— For Tamil schools to improve, educators need to work on a “blueprint” for the entire system, Datuk Seri Najib Razak said today.
“I propose Tamil school educators to organise a seminar and produce a ‘blueprint’ that will be used to develop Tamil schools in the country,” the prime minister said in a speech after meeting with the community today.
He said such an overhaul was necessary for Tamil schools to be more forward and provide competitive and excellent education.
The cat is finally out of the bag. A senior former Umno minister admitted that his party bought votes during elections.
The Angkatan Amanah Merdeka (Amanah) deputy president and former tourism minister Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir said it was “common knowledge” that such corrupt practices occurred, especially among his Barisan Nasional (BN) colleagues.
And now, Kadir is calling on the BN government to do away with vote buying during elections, a practice he admitted has happened in the past.
“Amanah has asked that there should be no ‘distribution of cash’ to buy votes. It is now common knowledge that two, three, days before voting day, some political parties go about with cash (to bribe voters),” he told FMT.
Kadir said it was an Amanah consensus that all government parties should be strictly prohibited from such practices to ensure free and fair elections.
Asked if he was pointing to political parties from both sides of the political divide, he plainly said: “No, basically we’re talking about the government parties.
“Opposition parties mana ada duit (where do they have the money?) I can say that a lot of BN members are perpetuating such acts.”
On electoral reforms, Kadir said that Amanah fully supports the call for a “care-taker” government to take over the administration of the country at least three months before the dissolution of Parliament.
“This is so all government agencies will be neutralised at this point. When election comes, government machinery cannot be used to support the ruling coalition. Government funds for election should not and cannot be used,” he said.
Kadir also said that it was “obvious” that the opposition had very limited access to the media.
“We (Amanah members) have agreed; it is so obvious that the opposition has no access to the mainstream media, that is not fair. We must ensure that there is fair access,” he said.
Kadir also said that the delineation of constituencies has to be properly discussed so that it would be “very fair” to all parties, and that should be the next priority.
He said that Amanah, the new NGO led by Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, was fully committed to “returning the country to the rakyat”.
“When we achieved Merdeka, it was the rakyat who got the independence, not Tunku (Abdul Rahman), not even the Sultans. Therefore free and fair elections, which were there during the time of our founding fathers, should be returned.
“The spirit of our founding fathers and the rakyat’s rights have been hijacked along the way,” he said.
He reiterated Amanah’s stand that the Parliamentary Select Committee for electoral reforms should revamp the system before election is called as there is “ample” time before the government mandate expires in 2013.
Khairy wants proof
Meanwhile, when asked to comment on Kadir’s statement on vote buying, BN Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said it was insufficient for Kadir to claim vote buying exists without furnishing proof.
“If he makes such accusations, he has to come up with proof. He has been a minister for a very long time, a very senior politician; he should furnish us with proof,” said Khairy, who supported call for the general election to be called after PSC has come up with recommendations.
Kadir, when asked if he would furnish proof of existence of vote buying, said he would not respond immediately as there was ample time to do so.
Meanwhile, Bersih 2.0 steering committee member Wong Ching Huat commended Kadir’s admittance and called for Amanah to take it one step further by pushing for investigations on “un-investigated” cases of vote buying.
“I welcome his honesty. I hope that people who know about this, people who are formally involved, would come out as star witnesses,” said Wong.
He said law enforcement needs to take place, and urges Amanah to also stand up and put pressure on several “unsolved” cases, citing Sarawak as an example.
On having a “care-taker” government, Wong said that a “neutral” caretaker government would be possible, but might be quite hard to implement.
However, he suggested that the more feasible, and realistic, execution of such an idea is to extend the campaign period and to prohibit any promise or spending of monies in areas where election is held.
“The government should not announce any distribution of funds unless for emergency purposes. And if any, then all political parties should share the limelight; that would be fair. And this would kill off a lot of abuses,” said Wong.
He added that Bersih 2.0 believes in the need to have an Administrative Neutrality Act, where a clear line would be drawn to criminalise any conscious and deliberate effort to abuse state resources for partisan gain.
“For example, if you allow usage of a community hall to one party, and decline usage to another party without any justifiable reasons, then you can be punished,” he said.
Almost immediately after the hullaballoo ended at 5 pm on Monday, the major political parties activated their war rooms. It is here the Machiavellians plot their 24-hour revolution through black money, white lies and grey areas. Their foot soldiers would soon fan out, wielding such weapons of mass deception as wads of currency, glib talk and gallons of chemicals to put makers of the indelible ink to shame and show the middle finger to democracy.
