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Thread: BERSIH 2.0: Malaysia's Elections Down to the Wire

   
   
       
  1. #1
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    BERSIH 2.0: Malaysia's Elections Down to the Wire

    Down to the wire


    Dec 19th 2012, 19:04 by R.C. | KUALA LUMPUR


    ALL year, it seems, Malaysia has been on a war footing. For elections, that is—and thankfully, rather than anything more martial. The country operates on a Westminster-style parliamentary system, so the prime ministers’ five-year term does not officially end until early next summer. Nonetheless, Najib Razak and his people have been talking up the chances of going to the polls before then pretty well continuously over the past 18 months or so, which keeps everyone guessing.

    Now, with the end of the year in sight and no further announcements, it seems that Mr Najib will take this down to the wire. Given that he can only go to the country after Chinese New Year next February, most people expect him to plump for the latest date he can in the electoral calendar, which would be about late March or early April.

    His supporters say, why rush? With a generally favourable economic outlook, tame state media and all the advantages of incumbency, there is no reason why Mr Najib can’t enjoy the rest of his term of office without worrying about the 13th general election. After all, he has a bit of history on his side, to put it mildly—the ruling political alliance, Barisan Nasional (BN), has never lost a general election since independence in 1957.

    His critics, however, detect signs of nervousness about the outcome—mainly, the endless indecision about when to go to the polls. Indeed, all the evidence suggests that this will be the closest race in Malaysia’s history, even more so than the last general election in 2008. On that occasion, the BN lost its two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time, thus losing its powers to make changes to the constitution. Just as bad, five of the 12 contested state legislatures were won by the opposition, compared with only one in the previous election. Mr Najib knows that to placate his hardline critics within the BN he has to not only win, but win big. They want the BN to claw back most of what the party lost last time. It’s a tall order.

    With so much at stake, every vote counts…but only if every vote is counted. Democracy activists and other election-watchers are concerned that many of the criteria for a free and fair election have not been met by the government and the government-appointed Election Commission.

    Over the past few years the campaign for open and fair elections has been led by Bersih (meaning “clean” in Malay), a loose coalition of civil-rights and human-rights NGOs and others.

    The head of Bersih, Ambiga Sreenevasan, sounded gloomy last week about the prospects for this election. “It will be the dirtiest election we have seen for a long time”, she warned. She points to the more overt signs of this, such as “increasing political violence” (at political rallies, for example) and more subtle signs such as “constant reports of discrepancies on the electoral roll in west Malaysia.”

    Having campaigned for very specific improvements to the conduct of elections, Ms Ambiga says that the authorities have take action only with respect to the proposal that voters be marked with indelible ink (and even then not entirely to her satisfaction). On everything else, such as the neglected right of all sides to enjoy equal access to the media, Ms Ambiga says that the electoral authorities “give me and Bersih no reason at all to believe that anything will change before the election”.

    With official overseas election observers (apart from ASEAN) apparently considered unnecessary by the government, Bersih is setting up its own “citizens-observers’ campaign”. Mr Ambiga says that they need 30,000 observers, but expect to get only 10,000. Bersih will train them. They might soon be busy people.
    py

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    We're in the final lap before GE13




    • 10:50AM Dec 21, 2012


    COMMENT A month after the 12th general election, an opposition MP, newly-elected and wearing a lot of his ideals on his sleeves, asked aloud what would be the most challenging aspect in the coming five years.

    At that time, this was a question that was difficult to answer but now, with the benefit of hindsight, there appears to be three main challenges and this article describes how the two coalitions met them.

    First, and perhaps the most important, is the stamina to stay in power. Nobody really believed that it would be possible, now nearly five years later and with Selangor, Penang, Kedah, and Kelantan still remaining under Pakatan Rakyat.

    Even in Penang, many thought that three such disparate and different parties as DAP, PKR and PAS would not last more than six months in their Pakatan Rakyat coalition. To his credit, the Malacca-born Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng continues to run a tight ship.

    Similarly, there was speculation that the BN, in the expected revolt against Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, would crumble once there was blood-letting in Umno.

    A big train of MPs was taken out of the country on a study tour of Taiwan. Perhaps, they needed to be exposed to the lively antics that take place in the Taiwanese parliament. However, the BN continues to rule in no uncertain terms on Abdullah Badawi's mandate.

    Nonetheless, the Pakatan government in Perak did fall. At that time, even former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad questioned the wisdom of rule by party hopping. There is little doubt that Pakatan did try to entice federal MPs to jump ship but the reality is that it was the BN that succeeded in Perak.

