February 27, 2008

Sivarasa: In politics, the dice is always rolling

Sivarasa: In politics, the dice is always rolling (courtesy of Malaysiakini)
Terence Netto
Feb 27, 08 1:40pm

The expression of thought in language clear as a window pane is not a quality that’s in terribly abundant supply in Malaysian politics. An hour’s conversation with Sivarasa Rasiah, the PKR parliamentary candidate for Subang, may entice one to conclude that clear convictions and lucid articulation are, after all, not that rare to find.

Tangled syntax, hemming, hawing pauses, the pumping of pompous sound and fury into otherwise bland statements of the obvious – all signs of a lack of inner clarity – are conspicuous by their absence in this Rhodes scholar’s discourse.

Not even steady interruptions to take mobile phone calls can skew the pellucid flow of his conversation. A mere, “Where were we?” suffices to recover the lost thread and for the chat to resume its crystalline trails.

If a gift for vividness is a compelling virtue in politics, then Sivarasa ought to be home and dry in his third quest for parliamentary representation. His maiden attempt in 1999 in Ampang Jaya leveraged on the reformasi surge but fell valiantly short of success; his second attempt in Petaling Jaya Selatan in 2004 was snuffed out by the Ahmad Abdullah Badawi typhoon.

For the March 8 general election, the 52-year-old lawyer is fairly sure the electoral pendulum is swinging in favour of greater representation for the opposition though he is not sure of its magnitude.

“The dice is always rolling in politics,” remarked Sivarasa, in an interview with Malaysiakini during a pause for lunch in his campaign for the Subang parliament seat in Selangor.

He hastened to add that unlike the numbers that come up on a roll of dice, political shifts don’t occur at random.

“In the last few years, there has been a confluence of concerns among the people,” said Sivarasa.

“The rise in the crime rate, the consumer price spiral, the decay in the judiciary, the perception that corruption is pervasive, inefficiency in the police force and civil service, have all combined to induce in people a feeling that things are slipping out of control.

“It has not helped that Prime Minister Abdullah appears to be a captive of indecision. When people begin to say things like, ‘At least Dr Mahathir would go ahead and take a decision and stick by it even if it was an unpopular one,’ you are in trouble because at the last election Abdullah benefitted from a wave that was not so much approval of him as rejection of Dr Mahathir,” opined Sivarasa.

We’re more a movement for change

Obviously, electoral waves have nuances that are only evident after they have crested and ebbed. Would Sivarasa care to divine the nuances in the wave that he sees as favouring greater representation for the opposition?

“I would have to be clairvoyant to do that,” he quipped. “All I’m prepared to say is that there is a shift in favour of a greater presence for us in Parliament. As for the nuances we would have to wait and see.”

Sivarasa, who has alternated between central and peripheral roles in the billowing legal work that occurred at the interface between the reformasi movement and the government since the late 1990s, is unfazed by the waiting and the questing.

“You must remember we belong not so much to a political party as a movement for change. A movement takes a long time to build and to coalesce into a consensus approved by the masses. There will be currents in our favour that may wax and wane. That’s the dynamics of politics. But so long as our values do not change, we can hope eventually to come up on top,” elaborated Sivarasa.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with myriad single steps,” he concluded.

Sivarasa is contesting against MIC first-timer S Murugesan, 40, in a constituency which has 84,414 voters, out of which 50% are Malay, 35.9% Chinese and 13.5% Indian.

In the 2004 general elections, MIC’s KS Nijhar romped home in Subang with a majority of 15,460 against PKR’s Mohd Nasir Hashim.

High stakes in Penang

High stakes in Penang (courtesy of Malaysiakini)
Bridget Welsh
Feb 27, 08 12:48pm

From the core base of PKR in Permatang Pauh in the mainland to the multi-ethnic diverse Gerakan seat of Jelutong on Penang island, the 12th general elections campaign is slowly gaining momentum. The stakes are arguably higher in this state than in any other. Penangites have the power to determine the future of the opposition and the multi-ethnic vibrancy of the governing BN coalition.

