KUALA LUMPUR: An academic today spoke on the need for intra party democracy as a means to tackle the problem of money politics, which is still prevalent in the new Malaysia, notably in the Umno and PKR elections that took place after the May 9 general election.
Universiti Malaya economics and administration faculty professor Terence Gomez said this was important as money politics has been ongoing even way back in 1981. This continued in 1984, 1987 and in 1993, when Anwar Ibrahim became the deputy prime minister.
Gomez pointed out that in the 1993 election, the then prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, himself called for a special Umno meeting on political financing, saying how money politics was a cancer that has permeated the party. But nothing happened.
“Why am I calling for this intra party democracy reform?
“I am talking about this now because what we have seen is, if you do not deal with this, there will be great destabilisation within the parties. We saw this in Umno in 1987, 1998 and 2016.
“If you do not deal with the problem, it will cause friction in the party, then destabilisation. When that happens, it will lead to serious feuding and spill over into national politics.
“We saw Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Anwar and Mahathir leaving the party.
“This leads back to political financing,” he said during a panel discussion at the “New Malaysia, Old Politics” forum held at the university here today.
Also present were DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang, economist KS Jomo, and Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) fellow Tricia Yeoh.
Speaking on the Umno election, Gomez said post-GE14, Umno had spoken of major revamps and soul searching, that it had fallen as a result of 1MDB and money politics.
“They said ‘let’s deal with that’. But they didn’t. Instead, we saw more money politics in the Umno election. Further to that, the old guards were reelected.
“Similarly with PKR. You saw what happened.
“It was an election which had serious allegations of money politics. It was out there in the open.
“Is this the new politics we expected after May 9?”
Money politics and choice of leaders
Gomez said that money politics will impact choices of leaders and that “if you do not deal with this, the incumbents will come back to power when we need to see change”.
“You saw that in Umno. There is consolidation of power, even at a time when the party needs change. Umno is not willing to accept this change.
“Also, if you do not deal with money politics, it will curb dissent.
“The party knew they had to get rid of corrupt leaders, but they did not do it.
“They had the capacity to curb dissent because they have the money to buy people,” he said.
Money politics, Gomez stated, also curbs the rise of really good leaders, suppressing young leaders from coming to the fore. Current leaders will ensure they remain in power.
“If the current leaders remain in power, there is a serious effect on the selection of candidates.
“Who gets selected to run for federal and state elections?
“The people selected will tend to be the people we do not want. The likes of Najib, Annuar (Musa), Isa Samad.”
He said leaders perceived to be corrupt, who should not be running for office, were still doing so. This was true for even Pakatan-affiliated leaders.
“That is something we need to think about,” he said.
‘Feuding in selecting PKR candidates’
Gomez said in the recent PKR elections, there was serious feuding in the selection of candidates in the run-up to the party polls, to the point that other activists, such as former Bar Council chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan, came out to say, “stop this nonsense”.
“There was the issue of how these candidates were selected. Were these the candidates we really wanted?”
Gomez questioned whether the parties would accept the need to bring about transparency within the party.
He said this was important because most people will argue that in liberal democratic traditions, parties should not have an oversight body.
“But in the Malaysian context, I am afraid this argument does not hold true because we have serious problems with political financing on both sides,” he said.
Another aspect in internal party reforms, Gomez said, was the area of public funding and that to have a well- functioning democracy, parties needed money.
He said this was not uncommon, with 75% of democracies in the world doing it, as they recognise the importance of giving money to parties.
“But if we initiate public funding, the parties must be transparent internally too. They must also run their polls democratically.
“They must select candidates where the electorate can say: ‘Okay, these are good candidates’,” he said.
‘State capture’ by businessmen
Gomez further stated that the absence of political financing reforms may also lead to a state being captured by businesses.
He added that there was currently another phenomenon where businessmen were entering into the party system itself, financing themselves, going to the top of the hierarchy and becoming state leaders.
He said this was a serious problem in Sarawak, where prominent businessmen became MPs.
“It is not a laughing matter because if we do not reform political financing, be prepared for such ‘state captures’ to happen.
“Will we see the reforms that we expect to truly clean up the state, or will we go down the road of (exiled Thai PM) Thaksin Shinawatra. Just look at Thailand. Or, at Donald Trump (the US president who is also a tycoon).
“Is this the kind of new Malaysia we want?” he asked.
In an immediate response to the matters raised by Gomez, and also Yeoh, Lim said it was time to move ahead with such matters as Pakatan Harapan was now in power.
Lim, who is the deputy chairman of the newly-formed parliamentary caucus on reforms and governance, welcomed both Gomez and Yeoh to give their views to the panel.
“Let us start together and have parliamentary discussions on a proposed political financing bill.
“The caucus has just been formed. We are formulating our terms of reference and how we will operate.
“There will definitely be room for general discussions on reforms. One will be political financing and money politics. This is where we can all come in,” he said.
Lim expressed confidence that they can make some progress on institutional reforms so that they can have clean and honest politics.
“There is no doubt that there should be clean politics. We don’t want people with money to exert great influence on the political process.
“They are one part of the society, but not the most important part.”