As Malaysia’s position in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) has dropped from 51st in 2019 to 57th in 2020, out of 180 countries surveyed by Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M), I call upon all who want to fight corruption – the latest being Karangkraf Media Group Chairman, Datuk Hussamuddin Yaacub who launches Gerakan Sinar Rasuah Busters – to put public funding of political parties in the equation.
𝗙𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗻𝗲𝗴𝗮𝘁𝗶𝘃𝗲 𝗰𝗼𝗻𝘀𝗲𝗾𝘂𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲𝘀
Many non-politicians do not realise the lack of public funding is one key driver of political corruption.
Operations of contemporary parties – from election campaigns, all-year-long service centres, to staffing and maintenance of headquarters – are expensive business.
Without public funding, there can only be four possible consequences, all negative.
First, parties may depend on personally rich leaders to pay bills, effectively making politics a game of tycoons or their princelings.
Second, parties become beholden to private funders, who may want some favour in policy decisions covering lucrative government contracts.
Third, when in government, parties may abuse power and embezzle public funds to finance election campaign, and Najib’s 1MDB scandal is the best case in point.
Fourth, opposition parties that do not have rich leaders or generous business funders can be easily outpowered by government parties or well-oiled opposition parties, even if they have better candidates or better policies.
In fact, this is also one trigger for some opposition lawmakers to change parties.
Without public funding, party politics would be a game of the rich at best, and a ritual for kleptocracy at worst.
𝗣𝗲𝗻𝗻𝘆 𝘄𝗶𝘀𝗲, 𝗽𝗼𝘂𝗻𝗱 𝗳𝗼𝗼𝗹𝗶𝘀𝗵 – 𝘁𝗶𝗹𝗹 𝘄𝗵𝗲𝗻?
For every ringgit saved from public funding of political parties, perhaps tens or even hundred ringgits are lost through corruption, mismanagement and all other forms of leakages.
I must applaud the comprehensive research on the subject matter by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) https://www.bersih.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Bersih-Policy-Research-PublicFunding-of-Political-Parties.pdf, released on Monday (January 25), just three days before the CPI report.
The author, Ooi Kok Hin, a young scholar at Japan’s Waseda University, combed through international reports and studied in details the experience of four Commonwealth parliamentary democracies: South Africa, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.
I thank Ooi’s paper for waking up to a fact which I previously did not realise – public funding of political parties is now an international norm, found not only in the West, but also in the Third World, in Asia and in the Muslim countries.
International IDEA finds that 120 out of 174 countries it surveys have some forms of public funding and Malaysia is amongst the minority 49 countries that have not. (No information for the remaining five.)
How long does Malaysia want to buck the trend and continue to be penny wise, pound foolish?
𝗧𝗵𝗿𝗲𝗲 𝗺𝗼𝗱𝗲𝘀𝘁 𝗿𝗲𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗺𝗲𝗻𝗱𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀 𝗳𝗿𝗼𝗺 𝗕𝗲𝗿𝘀𝗶𝗵
Bersih 2.0 has made three modest recommendations: RM 123 Million to be proportionally distributed amongst parties based on vote share, RM 10 Million to be proportionally distributed based on number of women parliamentarians and indirect funding namely free or subsidized broadcast airtime, printing, postage and government buildings.
The total RM 133 Million is equivalent to 0.05% of the median of the Federal Government’s budgets from 2011 to 2010.
Bersih 2.0’s recommendations are to be implemented based on the outcome of GE15.
Under the first recommendation, if the GE14 vote shares were to be entirely repeated, Ooi’s simulation shows that BN would annually get RM 41.5 million (of which UMNO could claim RM 25.6 million) in contrast to RM 56.1 million for Pakatan Harapan, RM 20.7 million for PAS, and RM 2.9 million for Warisan.
With some comparisons, you would understand why I consider these figures “moderate”.
The original budget for government’s propaganda machine, JASA, was RM 84.5 million.
Under its “Rural Transformation Projects” (RTP) alone, Sarawak is annually giving every government state assemblyperson (ADUN) RM 5 million, or a total of RM 345 million for 69 ADUNs from GPS.
At the federal level, every government MP in West Malaysia gets RM 3.8 Million while their counterparts in East Malaysia gets RM 4.3 Million. In 2020, all 113 MPs in Muhyiddin’s government were allocated RM 443.4 million.
While these moderate amounts would not suffice to dissuade parties in government to stop exploiting government resources, they are very reasonable for a new attempt.
𝗘𝗹𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗼𝗿𝗮𝗹 𝗦𝘆𝘀𝘁𝗲𝗺 𝗖𝗵𝗮𝗻𝗴𝗲
For the first recommendation, Bersih 2.0 suggests a eligibility threshold of 2% vote share in any of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak. If GE14 vote totals were used for calculation, this means 25,293 votes in Sabah, 26,416 in Sarawak and 207,187 in West Malaysia.
Again, I must applaud Bersih 2.0 for recognising that Malaysia is a union of three regions and a one-size-fits-all yardstick would exclude most East Malaysian parties.
In my opinion, public funding for political parties can be even fairer if we tweak our electoral system to allow voters to vote directly for parties besides voting for candidates.
We should add some parliamentary seats based on Closed-List Proportional Representation (CLPR) on top of the existing First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) seats, constituting the Mixed Member Majoritarian (MMM) or Parallel System found in Japan, Taiwan, Mexico and Italy.
First, unless the party does not join any coalition or electoral pact, votes obtained by a Malaysian party under FPTP are actually confined by how many seats is given to the party by its coalition to contest.
If voters can directly vote for parties, then their CLPR vote shares would be a more accurate measure of their popularity.
Second, despite the rising number of diasporic Sabahans and Sarawakians in growth centers like Klang Valley, Penang and Johor, they do not form majority in any constituency to elect their preferred representatives to the Parliament or any State Assembly.
In this sense, FPTP gives asymmetric advantages to West Malaysia-based parties, which have contested in and won some East Malaysian constituencies.
In contrast, no East Malaysian parties (PBS tried in 1995) can realistically hope to win any FPTP constituencies in West Malaysia.
Moving to MMM would allow East Malaysian parties to collect CLPR votes in West Malaysia and win some representation.
𝗦𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗵 𝘀𝗵𝗼𝘂𝗹𝗱 𝗹𝗲𝗮𝗱 𝗶𝗳 𝗣𝘂𝘁𝗿𝗮𝗷𝗮𝘆𝗮 𝘀𝘁𝗮𝘆𝘀 𝗽𝘂𝘁
Public funding for parties would benefit even Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Bersatu.
However, if the PM ignores this call, state governments should consider introducing their own public funding. Selangor, Penang, Negeri Sembilan and even Sabah can lead by introducing their own state-level public funding for political parties, with some smaller amount than what Bersih 2.0 has been proposed.
I sincerely hope all parties would support Ooi’s and Bersih 2.0’s three visionary yet realistic recommendations.
We must create a political ecology which disincentivises parties from misappropriating public fund or depending on private funders.
𝗪𝗶𝗹𝗳𝗿𝗲𝗱 𝗠𝗮𝗱𝗶𝘂𝘀 𝗧𝗮𝗻𝗴𝗮𝘂