One of the biggest tests in Penang is for Gerakan. The new party president has stepped down as chief minister to move to the federal level. Choosing the mixed constituency of Batu Kawan, his chances for re-election are strong, as long as he maintains support from the Malay community and a cohort of Chinese voters in this fast-developing constituency (Malay: 21%, Chinese: 56.6%, Indian: 22.4%).

He faces the formidable opponent of Professor Dr P Ramasamy, who has galvanised the Indian community in this constituency, where the MIC is divided by infighting and the visit by party chief S Samy Vellu with police protection has served to further alienate Indian supporters from the BN.

To date, the BN’s campaign in Penang has called into question its multi-ethnic representativeness. The failure of Gerakan to offer an Indian candidate in this state has created the impression that this party is not multi-racial.

They have not been helped by the actions of component BN parties, as the MIC has offered two unknown candidates in the three seats it is contesting and the BN as a whole has not illustrated strong policies in this state to address concerns of ethnic marginalisation in areas of local (and national) concern such as temple demolitions, housing and access to education.

The BN manifesto, while laying out a multi-ethnic framework, has yet to inspire confidence that it will translate these ideals into policies in Penang. Gerakan leaders in particular will need to illustrate that they can genuinely represent all communities.

The composition of the Gerakan slate not only tests the representativeness of the party and the BN coalition, but has raised questions about the future leadership of the state. Using the slogan of ‘Reinventing’, Penangites are not clear whether Gerakan – the BN component party with the most professionals and highly qualified leaders – can offer a slate of alternatives for future development.

Uninspiring heir apparent

Confidence in the heir apparent Dr Teng Hock Nan (centre), has not taken root, despite his years of grooming in the state executive council. In the past two years, the management of issues of transportation and land development – especially involving the controversial movement of the Turf Club for financial gain to actors outside of the state - has not inspired confidence, and employment generation and crime have not been effectively addressed.

The choice of medical doctor Teng over well-respected local urban planner Chia Kwang Chye and the dynamic hard-working lawyer Lee Kah Choon has raised questions about the leadership of the state.

The questioning sentiment is most acute on the island, where the downturn in economic fortunes and challenges are most serious. Rising inequality, crime, inflation and concerns about vibrancy were echoed from throughout the state, however, from the new village of Berapit to the middle-class houses in Green Lane.

Gerakan will not only have to address the disgruntlement within its party over the choice for chief ministership, but show the electorate that it can bring solutions to the crossroads for the state. It will take more than a ‘reinvention’.

Gerakan has faced over the past few years declining support from the federal government. This is despite the fact that Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi is from Penang. The transformation of support has evolved from a national move away from focusing on building education, policies that reinforce competitiveness in manufacturing and the orientation of the new economic policies away from the strengths of private entrepreneurship and small business that give this state competitive advantage.

The Northern Corridor project has yet to bring in benefits, and these benefits are seen not to be potentially equitably allocated to the state as a whole and communities from and within Penang. Voters, for example, are asking why resources are being concentrated in Abdullah’s constituency rather than equitably distributed.

Coupled with this issue of a lackluster national base of support for economic development are concerns about encroaching Umno control over the state affairs. The Turf Club project has severely alienated voters on the island, since it is seen to be driven by the interests of Umno based in the federal government, and the entire process of land development allocation for this project has lacked genuine consultation.

The changing ethnic dynamics, reinforced by more seats weighted toward Malay areas in the state, are affecting the composition of state assembly. For Gerakan, the issue will be whether they maintain the dominant position within the state, or whether Umno, which has already called for the chief ministership, will demand more representation.

For many non-Malay Penangites, the calls along racial lines have fostered reservations about Umno governance in the state and the overall balance of multi-ethnic representation within the coalition. In some minds, are the lessons of power-sharing of Malacca and Sabah. Penang voters will not only determine the future of Gerakan, but will be a watershed for multi-ethnic coalition dynamics and future state leadership.

Return of DAP?

