Thursday, March 19, 2009

Money politics: Making lemonade out of lemons

MARCH 19 — There are many things which we accept as normal today that would have seemed like utter lunacy in a different age. For example, in early democracy, only landed gentlemen were allowed to vote. Women, children, peasants, serfs, immigrants, idiots, and other people the landed gentlemen disliked were not given the vote.

These days, however, we have universal suffrage, which basically means that — excepting children and convicted criminals — everyone (including idiots, liars and politicians) can vote. If the landed gentlemen of yore were to be told this, they'd be falling over in their togas, for sure.

Conversely, a few generations ago, people would happily ride motorcycles on public roads without wearing helmets. We consider that to be absolutely crazy now, especially given the higher number of cars on the road today. Okay, maybe the converse example is not so good, since we still have a lot of lunatics riding around without helmets.

The point is that time changes things, and what was good then may not be so good now… and what is evil now can be perfectly acceptable tomorrow. Consider money politics. What is it that we find so abhorrent about it, exactly?

The bleeding heart commie idealists say that it's a corrupt practice, tantamount to vote buying. They may have a point. Following through, those with a more religious bent would argue that vote buying is a sin, since bribery is considered an abomination. Politicians engaging in the practice, both on the giving and receiving ends, will go to hell. Literally, theologically, go to hell. Unless they repent before they kick the bucket, obviously.

However, we feel that there is another approach towards handling money politics — one which has the potential of eventually turning into something normal, with the added benefit of not needing to repent before you get six feet underground, in order to avoid going to hell.

In two words: Legalise it.

No, hear us out. In an editorial in this very august comic, it was noted that at a Perak Umno delegates meeting Datuk Norza Zakaria was given a rapturous applause when he was introduced, even though he's currently charged by the MACC.

Similarly, when it was made known that Datuk Seri Ali Rustam was found guilty of having dodgy agents and barred from contesting the post of deputy president, he was offered words of consolation and man hugs instead of being instantly treated like, well, a man found guilty of dishing out the dosh for votes.

We can only agree with the editorial that spreading the largesse is not so much an exception but the norm in Umno. In this matter, we posit that Umno is ahead of the curve. Way ahead.

It's said that vote buying in Umno occurs from the lowest branches to the highest level. To put it starkly, if that were true, you'd need to pay money just to get into branch elections, never mind getting into a position where you can contest the president or deputy president posts.

If such a condition is endemic and systemic within the largest political party in the country, then short of declaring the party a malignant cancer and eviscerating it forever like a smelly, rotten, pus-filled, gangrenous tumour… just legalise it.

Further, let's tax it. Those who receive monies from the candidates should be required to declare their income, of which a portion is to be paid as tax. If they're of a more religious bent, then they can have the taxable amount declared as zakat — in other words, get the mullahs to bless the moolah.

It's a good hell-aversion plan, really. The candidates, in turn, can get tax deductions up to a certain amount for use as a “war chest”. Also, they can do money-raising campaigns. Don't provide a limit to the amount they can raise, either, because they'll just start devising dodgy ways to cover up any excess money.

What we propose here is not exactly a new idea. After all, it's already normal practice in the world's most religiously conservative nation, the United States of America.

Some of us may have forgotten this, but in the race to become the Democratic candidate for President, then Senator Barack Obama consistently raised millions of dollars, outpacing the other millions of dollars raised by Sen. Hillary Clinton and other candidates.

Did anyone say that it was a stinky, immoral way of getting chosen? No, and in fact, his ability to raise money was considered one of the yardsticks for his chances of securing his party's nominations.

Okay, granted, the money he raised didn't exactly go directly into the pockets of the Democratic Convention delegates and the American electoral college system is different from Umno's style of anointed democracy. But the fact of the matter is, money was raised, spent and, more importantly, accounted for. In the hundreds of millions.

So, there you go. It's just an idea, anyway. After all, if life hands us lemons, we might as well make lemonade. Ergo, if the majority of Umno politicians engage in vote-buying practices, and we can't lock them all up because they hold all the keys to the jails, might as well just legitimise it so that the rest of us can get on with our lives without having to deal with the excrement.

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