Tag Archives: money politics

Undercover Reporting: Vote-buying caught on video

During a by-election held in April 2011 for the Malaysian parliamentary constituency of Batu Sapi in Sabah state, I went undercover to report on vote buying by the ruling coalition, and caught the illegal act on video.

It was an impromptu incident.  While covering an opposition campaign event in the town, I was chatting with a local resident who told me he just came over from another campaign activity organized by the ruling coalition where attendants were given cash money. I went to the venue and pretended to be a local voter, and, cha-ching! I received RM20 (US$6) from the campaigners and the best part was, I secretly recorded the process with my mobile phone.

After making sure I have collected all the necessary evidence, I revealed my identity and confronted a federal minister who was in-charge of that activity. She was surprised while her supporters became panic and started to surround me, threatening to do “naughty” things. I recorded the conversation between me and the conversation and left the scene before it turned ugly.

Unrelated to this incident, the minister, who was the top leader of the women wing of the largest ruling party, resigned from the government in 2012 after her family was accused of misusing public fund in the ‘Cowgate‘ scandal.

The original story was published here (paywall).


RM20 for workers… or voters?

4:21PM Apr 9, 2011

By Kuek Ser Kuang Keng

At an Umno Wanita community dinner function in Batu Sapi last night, RM20 was distributed to individuals who had registered their particulars with the organisers.

batu sapi bn vote buying photo 6 bn functionThis was video-recorded by Malaysiakini after receiving a tip-off from locals in the area that money was changing hands at a 40-table dinner function in SMK Agama Sandakan located in Taman Mawar, Batu Sapi.

Majlis Ramah Mesra, which was hosted by Wanita chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, was packed with BN supporters clad in party colours of blue, red and white sporting the familiar scale symbol and the Umno logo.

batu sapi bn vote buying photo 1Just before the event kicked off, however, individuals had queued up at a registration table to have their names, contact details and party affiliations recorded before getting ‘redeemed’ RM20 in cash.

Though the stage backdrop at the dinner stated that it was organised for members of Wanita Umno machinery, many of those in attendence were middle-aged Chinese men and women.

When asked as to why those queuing were in line, those interviewed – including one ‘aunty’ who said she is a voter – said they wanted to “collect money”.

“It is for voters. You need just to show your MyKad to prove that you are a voter in order to get the money,” said the lady.

‘Remember to vote for BN’

batu sapi bn vote buying photo 7 lining upIt was observed that many of those who had queued at the registration table left right after collecting the cash while those clad in BN uniforms found themselves seats at the table.

Some said they were being reimbursed for their “transportation expenses”. They declined, however, to say how much they were given each.

After recording his details at the table, even a Malaysiakinijournalist received RM20 without being questioned or even producing his MyKad. He was informed at the registration desk that everyone was given the same amount.

“Remember to vote for BN!” said one woman who was near the registration table to the journalist.

‘Don’t be naughty. They’re not voters’

When approached, Umno Wanita chief Shahrizat claimed that the RM20 was given as allowance for party campaigners.

batu sapi bn vote buying photo 3 giving moneyShahrizat, who was accompanied by Karambunai state assemblyperson Jainab Ahmad Ayid, told Malaysiakinithat she was unaware of the registration table, but later said that it was probably set up just to record the attendance of those at the function.

“I don’t know about that. I think this one must be for the registration,” she said.

Asked about the cash that was given away, Jainab interrupted and said curtly that the money was meant for “transportation”.

Below is a short transcript of the conversation, edited for clarity:

NONEShahrizat (left): Because these are jentera (party machinery). They are not the voters. They are from all over (the place).

Jainab: (Yes, they are) machinery… so we give them transportation (allowance).

Shahrizat: I know they from Kota Kinabalu, Kalabakan (and) all over. Tonight I (am) meeting (them), as you can see [pointing at the stage backdrop], (this function is for) the machinery. They are the ones going down (campaigning).

Shahrizat: I must make this clear (that) this is not vote-buying… You are (from) Malaysiakini? Please don’t do that to us because these women they come from all over Sabah.