For the opposition, the stakes are equally high. The galvanised DAP, coming off an impressive victory in the May 2006 state election in Sarawak and accepted view supported by polling of Chinese alienation, has returned to Penang for a larger mandate.

They are asking voters for a more modest support than in the 1990 campaign in calling for breaking the two-thirds BN control. This marker is important since it will provide a check on issues of land development and a stronger voice for raising concerns of governance. They face a pattern of pragmatic split voting by Penang voters, who support the BN parties for service and local access to a greater degree at the state than at the federal level.

While their campaign is led by Lim Guan Eng, whose commitment to service and raising issue is long-standing, many of the candidates slated are unknown and although most are originally from Penang have been based out of the state. The DAP will have to show that their youthful dynamic slate has the ability to address the concerns of Penangites.

Many of the DAP candidates have long records in the party, with service experience, yet this is not clear to many voters who want access and ideas for solutions to Penang’s challenges. They face a professional slate from the MCA and Gerakan. The DAP manifesto raises the problems facing Penang, but its campaign has yet to illustrate solutions.

The ability of the DAP to tap negative sentiment and translate it into positive action remains a challenge. The DAP’s dynamic younger leadership faces this difficult test. The outcome will determine whether the party can go through a generational transformation. In order for this to evolve, respected senior leaders like Karpal Singh need to share his input for Penang’s future and his party’s future.

The test for PKR is as intense. The sole seat of Permatang Pauh remains highly competitive, with Umno slating the imam Firdaus Ismail the challenger who ate decisively into the party leader Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s hold over the seat. Her supporters on nomination day were impressive, and enthusiastic, but her record of service and attention to the party affairs rather than her seat makes her vulnerable.

The focus of Umno on this seat, on undercutting PKR at its core makes this fight a difficult one. What is important in this campaign compared to 2004 is the ongoing evolution of the party leadership from Wan Azizah to Anwar Ibrahim. Prevented from contesting by the early date of the election, Anwar has been given the gift by the BN in that he can advise and travel nationally rather than focus on one constituency.

Yet, Permatang Pauh voters remain uncertain whether he will come back to his home base and whether their vote is for Wan Azizah or an indirect vote for him if a by-election is called in April.

Acid test for PKR, Umno

PKR’s test is not just about the leadership of the party and its role in one seat, but its ability to reach out and represent beyond Anwar. There are stronger candidates slated in Penang by PKR than in 2004, but the challenge of getting the brand of the party across remains formidable.

They are some competitive seats as the party pushes a multi-ethnic agenda (notably Nibong Tebal), but resources remain an obstacle for the young candidates. For PKR the main test is whether it will have a base on the state that is multi-ethnic. This will involve a more dynamic campaign effort than has been illustrated so far.

Behind the scenes, there is one additional test for a political party. This involves Umno. The party has brought in a senior minister to establish a mandate and fostered disgruntlement in the means in has chosen its slate. The infighting in the party remains serious, and this could lead to a change in support among Malays as well as a drop in the support for the prime minister.

When Nor Mohamed Yakcob, the minister in question, has been a key part of the ministry that has raised prices by removing subsidies, it is indeed interesting to see whether accountability on the bread and butter issues will influence voters or whether resource allocation driven by state access, senior positions in government and incumbency will be decisive.

Kepala Batas and Tasek Gelugor will be important constituencies to watch, as they will point to whether Abdullah’s administration and his leadership have support from within Umno and the Malay electorate as a whole. Abdullah’s ability to heal these party rifts and minimise sabotage from within his ranks will come out in the Penang polls. These contests will have important consequences for the main Umno contest, its party’s polls scheduled for later this year.

Finally, and perhaps, most importantly, the polls in Penang are on the display internationally and domestically. The spotlight is focused on this pragmatic multi-ethnic electorate of largely middle-age voters. In 2004 there were concerns about electoral irregularities, notably in Permatang Pauh, and the unfair use of taxpayer resources to support specific candidates.

