Met by reporters while visiting the Merlimau Polytechnic College, Abdul Aziz said that he was not an “expert” on the matter.
"I am not expert, we are not expert. There are court case also," he said.
This was despite that his commission having already conducted 12 general elections and scores of by-elections.
Abdul Aziz said this when asked about the mysterious 1Malaysia NGO, which surfaces during by-elections to organise dinner events and give out goodie bags which includes staple items such as tins of Milo, rice and condensed milk along with a poster of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.
The 1Malaysia NGO's main target, the non-Malay voters, have been voting against BN in recent by-elections.
'Lu tolong gua, gua tolong lu'
Abdul Aziz gave a similar response when asked about Najib's “you help me, I help you” remark uttered during a function at a field next to SRJK (C) Merlimau on Feb 19.
"As I said, I am not expert. I can't say this is definitely corruption. I don't know. (You can) collect evidence leave it to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
"I am not surprised if those who came for (free) food and get hampers are not voters.Let the agencies (who) specialises in this area check (the allegations)," he said.
"ing has yet to begin. It starts tomorrow. Before that, it is not (considered) campaigning," he added.
It was reported bySin Chew Daily that Najib had told about 1,000 people gathered at the event that: “Lu tolong gua, gua tolong lu (You help me, I help you)”.
This was first uttered during the Sibu by-election. Back then, Najib had promised to implement flood mitigation works only if BN won the contest. In the end, BN lost its grip of Sibu with a wafer-thin majority.
In the case of Merlimau, while Najib did not make any specific promises, he asked the voters to list out their demands.
Abdul Aziz said that it was difficult to define election bribery, citing the Hulu Selangor election petition filed by PKR candidate Zaid Ibrahim, who has since left the party.
The Elections Court dismissed the petition at the preliminary stage.
"It's hard to prove, therefore it was rejected,” explained Abdul Aziz.
The remark by Election Commission (EC) chairperson Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof that he "is no expert" to judge whether the dishing out of . goodies flouts election laws has earned him more brickbats from civil society groups
Election watchdog Bersih 2.0 chief Ambiga Sreenevasan cited specific laws to prove that EC has the power and responsibility to combat election corruption, and she decried that this has not been exercised by the EC.
On Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak's "you help me, I help you" remark made during campaigning in at least two by-elections, Ambiga said this clearly came under section 10 of Election Offences Act 1954 (EOA).
This section defines inducement to voters during campaigning.
Ambiga said the EC has the responsibility to ensure that such incidents are brought to the attention of the authorities in order to ensure the free and fair conduct of elections.
However, Abdul Aziz (left)had refused to take a stand on the matter.
Although the power to prosecute lies with the Attorney-General's Chambers, Ambiga stressed that the EC must also do its part.
"The very least it can do is to lodge a police report," she toldMalaysiakini yesterday.
"Only then will members of the public believe that the EC is independent."
Najib had made the remark during the Sibu and Merlimau by-election campaigns, but Abdul Aziz has insisted that he is not an expert to consider this complaint.
"As I said, I am no expert. I can't say this is definitely corruption. I don't know. (You can) collect evidence leave it to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC)," he had said when questioned.
Ambiga (left) further pointed out that Section 115(2) of the federal constitution stipulates that 'all public authorities shall, on the request of the (EC), give the commission such assistance in the discharge of its duties as may be practicable'.
Added the former Bar Council president: "It also means the EC has to ask the public authorities to investigate the offences under the EOA. It has the responsibility to do this... the EC cannot wash its hands off the matter."
This is not the first time that the country's top election officer has appeared hazy when questioned about allegations of election-related corruption.
In an interview with Malaysiakini last July, Abdul Aziz said Najib's remark of "you help me, I help you" was not bribery because it had to be proved that voters had cast their ballot for the candidate because of the call.
Law losing its function
Ambiga also expressed disappointment that the role of enforcement teams set up by the EC during election campaigns has been confined to removing illegal and derogatory banners.
She reminded the EC that Section 27E(a) of the EOA empowers the enforcement team 'to patrol, and to monitor the activities of the candidates in its area of control to ensure that written laws relating to elections are being complied with' - and that this includes acts of corruption.
"If they (the candidates) don't comply, they must report it. The enforcement teams actually have the power to ensure compliance. They must show they mean business," said Ambiga.
The EC's paralysis, she said, has caused the EOA to lose the very function stated in the preamble of the Act - 'to prevent electoral offences and corrupt and illegal practices at elections'.
"In my recent memory, nobody has been charged under this law. What is the point of having it?"
Promises, not corruption
However, Transparency International (TI) Malaysia chapter president Paul Low took a different view of Najib's remark, saying that making election promises is not corrupt practice.
"If there is no exchange of money on the spot, it is just a campaign promise," Low said when contacted recently.
"It is very difficult to say this is corruption, as long as there is no handing over of cash. It is not clear-cut."
But he agreed with Ambiga that the EC does have certain powers under the current laws that are not being exercised.
"If they want, they can define what is election corruption. They can be independent, but they are not exercising it."
Low (right) also pointed out that the election expenditure cap for candidates - RM200,000 for a parliamentary seat and RM100,000 for a state seat - is not effectively enforced by the EC.
"It seems that they have never investigated the expenditure cap after the candidates submit their accounts."
On election reform, Low suggested that the EC be given more teeth to define dos and don'ts during elections and the power to bring offenders to book, las is enjoyed by the MACC.
"In Thailand, the EC took the prime minister to court for over-spending."
Ambiga's and Low's wishes are not likely to be fulfilled, for Abdul Aziz in the interview with Malaysiakini had rejected any proposal to expand the EC's powers, saying the commission is "not Superman" to take up all tasks.
He wants the EC's main duties limited to managing and organising elections, preparing and revising the electoral roll and reviewing constituency boundaries.