In many parts of the Dravidian land, newspaper readers anxiously open page-three without a glance at page-one. For, tucked away there would be crisp currency note from which the Father of the Nation smiles a tired smile. Some others open their doors before the milkman comes, and find dhotis and saris that had mysteriously materialised overnight. The only signs of the midsummer Santa Claus would be on the borders of the fabric that depict rising suns or a pair of leaves.
The election commission has so far seized Rs 33 crore from people who were ostensibly out to distribute them for votes. Among those arrested for cash distribution was former telecom minister A Raja’s elder brother A Kaliaperumal. Chief minister M Karunanidhi compared the EC’s crackdown to the Emergency; many ‘traders’ went to courts saying the commission was harassing them while they were just transporting money for their livelihood. The courts said such people could get back their money by producing proof that they were being taken on genuine business. None has claimed back his ‘trade’ money yet.
Vote DMK, you get:
a) A concrete house worth Rs.1,00,000.
(b) Grant to women folk of a sum of Rs.5,000-Rs.10,000 through women self help groups.
(c) Free mixies or grinder.
(d) Laptop worth around Rs.20,000 or more for students.
(e) Free bus travel to senior citizens worth around Rs.2,000 per month at current rates.
(f) 35 kg of rice worth around Rs.175.
(g) PMK’s promise of direct cash transfer of around Rs.1,500 – which approximately totals over Rs.200,000 over the next five years per family.
Vote AIADMK, you get:
(a) For the student community, free laptops and cash assistance of Rs.1,000-Rs.5,000 to students up to Class 12 of all schools.
(b) For women voters, a free fan, grinder and mixie.
(c) Increased maternity leave of 6 months and a cash allowance of Rs.12,000.
(d) Loan assistance for self-help groups to Rs.10 lakh, of which Rs.250,000 will be a subsidy.
(e) Half a sovereign gold for ‘mangalsutra’ for poor women getting married.
(f) Marriage assistance for poor woman will be increased to Rs.50,000.
(g) Also promised 20 kg free rice monthly and 20 litres of water daily for BPL people.
(h) For those who do not own land, free allotment of three cents land.
(i) For the fishing community, Rs.2000 during non-fishing season.
(j) For senior citizens, free bus passes for inter and intra-state travel.
(k) For the differently abled persons, 3 percent reservation in government jobs.
(l) Distribution of 60,000 milch cows free in 6,000 villages to increase milk production.
(m) For BPL families, she has promised four free goats.
(n) Monthly assistance for senior citizens, destitute women and others is Rs.1,000
Political parties have not just relied on the quality of their candidates in this election
Election results in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu are expected to be announced on Friday, but observers fear voters may have been swayed, not by the strength of the economic and political policies of major parties, but by promises of freebies and giveaways.
Ramya Mani’s home is a small, dark space. There are only two items that catch the eye, one on each side of the rectangular abode: a gleaming gas stove and a tiny television.
Both are thank-you gifts from the incumbent DMK party, unmissable, unforgettable tokens of appreciation for being a faithful voter.
Ramya, along with tens of millions of people in Tamil Nadu, has been thanked by the DMK party in this way for the past five years.
The practice of pledging gifts for votes in this southern state began in 2006.
Experts say more than 15 million televisions have been handed out by the DMK Party since 2006
In a last-ditch attempt to salvage an all-but lost election the DMK Party – then in opposition – promised to give voters free television sets if elected.
And much to the surprise of their political opponents and fierce critics of the scheme, the DMK won.
So successful did other major political parties perceive the strategy to be, that this time round they too built freebies into their campaign manifestos.
From blenders, ceiling fans and washing machines to gold, home loans and cattle, a whole host of consumer goods were offered to voters in return for their support at the ballot box.
Television commercials even showed leaders of major parties handing out gifts and happy voters walking away with bags of grains, gold and laptops.
Voters admit the giveaways have been quirky and enticing.
Political parties painted freebie pledges and lists of items of offer in villages like Nazarath Peth, an hour from the state capital, Chennai.
Those the BBC spoke to in and around the state capital Chennai said that parties had made attractive offers.
However most people were quick to add that they would have voted for their chosen candidates even if there were no material gains to be had.