The campaign in Penang will be one in which the fairness of the polls will be in focus. This may be the decisive factor that shapes the final outcomes. Campaigning will likely continue to follow the traditional pattern of labour-intensive hand-shaking, ceramah and face-to-face engagement, but will also be one in which concerns of phantom voters, media access, and resource allocation will be critical.

In short, not only the future of the parties but the electoral process itself is at stake in Penang. Penangites traditionally relish the electoral process - expect high voter turnout and an increasingly engaged campaign as all sides address their internal and external challenges ahead.

DR BRIDGET WELSH is assistant professor in Southeast Asian studies at John Hopkins University-SAIS, Washington DC. She is following the campaign trail in a number of states. Her next stop is Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

Vote against arrogance

Vote against arrogance - Malaysiakini
KJ John
Feb 26, 08 2:53pm

Lord Acton said, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Over the years, I have learnt that this is in fact an absolute statement and no ordinary human is really exempted from it. We saw it in 10 years with Republican rule in America and we saw the same thing in Australia. Those with absolute power think, "you are with us or against us!" The Malaysian Government is no different.

After 50 years in office, since independence, the Malaysian Government is truly reflecting the epitome of the nature and culture of all such corrupted power. Ketuanan Melayu is the name of this game. The General Election is the therefore the classic opportunity for ordinary people to participate, to vote, and to make whatever changes are needed and felt in governance. It is always the ordinary people who really finally decide, never the party in power; although they have full control of all the levers of influence. Regardless, ultimately it is the individuals who walk up and can make a choice to define the difference.

As we now see in America, have seen in Australia, and again in Pakistan, determined and convicted people have the power to make change happen. Sometimes sacrifices are even needed. Benazir Bhutto died for what she believed and the people did believe her too. The former Australian PM lost his seat. The American people are also asking for change for all the corrupted rhetoric of power systems; and Obama seems to have given voice to all this yearning.

It is now going to be our turn. Are we mature enough to become a "developed nation?" Or, are we only condemned to remain a developing nation torn down by tribal and ethnic rhetoric of a feudal form? This article is an open one to all Malaysians to think of the reasons why we too must also vote for change in Malaysia; I am going to.

It is now an established fact, thanks to a climate of openness nurtured by the Pak Lah Administration that the Government of the Day not only has a lot of power but has continuously used and abused this power with very poor and corrupted governance. Such abuses of power, as become very evident and amplified by the Lingam case in particular. The almost absolute power has seriously contributed to the rise of corrupt practices across the board and throughout Federal, State and Local Governments. Such corruption has been happening over the last 27 years because of the weakening of the originally designed system of checks and balances.

The more than 2/3rd majority in Parliament is the singular core issue which makes for the Executive State; and, the resulting impotence of the judiciary is a directly related issue. The consequentially muzzled and blindly obedient media is the ultimate result of unchecked power. Bribery and corruption happens daily and directly before our very eyes. Shame in Malaysia is no more. Election goodies are being dished out without impunity; with total disregard for the Election Commission. They too are in cahoots with the government. The Law was even amended to allow the Chairman to continue for one more year! The government can therefore see no wrong, hear no wrong and do no wrong, so long as all their agents are "barisan actors."

Integrity agenda

Minister Rafidah used to say, she has no time for "role-players!" She only believes in assuming a role but never in playing a role. By this she means that everyone should be fully accountable for their every action. Really Minister, did you assume or play a role when you dished out all those APs to your "close friends" and allies? I am sure it was for the sake of developing the auto industry in Malaysia!

