PKR deputy president Rafizi Ramli set a record by becoming the first Pakatan Harapan (PH) candidate in the 15th general election (GE) to declare his assets publicly.
After declaring his assets, Rafizi went on to challenge the other two major coalitions, Barisan Nasional (BN) and Perikatan Nasional (PN), to do the same for all of their candidates.
But this is a pointless challenge as declaring assets is not compulsory under the law for election candidates.
It is only compulsory under the law for elected MPs and appointed senators upon their appointment as Cabinet ministers.
You can’t say your rival candidates are lousy for not doing something which is not compulsory. It is as simple as that.
And when a reporter who was at a press conference that Rafizi organised on Nov 9 grilled him on certain aspect of his asset declaration, he became feisty and accused the reporter’s employer, MalaysiaNow, of being a mouthpiece of Mohamed Azmin Ali, a Bersatu Supreme Council member, among others.
According to a MalaysiaNow report, Rafizi then repeatedly belittled the reporter, suggesting that he was not well versed in finance.
"That's why I said go back and try to understand finance, because I just explained it just now about share capital. You don't get it, do you? I have already answered your third question. Did you get it?” Rafizi said, somewhat peeved at the reporter.
To make matter worse, Rafizi concluded that most people (reporters) present at the press conference would "not understand any of these things".
In my days as a young reporter in Singapore, I experienced an eerily similar situation when the host (the organiser of the press conference) was totally rude and uncouth towards me because I was the only reporter who had grilled him with tough questions.
Like Rafizi, the host began to belittle me as a reporter who knew nuts about the issue concerned.
My response then was to say that in an earlier article about his organisation on the same issue, which happened to be the page one lead story in the newspaper I was working with, he had called me to say his thanks for the excellent piece!
But unlike Rafizi, this host was totally out of his mind and told me to get out of his office. I straight away walked out from the press conference.
Back at the office, when I debriefed my chief reporter, I was asked to make an incident report.
As a result of the report, the host and his organisation were "blacklisted" by my news organisation – we boycotted publishing any of his statements or accepting invitations to his press conferences for a few months.
When Rafizi declared his assets, initially I thought it was a brilliant strategy to "force" both BN and PN to do the same because at that time, I was unsure about the legal status of asset declarations by election candidates.
I was also aware that making asset declarations for election candidates who contested for the first time and then lost would be an embarrassment for them because their financial records would be known publicly for the rest of their lives when they are just a nobody.
Later, when I realised it was not legally compulsory to publicly declare assets and that Rafizi was not the first to do so as Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) had done so during GE14, I still thought it was a brilliant strategy because it is politically incorrect to reject asset declarations even though they are not compulsory.
This is analogous to criticising an election candidate for his spouse or children’s participation as candidates because there is no legal impediment to prevent their participation, despite any reservations one may have on the matter.
Just look at former Johor Bakri MP, Yeo Bee Yin, who was criticised by an NGO because her in-laws possess "vast business interests" in Puchong – the constituency in Selangor that DAP has moved her to for GE15.
The NGO criticised her for an alleged conflict of interest of "major proportions" because she is the spouse of one of the country’s key business leaders, despite the fact that her spouse is not a candidate for GE15.
Coming back to Rafizi, although his idea of asking BN and PN to make their candidates declare their assets is good, he lost his cool when his political rivals in Bersatu started to grill him on his assets a few days before the said press conference took place.
And when the same reporter mentioned above asked for his comment on what his political rivals said on the issue, he lost his cool again by describing one of his rivals as stupid and corrupt, and saying that they know nuts about business and finance.
Even if this lost-his-cool incident had not happened, his so-called brilliant idea of throwing a gauntlet to his opponent on the issue breaks into pieces as two PH component parties – DAP and Amanah – have different ideas on the issue of candidates’ declaration of assets, as reported by Malaysiakini.
Amanah vice-president Mujahid Yusof Rawa said the party leaves it to its candidates to decide on this, stressing that all of its candidates have declared their assets to the party, which is not a public declaration.
Meanwhile, DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke said DAP candidates only have to make public asset declarations if they win in the polls.
As for his rival coalitions, PAS said the move is unnecessary as it could lead to negative implications.
The party’s vice-president, Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah, quipped that the party’s leaders are not wealthy and are thus embarrassed to declare what little they have.
Its PN partner, Bersatu, shares the same stand. Azmin dismissed asset declarations for candidates as “sandiwara“ (drama).
BN’s Sungai Buloh candidate Khairy Jamaluddin also said it is unnecessary for candidates to declare assets publicly, and that this only needs to be done if one is appointed to public office.
MIC, Gerakan, Warisan, PBM, Pejuang and other Gerakan Tanah Air partners, PRM, and Sarawak parties have thus far held their tongues on the matter, perhaps fearing a backlash for saying something that may be politically incorrect.
It is very clear that Rafizi’s motive in bringing up the issue is to score points in order to put his political opponents on the defensive which could result in them losing the election.
But he forgot to put his house (Pakatan Harapan) in order before issuing this gauntlet to his political opponents. So PH could end up losing the election instead, due to his action.
If he was sincere and saw this as a matter of principle, he would have been pursuing this issue a long time ago before a general election was even held, or at the very least when he made a political comeback some months ago.
But he was never seen as a person who struggled for the cause of election candidates’ declaration of assets, neither was he the first to come up with such idea like PSM president, Michael Jeyakumar.
If someone wants to make the declaration of assets by election candidates compulsory, he or she must have a game plan that takes into account the current legal aspects of the issue, and then proceed with a plan of action on how to get the buy-in for it among all political parties that will finally lead to its promulgation into law.
Rafizi does not have such a plan.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.