AUGUST 11 — So, the chairman of our elections says it costs RM1 billion or RM1,000 million to manage the upcoming polls. A nation looks up, like any novice vehicle owner at a workshop waiting for his bill, how to tell?

Firstly, elections do cost money. There’s no way around.

However, the problem is the Election Commission’s (EC) opaque operations. The current EC Chairman Abdul Ghani Salleh is of the same ilk as his predecessors.

Elections champion oversight, transparency and fairness. Yet in Malaysia, the people entrusted to achieve those noble goals themselves are no fans of oversight, transparency and fairness.

They prefer to be left alone as much as possible and expect the Malaysian people to trust the outcomes regardless how little they communicate, clarify and allow access. It befuddles.

In such circumstances, how not to question when costs balloon 100 per cent in four years?

As long as the EC remains aloof, the trust deficit grows. Heading into a highly contentious general election which will likely yield a too close to call situation, not to engender complete faith in the 222 parliamentary races among Malaysians is a recipe for disaster. The warning is duly served.

Too much? Compare same fruit India spent RM30 billion in 2019 and the Philippines RM3 billion in last May’s elections.

They dwarf Malaysia’s single billion ringgit.

However, closer scrutiny reveals more. India is 10 times larger than Malaysia — 3.29 million km² to our 329,000 km² — with 900 million voters, or 43 times our 21 million voters.

There is the other key consideration, India’s election law on polling booth proximity to voter dwelling — not more than two kilometres apart.

Translates to? Airlift election staff to Ladakh in the Himalayas before they trek a day with oxygen cylinders to reach voters. Equally arduous the airy heights of Tashigang next to Bhutan, at 4,650m is 600m short of Mount Everest Base Camp. The polling station serves 47 voters. Then they test their nerves to cross swamps to the nine voters in remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Elections champion oversight, transparency and fairness. Yet in Malaysia, the people entrusted to achieve those noble goals themselves are no fans of oversight, transparency and fairness. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Elections champion oversight, transparency and fairness. Yet in Malaysia, the people entrusted to achieve those noble goals themselves are no fans of oversight, transparency and fairness. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

How about over here? Our EC is more concerned with the helicopters to bring the votes cast at polling stations to a central administrative spot rather than enabling all voters easy access to polling booths wherever they live. It’s the Dayaks fault not to make it to the ballot box by noon rather than placing the box close to him. Don’t blame the river crocodiles, says our EC.

The Filipinos have three times our budget and also more than three times our voting population with 65 million. More telling, they have 6,000 islands from Luzon to Mindanao, and even a few with our adroit Sulus.

It is clear as daylight EC wants to tick the minimum number of boxes to qualify as a functional platform rather than to reach any rarefied airs of a modern democracy.

Does EC try to improve?

This column constantly presses on our electoral system’s processes and efficacy.

The EC chairman is silent on overseas voters and never forwards progressive solutions. The EC differentiates the voters it prefers and those it does not. Evidenced by the longstanding distance voters’ system for electoral workers, police, military and their spouses. And the absence of a working system for hundreds of thousands of Malaysians abroad.

It is not lost on all that it fought Undi18 tooth and nail until the Act was served cold to the commission by the highest court.

Does EC have a migration plan to electronic voting machines — Philippines and India have them? How about voting reform, countenance proportional or preferential voting over the archaic and abusive First Past The Post (FPTP)? Has it organised forums or White Papers to navigate this Brave New World at all? The true picture is worrying.

It set its mind to be the immovable object out to protect its traditional friends.

But it is difficult to say those friends are independent minded and unaffiliated Malaysian voters.

Why the alarm?

The EC and all those in power for the last 65 years claim cost as a reason to limit the number of elections, not the least local council elections.

Obviously, they leave out the — damning — information that fewer elections benefit incalculably incumbents and delay reforms inside the EC.

From the people’s perspective, the lack of democracy leads quickly to less oversight, transparency and fairness, and also compounds ongoing shenanigans. Recent disclosures underline those in power act with brazen disregard under the impression they will not be called to answer.

One of the tools to force an answer is elections. It’s probably the people’s best and only tool in developing nations.

Without information on how the RM1 billion — this column suspects the final amount would be far higher — is spent, accurate questions cannot be raised.

How much for setting up polling stations inside localities no matter how secluded, and how much for those expensive helicopter rides for VIPs? How much for the rental of governmental structures — schools and council halls — which should be free, and how much of it goes to individuals and not the said management of those structures? Malaysia needs more elections not fewer, and how much is spent must come with how those numbers are tallied. Non-Malaysian readers might find it superfluous to insist on the obvious, but in the Federation of Malaysia the obvious is not so obvious to those with power.

Robbie Williams on a motorbike

India’s PM Narendra Modi is from Gujarat. In one part of the state’s forests, every election cycle for decades, they set up a polling booth with five personnel to help one Mahant Bharatdas Bapu vote — if he decides to. All part of conforming to the 2km travel maximum for each potential voter. He lives in a lion sanctuary.

Elections are miracles.

It took an outstanding number of millennia for our species to decide power by measurement of public will.

Before that some plotted to gain more at the expense of others with the certainty power matters most, certainly more than the correctness of means to power.

Elections — when done right — underline how much reason overwhelms might. Elections overseers — a relatively new breed who measure that will — are democracy’s angels.

Bharatdas Bapu died in late 2019. They do not have to set up a polling booth any more for him. Did he in his final moments sensing death mistook any angels heading his way as polling officers? And if he did, did he vote?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.