What about the new holiday boat bought for the PM in the name of the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong? Did you ask Pak Lah who is playing the role here? Was it Pak Lah or the King? And the new plane, whose money was used? What about the integrity agenda of the government? What about transparency and openness and greater accountability? What about the last Auditor General’s Report? Was any action taken against all those public servants who made million ringgit decisions without authority? I am talking about the responsible Secretary General or the Minister. Or, was it enough to blame clerks and charge junior officers with crimes? Why was not action taken against a known crooked person in the name of Raja Zakaria of Port Klang? When he has obviously abused power for personal wealth, is that not ugly? All the government can do is merely drop him as a candidate? Was the AG asleep or was he directed not to take action? Are all State DPPs also under the Executive instructions? Did all these crooks do no wrong? Cannot you see their faults? What about the person who has for 27 years misled all Malaysian Indians, and not just the Tamils? What about the 9million Telecoms shares? Does he still get to make one last stand? Why and for what? His personal ego? Or, because Pak Lah has no moral authority to ask him to step down, being equally guilty of such ego trips ?

Therefore dear Malaysians, as we go into the 12th General Election period how must we really vote? Should we vote for a party leadership that has already been "exercising executive and absolute power for the last 55 years," or should we give the other side a chance for the first time in Malaysian history? I am going to argue for change, and therefore am asking you to also consider a vote for change and vote against arrogance. I give only three reasons for my preference.

First and foremost is the lack of political will for moral leadership demonstrated by the Pak Lah Administration after we gave him absolute power to make changes? He misused that power and authority. The current and incumbent Prime Minister, who preached and propagated the agenda of integrity, has failed to promote and sustain this agenda seriously and consistently.

Three obvious reasons

I therefore list below three obvious reasons:

1. The Police Complaints Commission has not been set up because the Prime Minister got cold feet and realized that the corrupt Police Force can act to sabotage the Government’s agenda. The abuses of the Police were well documented by the Royal Commission Report. Therefore, what we see now recommended as a bill in Parliament is a lame and inconsequential Commission which is a watered down version of the original Complaints Commission. Why the cop out?

2. The Parliamentary Committee on Integrity which was given a two year mandate which has not been fulfilled because the Chairman of the original Committee (a Minister) resigned because the public services did not respect the Parliamentary Committee. He was supported by two Ministers who worked for opposite purposes. The PM then had no moral authority to deal with this issue and instead let things slide, which led to the resignation of the original Chairman, another Minister in Pak Lah’s Cabinet.

3. With all exposures about corruption in governance, especially the ones promoted, allowed and led by the Media, it is surprising that the PM who argued for integrity and against corruption could not execute his own policies against "the Klang railway gate-keeper turned Raja" or the "close one-eye Member of Parliament?" Both were publicly made evident cases involving obvious corruption. The PM has no moral courage to do the right thing in the right way at the right time.

Therefore I conclude that there is no leadership integrity nor the requisite political will on the matter of the Nation’s Integrity Agenda, especially amongst the Cabinet, or the Chief of Executives, called the Prime Minister. The Integrity Agenda remains an espoused theory, or a political ploy, with little or no confidence amongst the people that there is any intention to carry through with the discipline required to instill such good and honorable values. At least, I remain unconvinced. It is still a worthwhile sounding agenda with little or no follow-up and follow-through in the immediate future. Maybe it was only intended to create awareness amongst the public officials; a task therefore assigned to the Integrity Institute Malaysia and their NGO allies with little of no power or teeth to do much else. Even the ACA is really no different because it reports only to the Prime Minister, instead of the Parliament! Same with the Attorney General.

Second, the PM has always argued that he is the PM of all Malaysians and asked Malaysians to "work with him and not for him." He has yet to convince me that he abides by this servant leadership model. Although he writes personal notes to Pastors and Elders, and most non-Muslim leaders, when it came to the Hindraf’s real issues, this PM found no time to read the document which was personally presented by the Hindraf leaders to his office in Putrajaya. Instead, they were left to organize the march for their cause, because they were not heard or listened to. But, when it became demonstrated that their concerns were real and serious (with 30,000 supporters), and after he met with non-MIC NGOs, small actions began to be taken for the case of these marginalized Indians. Why did the Barisan Government have to wait all these years to do what a "PM of all Malaysians should have done" without being prompted, if in fact he is the PM of all Malaysians, and not just UMNO? Did they all not know the real issues? Or, is it that such appeals, even from the MIC, really fell on deaf ears within the context of UMNO belligerence?