Observers of this assembly election are more skeptical. They argue that the freebie-frenzy sidelined debate on issues of state-wide significance such as rolling power cuts, price rises and law and order.
S. Subramaniam Balaji, a Chennai-based lawyer who has taken his case against the DMK’s TV-for-vote scheme to the Supreme Court of India, says that the superficial focus on gift-giving was disappointing.
But he adds what is of deeper concern is the potentially wasteful use of public funds.
Over the past five years the DMK Party has attempted to fulfil its campaign pledge and deliver television sets to households across the state. Around 15 million small screens have been provided.
Each television is worth around $30 (£18). Multiply that by how many have been handed out and the cost is astounding.
Mr Balaji says it is clear that the funds used to roll out these thank-you presents come from government coffers that should be used for more substantial things like infrastructure projects or social welfare programs.
Addressing the legality of providing gifts in return for votes Mr Balaji contends that it is bribery, an act prohibited under the constitution of India.
Others claim that some voters may have rationalised the receipt of gifts.
N. Gopalaswamy, a former chief of the election commission says that many voters view them simply as the return of their taxes in the form of goods and services.
The TVs-for-votes scheme may have cost the state of Tamil Nadu hundreds of millions of dollars, but observers say that bill may be nothing compared with how much it will cost the winning party to deliver on pledges of items like gold and home loans.
Mr Balaji warns the proliferation of such schemes spells economic disaster for the government of Tamil Nadu.
Show me the money
The state election commission claims it clamped down on the cash handouts to voters in the lead up to the 13 April poll.
Opposition parties have joined the freebie contest
Just how much money it seized from various parties and candidates is unclear.
However local reports suggest that Tamil Nadu may account for 80% of all cash seizures during assembly polls across four states this year.
While the body has been able to prevent the movement of some funds, it has been unable to stop political parties and candidates from promising goods and services.
Mr Gopalaswamy says that this is because giveaways have been written into election manifestos, making them part and parcel of legitimate campaigning.
The former election commission chief adds that while the body has been more proactive in following the campaign money trail this time round, only so much can be done.
When it comes to freebies, the onus to stop the practice lies with voters themselves.
Mr Gopalaswamy points out that voters must decide to take, or not to take.
The enticement of voters with flashy giveaways may appear to be a localised issue, unique to Tamil Nadu.
However there are fears that the perceived success of the practice may encourage candidates and parties further afield to use such a strategy.
Mr Gopalaswamy agrees that some campaign measures used in the state may set dangerous economic and political precedents.
Those who have been campaigning against the gifts-for-votes practice say that, at a fundamental level, it is corruption.
They insist that authorities at the highest levels, particularly in Delhi, must be held accountable.
Rani told the BBC she was promised a washing machine in return for her support at the ballot box
At the heart of this issue Mr Balaji says is the spending of state funds on private assets. He says many millions of dollars are at stake in Tamil Nadu, and that freebies-for-votes exemplifies bad political and economic practice.
More interesting still is the long-term impact such campaign measures may have on the mindset of voters.
When talking about the freebies she has been offered, Ramya Mani says she welcomes them, because before she was given a television and gas stove, she had nothing.
But she adds that if the party she voted for does come to power that they will lead the state well.
Mr Balaji senses that voters are starting to see past the payouts.
He hopes people across Tamil Nadu, and possibly India, will start to tell the difference between superficial promises and real ones.
The results of the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu may not prove to be as historic as those in states such as West Bengal.
But a change in government in the southern state may have an impact on politics in the country’s capital, Delhi.
The incumbent DMK Party is a crucial minority in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s United Progessive Alliance (UPA) coalition.
Critically, analysts say a change in government may affect the course of investigations into the second generation phone license scandal.
A. Raja, the former telecoms minister, is a member of the DMK and in recent weeks investigations have focused on the role of the party in the scam that may have cost the government $40bn in lost revenues.
The quirkiness of the consumer bonanza aside, experts insist there are very valid reasons to watch the outcome of this state election closely.
traditional free gifts like sarees for women to laptops for students.
poor new brides — some popular items on party manifestoes.
voters is heating up.
minister M. Karunanidhi and his arch political rival actress-turned-politician
J. Jayalalithaa, leading AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) are
in the race to form the next government.
for housewives to free electricity to coconut and horticulture farmers.
rupees (RM1,700) as a gift to new brides.
rupees (RM3,400) and gold too.
remember,” Jayalalithaa told her voters.
outwit their rivals.