“Malaysian opposition accuses gov’t of bribing Borneo voters with sardines, mattresses,” the playful AP headline said.
On April 16, the east Malaysia state of Sarawak will elect a new legislature. Voters there, according to the AP, are upset about graft allegations against Sarawak’s ruler for the past 30 years, Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, who’s part of the dominant National Front party.
An opposition politician, Baru Bian, said about the ruling party: “They are giving hampers, zinc roofs, sardines, mattresses — all simple and cheap stuff.”
Chong Siew Chiang, another opposition politician, told the AP the gifts amounted to bribery, but voiced hopes that people would “vote according to their conscience.”
It was a nice little story with an amusing headline.
But Malaysia’s corruption has a darker side.
A late-30s Chinese woman in Singapore told us about her brother-in-law’s death in a car accident in nearby Johor, a Malaysian state south of Kuala Lumpur.
There was evidence his one-car “accident” may have been caused by highway robbers, a common hazard in parts of Malaysia.
Police wouldn’t even consider an investigation without bribes, which the family refused to pay.
And when the dead man’s father and brother traveled from Singapore to Johor to identify and claim the body, the morgue was closed. They had to pay bribes to get into the morgue, and then more bribes to remove the body and bring it back to Singapore.
Back in Sarawak, on the other side of Malaysia, national opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim called the local leaders the new rajas. He said they’re worse than the old English rulers who left in 1965.
“When the colonialists left,” he said, “the new ‘rajahs’ took over Sarawak. They ‘sapu’ (clean-sweep) everything – government contracts, land, and business and at the same time they ignore the people’s problems, and cultivate a climate of fear. They are very corrupted.”