The NEP originally had a primary goal of "eradicating poverty regardless of race or economic function." Pak Lah knows that because he was part of the team which drafted it with PM Tun Razak. What happened to all such targets, even after 37 years of the NEP? The bottom 30% of Malaysian society needs to be heard and sometimes they can only do it via demonstrations, because the Government has become deaf to their concerns. Moreover, what I totally cannot accept is that in a democratic country like Malaysia, peaceful demonstrations to give voice to such issues are now not even allowed (except if it is Barisan-sponsored) because it is deemed to be against the public interest. Since when can the corrupt police alone define public interest, when the Government of the day has not taken heed to the genuine needs of these poor and marginalized Indians; which even the Government has publicly now accepted? PM Pak Lah’s "work with me not for me" edict appears to refer only to Government Departments and towards blind administrative compliance rather than for change and improvement defined by others. Working with NGOs, the Bar Council, and the Civil Society does not yet seem part and parcel of this agenda. Why?

Thirdly and finally, the PM’s Islam Hadhari appears to be merely another publicity and political gimmick to ward off the more serious and sincere agenda of PAS’ Islamic State ambition. From an anti-Islamic state stance taken by the BN over the years, which is consistent with the Secular Constitution and statements of the first three former PMs, suddenly now, even the DPM of Pak Lah’s Government and son of the second PM has stated that Malaysia is an Islamic State. That singularly cheats and lies to all non-Muslims and denies the original Social Contract, and undoes the original spirit of the Alliance. Worse still this cheats, lies and breaches the formal contract with Sabah and Sarawak about the original intentions of the 1963 Malaysia Agreement.

Consequences of 'false declaration'

The many consequences of this "false declaration" are the following:

1. Most public servants on the ground can now decide to take on role of "moral guardians" of the enforcement of the Islamic State agenda. That is why "non-Muslim couples holding hands are now charged in court," "32 bibles are confiscated," the word "Allah is banned for Bahasa Malaysia bibles," and the increasing Islamization of public schools is evident.

2. Lina Joy, a genuine convert to Christianity from Islam was denied a Constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religion based on her own conscience. Personal conscience cannot be denied.

3. Temples and other places of worship are not given proper locations and instead 100-year old temples built during the British Colonial rule are destroyed based entirely and purely on the "privatization of the land development for housing purposes." Whose responsibility, other than that of the Government is it to safeguard and protect the interests on these "Tamil community settlements in estates;" when the land developers are going to reap millions vide their property development. There is also the general problem of the non-allocation of proper land for the construction of places of worship by the Government. This singular issue caused a Catholic Church in Selangor to be delayed for almost 26years. Moreover, issues related to construction of churches have to be approved by the Islamic Council at the State level. Why is the Federal Constitution and its guarantees becoming subject to State level legislation, especially on non-Islamic religions?

4. The issue of body-snatching after death. Why would this face of Islam find expression under Islam Hadhari? If in fact, Islam is a peaceful religion, as propagated, is not this "after-death" care and concern rather disingenuous? In many of these cases, the original spirit of the Federal Constitution has been violated, with Judges in Civil Courts appearing to be more Muslim than the Federal Constitution’s supreme authority it gives itself.

Based on the above three reasons, I would like to appeal to all peace-loving Malaysians who have in the past almost blindly voted for the Government of National Unity, with a promise of continued harmony and peace, to please reconsider and to vote for change. We need to tell the Government of the Day that the voices of ordinary people do count and not just those of their 3000 UMNO members at their General Assembly.

What is the absolute worst that can happen, even if most change-minded people find the courage to try and make a difference? I still do not see more than about 75-80 seats falling to the Opposition. The Barisan Government will continue to rule but without the traditionally arrogant attitude of the past few years. Their keris-wilding antics will stop. The Barisan Rakyat (of the people, for the people and by the people) would have spoken and if the Government does not still take the ordinary people seriously, then and only then, will we ever dream of real change in power for the first time in Malaysia. But, why do we have to wait for that? That can only happen in the next General Election. It is far more positive to give the early signal now and let the Government learn that ordinary people have their own limits and that part of the message of a developed nation is having the option to change the Government. After all, that is part and parcel of evolving into a mature democracy.

