Now that the Prime Minister has signed Transparency International Malaysia’s Election Integrity Pledge (on 20 February), it is time for all of Malaysia’s political parties to step up to the plate and join the ruling party in upholding the Election Offences Act – an act that was passed in 1954.
The integrity of elections is critical because money often starts the vicious cycle of corruption in politics and a society. The damage caused by political corruption erodes citizens’ rights to fully participate in society. It creates unfair competition among parties by favouring candidates who have access to more resources and threatens the principle of equality by allowing those who hold economic power to enjoy greater political influence.
In fact a corrupt political system fundamentally undermines all other anti-corruption efforts. While fighting corruption is indeed high on the Malaysian government’s agenda, and has been made one of the six National Key Result Areas in the Government Transformation programme, it is important that this is remembered by candidates and citizens alike at election time.
Transparency International Malaysia’s Election Integrity Pledge website provides a platform for politicians to commit to the public that they will abide by national laws and uphold principles of accountability. It also calls on the public to monitor these pledges and send a clear message that the people are watching. Our Malaysian chapter hopes the public will join them in monitoring the politicians’ principles of truth, integrity, ethical conduct and accountability, including not accepting or giving bribes or being involved in corrupt practices.
The site was launched on 19 March 2012 to push for greater integrity in the local political realm. The issue of integrity is extremely important, and so it is important to see candidates in the next general election uphold this principle regardless of their political affiliation.
The goal of achieving a corruption-free Malaysia requires the commitment of every citizen. This is important because the last general election in March 2008 was rife with vote-buying scandals. It saw increased levels of public dissatisfaction with the ruling party’s failure to address national corruption and introduce needed reforms. As a result they lost the two-thirds parliamentary majority which they had held since 1969. Many thought the failure to address corruption was a main contributor to this loss.
Therefore the election pledge is one step in the right direction as it reminds candidates and the public of the need for reform. However, Transparency International Malaysia hopes that in coming years the government will take on its recommendations for Reforms on Political Financing. These include full disclosure of political party and candidate financing, regulating political donations, and equal and fair coverage by and access to public media. Furthermore existing laws should be reformed to bring Malaysia’s legislation up to international standards of best practice. The Election Offences Act of 1954 should be amended to require party election expenses to be independently audited by certified auditors before submission to the Electoral Commission. The Elections Act 1958 should also be amended to empower the Commission to carry out investigations and verify financial reports submitted by political parties and candidates.