KUALA LUMPUR, May 8 — GE14 is expected to cost Malaysia an estimated RM500 million to conduct, up from one million Malaysian dollar for the first ever polls back in 1959.

Here's a quick look by Malay Mail at the budget allocated to the Election Commission (EC) for past general elections since 1959, based on the EC's reports on each elections:

How did Malaysia get to a budget of half a billion ringgit to hold a general election, an affair usually occurring once every five years or earlier? 

The short answer is costs have gone up.


After all, even the spending limit for candidates have gone up over the years, from $5,000 (federal seat) and $2,500 (state seat) in 1959, to $10,000 and $7,500 in 1964, to $20,000 and $15,000 in 1969 respectively. It is now RM200,000 and RM100,000 for federal and state seats.

Clues for a more detailed answer can be found in the EC's own reports on each general election since 1959, which shed light on the evolving manner in which elections are conducted and also the growing needs:

1. Boom in registered voters


In the 1959 polls, the first elections to be held after Malaya's independence and the first to be conducted under EC's supervision, there were only over 2.17 million voters registered for elections.

As the number of voters in the country grew, the number of parliamentary seats and state seats contested have also continued to increase — from 104 federal seats in 1959 to 222 federal seats from 2008 onwards.

Election 2013 saw a historic growth spurt of over 2.34 million voters which resulted in an electoral roll of over 13.26 million registered voters. For Election 2018, there are 14.94 million registered voters.

2. Polling centres

The number of polling centres typically increase when the number of seats increases (such as in Elections 1999, 2004, and 2008 due to redelineation exercises). The number of seats contested can also grow due to reforms by the EC.

In the 1990 elections, the EC introduced a new system meant to simplify vote-counting, where each polling station was given a limit of 700 voters and resulted in a requirement for more polling centres.

"The additional polling stations indirectly resulted in an increase of election staff and equipment. At the same time, allowance for the polling staff was reviewed and raised due to the additional workload," the EC said in its report on Election 1990, noting that the new system was a "big success" as results were able to be known much earlier.

From 1,513 and 3,229 polling districts in 1959 and 1964, the number of polling stations has gone up steadily from 6,060 polling stations in 1978 to 7,059 polling centres in 1995.

For 2013, there were 8,253 polling centres and 26,244 polling streams. And for this week's elections, there will be 8,989 polling centres and 28,995 polling streams.

3. Transport

Reaching the more remote areas of Malaysia to allow citizens to vote has always been a challenge, with the EC recording that mobile polling teams had to travel "safari style" between one to four weeks back in 1969.

Mobile polling teams typically travel from the farthest constituency back to the nearest constituency.

The petrol price was a factor for the increase in Election 1995 costs.

From 1999 onwards, the EC limited the polling period in Sabah and Sarawak to one day only, leading to cost increases due to rental of helicopters, four-wheel drives and boats.

In Election 2004, transport costs increased as a larger number of helicopters were deployed in Sabah and Sarawak as polling day was limited to just one day nationwide, unlike previously where it took days or even weeks.

The increased cost of renting vehicles, boats and dugouts was also a factor in 2004, with this continuing on to both 2008 and 2013 where the cost of renting helicopters, four-wheel drives and boats was a factor in higher spending.

It's hard to pin down the exact figures as expenditure breakdowns were not always included in the EC reports, but Elections 1995 involved RM 5,218,914.63 for transport, rental and communication services and RM3,547,270.26 for travelling and other related allowances.

Elections 1999 meanwhile involved RM90,500 for transportation of materials, RM1.164 million for communication and utility, RM4,472,113 for travel and daily expenses and allowances.

For Elections 2013, the July 17, 2013 Hansard showed that the RM60 million for early preparation works in 2012 included RM23,237,351 for workers' transport claims and air warrants, RM120,000 transportation costs, RM63,200 for petrol and diesel.

A June 2013 parliamentary reply showed that the one-off RM400 million for Election 2013 included RM98.465 million on rental for transportation, ICT equipment, rental for telephone, fax and others.

4. Election workers

While the EC has its own permanent staff, the massive feat of ensuring elections run smoothly requires lots of manpower that are appointed just for that purpose.

The number of election officials and the payment they receive for their services have been increasing over the years.

In Election 1964, the 35,774 election workers appointed for that year's election received an honorarium for their services, namely 104 returning officers ($250), 487 assistant returning officers ($100), 5,003 presiding officers ($45), 24,466 polling clerks ($25) and 5,714 counting clerks ($515).

In 1995, election workers were paid RM9,218,914.63 worth of allowance and overtime allowances of RM681,880.93.

Over the years, the allowance paid to election workers had been revised upwards, such as a hike by 70 per cent to 100 per cent in 2004, and also an increase in the allowance and emolument rate for election officials in 2013.

In Election 2013, EC staff were paid RM450,000 in overtime allowances out of the RM60 million sum, while the additional one-off RM400 million allocation were used partly for service payment and souvenirs to all election workers (RM204.1 million) and for overtime allowances (RM5.081 million).

In GE14, there are 259,391 election workers conducting the election process.

5. Election equipment

In the general elections held in 1974, 1978 and 1982, the EC noted that prices for polling equipment went up and contributed to an overall increase in cost.

In the 12th general election in 2008, the EC's allocated budget went up by RM72 million over the previous polls, due to reasons such as the acquisition of 50,000 transparent ballot boxes to replace the old versions and to be used for the first time in the country.

The EC also acquired 29,000 new perforators to replace the old metal perforators, which were used since the 1955 federal elections but were found to be no longer suitable and written off.

In Election 2013, RM15,748,784 was spent on election equipment (including ballot boxes, election workers' t-shirts and caps, stationery).

An EC official carries the ballot papers. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
An EC official carries the ballot papers. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

6. Ballot papers

From printing seven million ballot papers in the 1974 elections to over 10 million ballot papers each in the next two GEs in 1978 and 1982, the number went up to 15 million and 18 million ballot papers for the subsequent two general elections in 1986 and 1990.

The number of ballot papers was slightly lower in 1995 at over 15.79 million as there were no state elections for Sabah and Sarawak that year.

To get a rough idea of how much it costs to print millions of ballot papers, we take a look at Election 1995 where over RM11.42 million of the over RM42 million budget was used for the "printing of ballot papers and election documents". The steep increase in printing costs was cited as one of the reasons for the doubling in election costs in 1995 as compared to the previous GE.

In Election 2004, 10.3 million and nine million ballot papers were printed respectively for the federal polls and state elections except for Sarawak. This then grew to 11 million and 10.5 million in 2008 for federal and state elections, and then to 13.3 million and 11.4 million in 2013 for the same.

The bottles of indelible ink used in Malaysia's general elections cost millions of ringgit. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
The bottles of indelible ink used in Malaysia's general elections cost millions of ringgit. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

7. Indelible ink

In another move to improve the transparency of general elections and as lobbied for by polls reform group Bersih 2.0, the EC introduced the use of indelible ink for the first time in Election 2013 to mark the fingers of those who had already cast their votes for the day.

A parliamentary reply showed that RM6.9 million were used on 216,600 bottles of indelible ink in 2013 along with RM200,000 in additional costs to transport, pack and store the ink; while the reported 48,000 bottles of indelible ink bought for RM2.4 million for the 2004 elections were not used and were later incinerated.

Recent news reports from India said the EC had ordered 100,000 bottles of indelible ink worth RM4.8 million for GE14. There was no confirmation from the EC on the report.

But in short, running a general election where Malaysians can exercise their rights to vote does not come cheap — all the more reason for Malaysians to not waste it and head to the ballot box tomorrow.