May God continue to have mercy on Malaysia; by denying the Government their two-thirds majority! That is my sincere prayer!

February 25, 2008

Will urban voters trigger the tipping point?

Will urban voters trigger the tipping point? - Malaysiakini
Stanley Koh

Malcolm Gladwell in his widely read book ‘The Tipping Point’ brilliantly narrated how ‘little’ things can make a ‘big’ difference.

According to The Telegraph, the tipping point “is a magic moment when an idea, trend or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips and spread like wildfire: like a flu epidemic, popularity of a new product, a drop in crime rate”.

Will this happen on polling day, March 8?

Malaysians have recently witnessed the Hindraf phenomenon which many believe will radically change the voting patterns of the minority Indian community. Surely this cannot be the only factor in determining the results of the upcoming elections.

As an illustration, if we look back at the recent past and the couple of issues which snowballed and created the perception of serious misdeeds by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s government, only then can we begin to understand the hot button issues which can move the urban voters beyond the “bread and butter” issues.

In 2007, a survey conducted by Merdeka Center for Opinion Research revealed surprising results.

“About two-thirds of the respondents (51% urban and 49% respondents) think the country needs a stronger opposition,” it said. It also observed that “Chinese are more in favour of having a stronger opposition and their desire increases steadily”.

The survey asked - does the country need to have a stronger opposition? It showed that at the national level, some 66% agree, 4% maybe and 26% disagree, while in Kuala Lumpur (67% agree, 6% maybe and 17% disagree) and Selangor (58% agree, 6% maybe and 28% disagree).

Disparaging, racist remarks

What could be the causes of such perceptions?

A year before the survey was done, several Umno delegates made disparaging and racist remarks against the non-Malay community at the party’s annual congress along with its infamous keris-raising incident.

There appeared to be a serious gap between what government leadership had promised and the sentiments expressed by the ruling party’s rank-and-file leaders. Take these few examples.

“I will never allow non-bumiputeras to enter UiTM. I will ensure that the percentage of Malay students given places at public universities will always be higher than the percentage under the previous quota.” (former higher education minister Shafie Salleh, Umno AGM, 2004)

“Universiti ini tempat Melayu.” (Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, Umno AGM, 2004, in referring to UiTM)

Compare such remarks to the 2004 BN general election manifesto which said, “BN has worked hard to provide universal access to education. We will … foster student interaction to enhance national unity.”

The same can be said of other promises made in the 2004 manifesto.

“I hope the public will not question the money saved…” (Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, March 17, 2006, on the RM4.4 billion saved from fuel subsidies). “Why are you complaining? What more do you want?’ (Abdullah, April 7, 2006 on the 9th Malaysia Plan).

Yet the manifesto argued that “BN cares about your needs and will seek your views on important issues.”

Promises broken

On “religion and culture”, the 2004 manifesto said: “BN will continue to promote peace, prosperity and harmony among Malaysians. BN upholds the diversity of religious practice, language and culture.

The reality however is very different, especially with the recent spate of Hindu temples demolition.

Or consider what Badruddin Amiruddin (left), who has been picked to defend his Jerai parliament seat, said: “Let no one from the other races ever question the rights of Malays on this land. Don’t question the religion because this is my right on this land. Don’t poke at this nest, for if it were disturbed, these hornets will strike and destroy the country.”

During a parliamentary debate, the same Badruddin lashed out at the opposition: “Malaysia ini Negara Islam, you tak suka, you keluar dari Malaysia.”

On human rights and freedom, the 2004 manifesto promised, “BN safeguards the interests of all citizens. We listen to and act on the hopes and aspirations of all groups regardless of age, gender, ethnic background and religion.”

