When cash is king, Harapan can’t afford to be cheap

By Francis Paul Siah

COMMENT | Those of us who have been candidates during elections would know how tough staging a run is, especially if you are on an opposition ticket.

Let’s face reality. The biggest obstacle facing opposition candidates is the lack of resources to fund the campaign. When you run out of money in the midst of the campaign, you know that you are doomed.

In an electoral campaign, you cannot depend on luck to win. You have to work, work and work, and ensure that your hardcore supporters and volunteers stay just as focused as you. You cannot afford to slip here as your support base is vital to carry you through.

On top of that, you must have the necessary funds to last the pace. This is where opposition candidates lose out to their BN opponents.

In the 13th general election, one new opposition party in Sarawak fielded six candidates. Their objective was to take on six opponents from a BN party following reports of internal party strife.

I was reliably informed that each candidate was given RM300,000 to mount campaigns and fight for six rural seats.

The results: All six of them were defeated, with three losing their deposits. One immediately announced his retirement from politics after the polls. The president of the new party also resigned.

Now, assuming that each of them really spent RM300,000 – which is a lot of money – and lost, imagine what their BN opponents had to dish out to win.

Who cares about the stipulation in the Election Offences Act 1954 that limits expenditure to RM200,000 for a candidate contesting a parliamentary seat, and RM100,000 for a state seat? I doubt anyone worries about that.

After an election, the candidate is required to file his or her election returns to the Election Commission, failing which he or she would be barred from contesting again.

Seriously, many of us would be curious about the election returns filed by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak after his numerous victories in Pekan, or even Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s returns from his electoral wins in Kubang Pasu in the past.

I, for one, would love to have a peek at their returns and see how much they had actually spent as candidates. But they would have filed their election expenses well below the amount stipulated in the Act. All candidates do the same. I should know.

Talking about election funds, let me get to my point.

Last week, a dear friend of mine, who is also the election director for a Pakatan Harapan party in Sarawak, told me that he has been travelling throughout the state, auditing his party’s seats.

In a WhatsApp message, he said he was in Mukah and had covered Miri, Limbang, Lawas, Baram and Sibuti.

I responded: “Just concentrate on Baram and defend Miri. Saratok and Mas Gading worth gunning for. If national Harapan does not provide a reasonable war chest for Sarawak, then forget it. Tired of the same old story – lack of funds.”

I was merely stating a fact. How many opposition candidates lost in the past because they lacked the resources to sustain their campaigns?

No financial help

In GE13, a candidate who lost by a mere 300-vote majority told me that if only he had another RM20,000 at his disposal, he would have won.

In GE12, a doctor and a known oppositionist who was defeated by just 600 votes, complained that he received no financial help from his party.

He could have pulled through, he claimed, had he received some assistance from the party. He related how he had exhausted his personal funds three days before polling and was left to fend for himself. Unsurprisingly, he chose not to contest again.

I’m sure many opposition candidates elsewhere are able to relate similar experiences.

So, my point is this. If the well-to-do Pakatan Harapan leaders are not prepared to sacrifice a part of their fortune to help their candidates, then forget about winning GE14.

This is no longer Pakatan Rakyat. This is now Pakatan Harapan, with several former Umno bigwigs, who went through the good times when they were with the government.

Real talk: Don’t tell me they have no money. If they are stingy and unprepared to fork out at least a portion of their wealth for the opposition coalition in GE14, they can kiss the election goodbye.

This is Najib’s “do-or-die” election and he must win at all costs. His rumoured war chest for GE14 ranges from RM3 billion to RM5 billion, or even more. For a desperate prime minister, we have to believe that the sky is the limit.

Mahathir himself has repeatedly said that Najib believes that “cash is king.” Since that is the case, what must Harapan do?

Again, in layperson lingo – be stingy, act miserly and forget about promising the rakyat any “harapan” (hope). Without money, it’s impossible to fight an election.

DAP will probably need less in Chinese-majority seats, but Bersatu, PKR and Amanah surely need a lot more to sustain their campaigns in mixed and rural Malay-based seats.

As I write this, Harapan is launching its election manifesto for GE14. To be honest, I have had enough of manifestos. What is the use of a manifesto if the coalition is defeated? A manifesto is only valid in victory.

Win GE14 first, worry about fulfilling promises later.

FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at sirsiah@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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