Political financing law should address money politics in party polls, says academic

Terence Gomez says money politics can destabilise and deeply fracture political parties.

KUALA LUMPUR: An academic has cast doubt on the government’s proposed law on political funding addressing “loopholes” related to internal party elections and the use of government-linked companies (GLCs) for political financing.

Speaking at a forum on political funding, Universiti Malaya professor Terence Gomez spoke on money politics in internal party elections, which he said appeared after 1981 when Dr Mahathir Mohamad first came to power.

He alleged that subsequent Umno elections, and even the most recent PKR party elections involved money politics.

Gomez, an expert in corporate Malaysia, added that money politics could destabilise and deeply fracture political parties and that this was not good, especially in the case of governing parties.

“My question is this: What will be in the new law to check this? It is not that those who are tasked with conceiving this law are unaware, they should be aware,“ he said at the “Political Funding in Malaysia: The European Experience“ forum organised by Transparency International Malaysia.

If money politics was not addressed at the party stage, Gomez said, it could seep into the national arena as was evident in the 13th general election.

Another loophole, he said, was the opaque nature of GLCs which he described as centres of political finance.

Citing the example of 1MDB, Gomez said when it was revealed that RM2.6 billion had entered the personal account of then former prime minister Najib Razak, the argument was that it was a foreign donation.

“There is nothing illegal with money going into the PM’s account, the law is silent on this, there is nothing illegal in foreign funding, the law is also silent on this.

“Are we doing anything to check that GLCs like 1MDB are not being abused for the financing of politics? We are not. We do not even know what is going on in the world of GLCs because they are so opaque.“

He said he doubted these issues would be tackled in the proposed law, but he hoped to be proven wrong.

Election Commission chairman Azhar Harun, who was also at the forum, said admittedly, there was no proposal yet to regulate internal party elections.

But, he said the Election Reforms Committee was studying a proposal which would require political parties to be registered under the EC or a new independent body, compared with the current practice where they were registered under the Registrar of Societies.

“If there is a push for political parties to be registered under the EC like in the United Kingdom and come within the purview of the EC, and the EC is given the power to punish, fine and discipline the parties then, internal party elections will come within that proposal.“

He said it was good for internal party elections to be regulated as vote buying and political patronage started there and the current anti-corruption laws were not equipped to deal with this.

Meanwhile, Transparency International Malaysia president Akhbar Satar said a political financing law was crucial in reducing corruption.

It was previously reported that the Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption Centre was tasked with drafting the new law on political financing.