Here’s the reality - Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz on March 20, 2006 said, “We will not think twice about using this law against anyone who incites - that’s why we still need the Sedition Act and ISA (Internal Security Act)”. On Suhakam’s ineffectiveness, he said, “I think you are dreaming, we have never planned to give any teeth to Suhakam. To give them teeth has never been a proposal.”

On the corruption and abuse of power issue, Umno secretary-general Radzi Sheikh Ahmad (commenting on money politics) said, “Umno does not intend to report the cases to the ACA. We have our own mechanism.”

Urban voters better informed

Today, urban voters are better positioned to evaluate the government’s ability in delivering its promises. This category of voter segment has an information advantage that may arise due to several factors:

1. Greater average wealth
2. Higher education
3. Better access to the media as well as stronger urban focus in media coverage
4. Greater access through the Internet and interactive IT communication

Tricia Yeoh (right), director of Centre of Public Policy Studies, has put a rather tantalising question: “Will urban voters translate their political perceptions and sentiments into changing patterns at this general election?”

Perhaps part of the answer lies in this remark by economist Zainal Aznam Yusof: “A responsible government would say what it wants to do after the elections. You cannot dupe the electorate - they know what is coming.”

Gladwell in his book concluded by saying that people can radically transform their behaviour or beliefs with the right kind of impetus.

“Tipping points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push - in just the right place - it can be tipped.”

Will it happen on polling day?

Overcome fear, vote for change

From a letter in Malaysiakini:

"We seem to fear, and it is this fear that the ruling elites capitalise on for the sake of their continued dominance in the seats of power. We must learn to use the power of the vote to ensure that change takes place and to put a stop to corruption and the complete control of the executive over the other two state bodies (the judiciary and the legislature). Healthcare, education, the cost of living, religious sensitivities and, most precious of all, equality and freedom must be in our minds when we cast our votes.

If we, the people, are known to change the government once every two or three terms, the ruling elites will come down from their ivory towers and start treating us as equals. That must slowly start this election.

More seats must be won by the opposition so that the rakyat will slowly overcome the culture of fear that has been drilled into them by a compliant media and the state apparatus. With the exposure of corrupt practices in high and powerful seats of government, we the rakyat must not waste this upcoming opportunity."

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BN won 7 parliamentary and 2 state seats uncontested

After the close of nominations for the 2008 elections yesterday, BN won 7 parliamentary seats unopposed compared to 17 parliamentary seats which it won uncontested in 2004. It also won only 2 state seats on nomination day compared to the 11 seats it won unopposed in 2004.

PAS won the Kijang state seat in Kelantan when the BN candidate was disqualified for being an undischarged bankcrupt.

BN wins 9 seats - the Sun

February 22, 2008

Ploy by EC to disqualify opposition candidates?

Malaysiakini reported today that the Election Commission has made a last minute decision to impose a new regulation requiring candidates to submit a statutory declaration of stamp duty payment on Sunday. With only two days left before nomination day, this decision has raised suspicions that it is meant to create problems for the Opposition.

DAP's Lim Guan Eng said, "For 50 years, the EC did not implement this regulation. So doesn’t this make BN an illegal government all this time? How can he suddenly change his mind and say this is the law and it must be followed?"

"This is just another ploy by EC to disqualify opposition candidates, they are leaving no stone unturned to ensure victory for BN, by hook or by crook. Why are they putting an extra impediment giving us two days to get it done? EC is up to no good."

February 21, 2008

Preview of Malaysian 2008 General Elections

A review of the 2004 general elections shows that there are 60-70 parliamentary seats where the Opposition stands a very good chance of winning in the upcoming elections. If the Opposition can come to an agreement to prevent three-corner contests in these seats and with concerted efforts by the Opposition members and voters alike, we may just see the opposition gaining the 75 seats required to deny BN a 2/3 majority in parliament.

There are also four states where the Opposition can put up a good fight for a majority of the state seats: Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Penang. Will we see a change in the state governments in the states currently under BN control?

The reviewed data of the 2004 elections and the seats to watch are available at

8 March 2008

A New And Better Malaysia

Has Emerged