They are the jentera. This is not… I didn’t even know about that.

Jainab: We are not voters. For your information, none of us are voters. We are here to work. So this is our machinery (and the money is) for transportation, that’s all!

Shahrizat: Don’t you naughty… if you say something like that we’ll do something like that also!

Rural vote under grip of money, intimidation

This analysis/investigative report was produced during the 2011 state election of Sarawak, the largest state in Malaysia that has been governed by the same chief minister for 33 years (1981-2014). Abdul Taib Mahmud, 77, often described by his critics as the “richest man in Malaysia”, stepped down in February 2014 as the chief minister and assumed the position of Head of State (the ruler in a constitutional monarchy), continuing to assert his influence over the state.  His family business empire controls over 400 companies in every sector in Malaysia and holds overseas assets more than US$250 million in four countries. The 2011 state election saw a historic breakthrough by the opposition, winning 15 out of 71 seats in the state legislative assembly. The opposition (PKR, DAP and PAS) made significant inroads in urban constituencies but rural areas remained a stronghold of the ruling  coalition (BN) mainly due to extensive money politics and political intimidation.

I was stationed in several rural constituencies for almost one month to cover the campaign and investigate the degree and impacts of vote buying and political patronage culture.

The original story was published here (paywall).

Rural vote under grip of money, intimidation

5:05PM Oct 31, 2010

By Kuek Ser Kuang Keng

While DAP ceramah in urban centres are magnets for thousands, indicating a possible clean sweep of all seats there, in contrast, the PKR campaigners in rural constituencies are struggling hard to turn traditional BN supporters against the politics of development, money and fear.

Pervasive poverty has made rural voters very vulnerable to financial enticement compared to the urbanite. Most families in the interior earn between RM100 to RM500 per month and a significant number of longhouses and villages are still without treated water and power supply.

The opposition often complains that their hard work in the constituency is destroyed by BN’s last-minute ‘money assault’.

NONEA ‘kapitan’ – an official Chinese community leader appointed by the state government who declined to be named for fear of reprisal by the authorities – explained in detail to Malaysiakinion the working of money politics in the interior.

“For instance, the BN candidate here had promised to give RM500 to every family in exchange for their support. We (kapitan) will pass the word to every family that we oversee,” he said when met recently at his house.

“If the candidate does not fulfil the promise, I afraid the voters will not vote for him. In the last few days, they’ve been asking me about the money,” he added.

“For white areas (BN strongholds), the money may be handed out before polling day. However, for black areas (where BN lost in last election), the money may be withheld until after polling day to make sure they vote for the BN.”

Where cash is king

He also revealed that the diaspora which returns to vote can claim RM60 transportation fee from the BN, distributed by the kapitan.

Money politics peaks on the night before polling day, he said, when all in Iban longhouses stay up throughout the night waiting for BN’s last-minute cash handouts.

“BN will send its agent to visit pintu by pintu (individual lots in a longhouse) to distribute cash, ranging from RM50 to RM300.

“Last time when I was campaigning for BN candidate, we had to travel from one longhouse to another from midnight until dawn, distributing the money,” he added.

ulu niah 5 iban longhouse sarawak 011007 welcomesMalaysiakini also witnessed a BN candidate handing out cash when greeting Iban folks in the longhouse during his nightly campaign. He passed the cash when shaking hands with them.

Although the opposition has called on voters “take the BN’s money but vote for the opposition”, which had been proven effective in the peninsula, it does not seem to work with the Iban cultural and traditional emphasis on gratitude and appreciation.

“When they receive money from you, they feel that they owe you something so they will repay your kindness the next day (polling day),” said an Iban PKR campaigner when met at Engkilili, an Iban-majority rural seat contested by the party.

The more financially well-off candidates would fully exploit this characteristic by throwing parties and dishing out free meals in the longhouses, coupled with crates of beers, which is an all-time favourite drink of the Ibans.

Minds boxed in by superstition

There had also been cases of those distributing the cash asking their recipients to swear loyalty to the BN, some even made to drink water said to be cursed.

