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Raja Petra talks on UMNO Money Politics – Malaysiakini November 14, 2008

Posted by nikmj in malaysia today, National, New Strait Times, Politics.
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“Money politics” is a very vague term, clouded by many grey areas, but in Umno’s context, it means buying votes outright, or offering other forms of reward to get elected to party posts.

UMNO leaders raising concerns about money politics can be likened to shamans chanting mantras to heal an ailment.

But this political corruption is no mysterious illness needing faith-healing. It’s only common sense that a concerted effort by the players — candidates, intermediaries and delegates — would be effective enough a treatment of Umno’s “rotten to the core” stigma.

The situation is very bad; even top leaders are indulging in vote-buying, even as they speak out against it.

“Money politics” is a very vague term, clouded by many grey areas, but in Umno’s context, it means buying votes outright, or offering other forms of reward to get elected to party posts.

Contesting senior party positions has become a very expensive affair today, with money spent so far said to run into millions of ringgit.

Umno’s battle against money politics took a positive turn recently when Umno Youth set up its own monitoring body to complement those monitoring on behalf of the party’s disciplinary board.

More leaders vying for posts in the March 2009 party elections are coming out to openly tell delegates not to expect cash rewards from them. To be fair, not all Umno leaders play the vote-buying game, winning their positions on their merits — and winning the respect of people in and outside Umno.

Vote-buying is not unique to Umno, of course, but it is much more intense than in other political parties because of the high stakes involved.

The unprecedentedly long campaign period may also work against vote-buying, with the prospect of a “bidding war” until March next year. “Candidates with less money may think twice about playing the game as they cannot afford it,” says political analyst James Chin, a professor at Monash University in Malaysia.

Chin thinks the only way to stop vote-buying in Umno would be to allow direct elections to the top five positions. 

“This would make it virtually impossible for vote-buying to be successful unless you are willing to spend not millions but a few billion ringgit.”

Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who twice failed to qualify to contest the Umno presidency, has also been calling for direct elections at all levels of Umno’s leadership.

“We have over three million members. If we give them the right to elect leaders at various levels, we can get rid of money politics,” he has advocated.

Then again, the Kelantan prince has also been accused of being behind the emergence of money politics in Umno, although he now openly speaks against the malaise.

At the 1994 Umno extraordinary general assembly to curb money politics and corruption, then Umno president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad observed that money politics had hatched at the 1987 party elections when Tengku Razaleigh mounted an unsuccessful challenge against him for the Umno presidency.

Eyebrows were again raised early this month when Tengku Razaleigh’s Gua Musang division nominated Tan Sri Isa Abdul Samad, a former vice-president convicted of money politics, for one of the party’s three vice-presidencies.

Isa had served out the three-year suspension handed down by the Umno disciplinary board against him, and is now one of eight candidates qualified to vie for the three coveted posts.

Dr Mahathir may contend that money politics in Umno started more than two decades ago, but he, while not personally involved, failed to nip the problem in the bud, allowing it to become a norm whereby every single person involved had benefited.

Admits Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen Tengku Ismail, chairman of the Umno disciplinary board entrusted to handle such cases: “We are trying our best, but it seems we can’t deal with it completely. It is now rooted to the core.”

Appealing to Umno members to help him fight money politics, party president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in his presidential address at the 54th Umno general assembly in 2006 said: “The process of arresting and prosecuting is not as easy as people say it is. The investigative process is painstaking and the process of proving corruption and getting witnesses is extremely difficult.

“There is no point in prosecuting in large numbers if we do not have enough evidence to convict them. Help me fight corruption by providing evidence.”

Lack of information remains a stumbling block, preventing punitive action against more offenders. In a willing-giver-willing-taker situation, it is highly unlikely that the case will be reported. It is manifestly clear that the roots of corruption will not be eradicated if new seeds of graft are allowed to sprout and grow. 

It should, therefore, be a cause for concern to the authorities that agents of candidates have started collecting the names and phone numbers of those voting at the party elections — for obvious reasons.

Umno members, particularly the 2,500 or so delegates to the Umno general assembly, must be resolute in not allowing themselves to be influenced by money when making decisions.

There also has to be the political will to arrest the excesses and abuses of money politics and its attendant degradations and decadence.

As the backbone of Barisan Nasional, Umno should be an exemplar to all Malaysians of integrity and incorruptibility — not their antithese

Courtesy of New Strait Times

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