subsequently won both seats.

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