    Love of power and love of material things
    The chief lesson here is that some politicians enter politics because of power. Some fall by the wayside because they cannot balance their love of power and their love for material things. The latter means they are susceptible to money. They will jump ship if they are promised wealth and a very comfortable life.

    The reality is that attempts to legislate morality and integrity are futile. The federal constitution is right. Freedom of association means all of us have the freedom to associate or disassociate from any group. All politicians need is a strong internal constitution.

    The challenge of staying the course also shows that power is a strong glue that can hold coalitions together. Even where their ideologies are totally different or, in the case of the BN, quite incongruent, where each race-based party fights the other until some sort of accord is reached, are held together by power.

    If Pakatan is still here today, it is because the wilderness of being out of power is a strong motivating factor that keeps its members together. The real test will be whether they stay together once in power at the federal level.

    The second great challenge has been to distinguish each other through policies and administration. Once Abdullah was toppled, Najib Abdul Razak (right) immediately launched 1Malaysia as a way to heal old wounds and win back the non-Malay votes.

    The BN is finished if it cannot win back the middle ground. Pakatan, on the other hand, decided that the old adage "a new broom sweeps clean" was the way to go. This meant scoring well-above average in the Auditor-General's Report, working with the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (Mida) to increase foreign direct investments (FDI) and to work with local governments to deliver better service to the people.

    But what is the verdict regarding the policies of the two coalitions? Unfortunately, neither has been very imaginative in their efforts to distinguish themselves. The BN is all about giving handouts and going on buses with the theme: "We're here to entertain you". It is a very cynical and short-sighted approach with very little changes.

    Subsidies and a bloated civil service

    Najib was not able, like his father, to claw back the middle-ground by radical policy shifts. Razak gave us the NEP; which despite all its flaws and implementation detours, lifted an entire generation of Malaysians out of poverty. Najib's 1Malaysia, well-meaning and nice, is at best "ambiguous" as the PM admitted. The NEM, introduced by the government, looks destined for the library shelves.

    Pakatan's populism will definitely come back to haunt it. Something has to be done about the unaffordable subsidies, that have become the backbone of Malaysia's profligate lifestyle. Nearly half of our annual budget is paid for by Petronas. Our civil service is so bloated that it is now one of the largest in the world, per capita.

    This means that we are not developing new economic sectors to absorb our workforce. Neither are we producing a workforce that is more productive. If Pakatan continues down the road to populism, it will find it very difficult to make systemic changes once it comes to power. It should have learnt by now from experience that talk is cheap. It is keeping promises that is tough.

    In short, Malaysians did the right thing by not allowing any coalition to be too powerful. Contrary to Mahathir's advice, we should not, and perhaps never, allow any coalition to overwhelmingly dominate Parliament. Yes, two-thirds majority will strengthen the hand of the government of the day to carry out difficult tasks, but it will also give too much power to politicians. The latter, as these last five years have shown, suffers from a trust deficit.

    Third, and perhaps quite an important challenge, has to do with leadership. Political leadership is in short supply. Old monsters from the Cold War, and even earlier, are still lurking in the waters. They bring with them a mindset that is not only obsolete but poisonous. They prevent change and transformation. Some cling to them because they have "experience", but what sort of experience do they have after leading Malaysia into the state we are today?

    In the case of the BN, history is on its side. The BN is now the longest continually ruling political coalition in the world. Malaysians, those who were born after 1957, know of no other government. One will have to be 70 to remember British rule. Yet, a long history also has its drawbacks.

    The BN understands this and has launched a raft of reforms. Its only problem is that it cannot alter history, no matter how many times it amends the history syllabus in school. The ties that bind it to private interests remain solid. The Automated Enforcement System (AES), the latest in a long list of examples where private interests trump public ones, continues to haunt the BN.

    For Pakatan, it too cannot escape the embrace of history. It has never come to power except in 2008. Is this a one-time wonder? Is there a credible leader who can really transform these non-sectarian parties and fulfil the promise of a more equitable society?

    The recent DAP party elections is a good case in point. It is good that there was no rocking of the boat, but leadership must be demonstrated at some point if the DAP is serious about being non-sectarian. This means doubling its efforts to champion issues that benefit all Malaysians and through that, drawing support from a wider membership.

    So, returning to our opposition MP mentioned at the beginning of this article. Today, his idealism is no longer dwelling in his sleeves. In fact, all attempts to lead the charge have been tempered by experience on the ground. He is still affable and approachable but not quite as full of enthusiasm as before. This is called growing up and it is a very good thing as we prepare to go to the polls next year.


    NEIL KHOR completed his PhD at Cambridge University and now writes occasionally on matters that he thinks require better historical treatment. He is quietly optimistic about Malaysia's future.
    py

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