“This is a psychological tactic to intimidate voters. They will vote for the person who gave money because the fear of tulah(curse),” claimed another PKR campaign coordinator in Saribas.

NONEThe situation is compounded by the shallow political awareness among the people. Most of the time they think that the funds given by BN MP or assemblyperson under the minor rural projects (MRP) allocation is from the latter’s own pocket.

MRP is the state government’s annual allocation for every Sarawak BN representative of over RM1 million. The representatives then distribute funds in the form of cheques to the development and security committees (JKKK) of longhouses and villages, and other local associations.

Similar to the political patronage culture in the peninsula, rural voters here often openly ask for funds when their representative calls on them.

When Malaysiakini followed the campaign of BN’s Lubuk Antu MP William Nyalau Badak to a longhouse at Mepi Pasir in his constituency where the chairperson of the JKKK’s women bureau went on stage to ask for RM5,000, which William gracefully promised in his speech later.

Largesse distribution, opposition poor second

Not only BN candidates, their opposition counterparts are also said to be giving cash handouts to voters during their campaign, but the amount, of course, cannot match their wealthier rival.

Apart from money, development politics and a surveillance network are important elements for the regime to maintain its rural region hegemony.

Unlike peninsular politics where politicians avoid offending the voters, Sarawak government leaders often hold them to ransom by threatening to withhold development allocations should they lose support.

“Let’s say, if a seat falls to the opposition but the state and country are still under the BN, what’s going to happen? How would the constituents go to the government and ask for something?” said Tasik Biru incumbent and assistant minister of environment Peter Nansian Ngusie, according to a report inBorneo Post last week.

NONE“Not that we would not take care of the people but those who vote for the government would be given higher priority. That’s just being practical,” he said, adding that the people who vote for the opposition should look to them for help.

Supp deputy secretary-general Wong Soon Koh (above) who is also the second finance minister and Minister of Environment and Public Health concurred.

Fear very effective control tool

The Bawang Assan candidate had openly sounded the warning that Sibu voters would lose their only minister and be denied development allocations should the seat fall to the opposition.

At the lower level, voters were told of horror stories of children being expelled from schools, civil servants sacked, villagers deprived of fertiliser and other government assistance, to the collapse of government, should they vote for the opposition.

NONEHence it is not surprising that opposition candidates, such as Abang Zulkilfi Abang Engkeh from the PKR, who contested the marginal seat of Saribas, has to repeatedly tell the villagers during ceramah that three of his children were able to enrol into public universities despite his active involvement in the opposition.

The atmosphere of political fear and intimidation is ratcheted further by the extensive network of community leaders appointed by the state government to serve as its eyes, ears and guards.

At the divisional level, a community leader from each ethnic – Malay, Chinese and Iban – is appointed as temenggung, the paramount leader of that particular ethnic community.

This is followed by the appointment of ‘pemancar’ at the district level and ‘penghulu’, ‘kapitan’, ‘ketua kampung’ and ‘tuai rumah’ at the lower level.

A community is overseen by a ‘tuai rumah’ can be as small as 20-lot longhouse.

Public funds’ role propping up

These key posts are recommended by BN elected representatives and appointed by the government for a four-year term with a monthly allowance of RM450, raised to RM800 earlier this year.

“If we find out that certain areas did not vote for BN, the ‘kapitan’ overseeing that area would warn the people there that their government assistance could be terminated. The same goes to longhouses,” said the kapitan interviewed by Malaysiakini.

NONEPeople in the interior are mostly involved in agriculture, relying heavily on government agency’s aid which includes the provision of fertiliser, seedling and herbicide.

Tuai rumah were alsotold by BN leadersthat they have the right to chase away opposition from campaigning in their areas. However, not many are willing to do so because of the Iban’s inherent friendly nature.

“If the kapitan or tuai rumah are found supporting the opposition, they would be sacked,” he added.

So, it is extremely difficult for opposition to secure victory in the interior under such circumstances unless other existing factors could overcome these hurdles, including the selection of unpopular candidate at Linggan and Pelagus, and pressing local issues such as the impact from the construction of dams in Bengoh and Belaga.