Concerns over ‘money politics’ as Sabahans head to polls

Up to half a billion ringgit is expected to be spent on the campaign trail alone


MALAYSIA’S political parties are gearing up their machinery ahead of a crucial snap election in Sabah, prompting concerns over long-standing issues on sources of party funding and potential manoeuvring of the democratic process.

Political analysts and critics said recent allegations of several Sabah state assemblymen being offered cash to defect from their parties showed a worrying trend of vote-buying where support can be bought over by those who offer the most money.

The upcoming state polls will likely see huge sums of money being channelled to constituents as all contesting sides will be looking for a win, including Barisan Nasional (BN).

The long-ruling coalition will be seeking to regain control of the state which fell to Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Parti Warisan Sabah in the last general election (GE).

University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute director Prof James Chin said up to half a billion ringgit is expected to be spent on the campaign trail alone.

“The minimum calculation is about RM3 million to run as a credible candidate per constituency, so the election would cost about RM220 million.

“But my take is it would go up to RM500 million and this will just be direct election spending,” he told The Malaysian Reserve.

The state polls will see 73 seats being contested in total, up from 60 previously.

Chin said vote-buying in Sabah tends to go across the board, covering even urban areas.

“What we do know now is every side will try to buy votes in the upcoming election, so it is very likely the ballots will cost a lot more compared to the 2018 elections,” he said.

University Malaya political economist Prof Edmund Terence Gomez said recent trial proceedings on 1Malaysia Development Bhd and politicians charged for corruption indicated that most political funds were derived from donations abroad. Allegations also suggest that major concessions were handed out to businesses that had favoured the winning party.

“What these allegations show is there is nothing wrong with a politician receiving a political donation from any businessman as there are no laws against it.

“There is also no law against foreign donations. It can go to a politician or it can go to a party,” he said.

Gomez said funds could also come from Sabah government-linked companies (GLCs) like the Yayasan Sabah Group (YSG) and the Chief Minister Inc.

“If Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal himself has accused Tan Sri Musa Aman of using YSG, I don’t see why we will not see more of the same in this election,” he said.

Apart from money, contributions could also come in the form of community-type activities.

“During the campaign period, a slew of GLCs will suddenly start engaging in corporate social responsibility activities, but it will be targeted primarily in constituencies where the person in charge of the GLC would like to win in.

“This will typically involve development projects such as providing utilities, building up road systems and so on. This is quite common in most elections and we will probably see this happening in Sabah,” Gomez said.

He said there are two loopholes in the Election Offences Act (EOA) 1954 which currently limits the money candidates can spend during the campaign period to RM100,000.

“Firstly, the time frame given is during the campaign period when in fact, a lot of money has been spent in the run up to nomination day.

“Secondly, and more importantly, the EOA says nothing about how much a party can spend, so it is the party that will spend a lot more money than the candidate,” Gomez added.

Meanwhile, Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism ED Cynthia Gabriel said money politics could be at its worst despite Prime Minister (PM) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s pledge to ward off graft.

“It’s running very deep. Already assemblymen are claiming that millions are being offered to cross over to Musa’s side and the PM has not stepped forward to put word to deed and ensure integrity.

“In fact, Perikatan Nasional has been accused of buying over not just in Sabah, but at federal level too,” she said.

The Election Commission (EC) has set the Sabah state election on Sept 26.

The nomination will be held on Sept 12, while early voting is on Sept 22. There are 1.12 million registered voters in Sabah and the EC expects a 70% voter turnout for the state polls.