There goes $100b down the drain…

April 30,2010

By Leslie Lau

Executive Editor of  The Malaysian Insider

Abdullah allegedly gave up the oil rights to resolve the Limbang dispute with Brunei.

KUALA LUMPUR, April 30 — Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is alleged to have allowed Malaysia to sign away up to RM320 billion in potential oil earnings, in return for Brunei dropping its claim over Limbang in Sarawak.

Both former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the DAP’s Lim Kit Siang demanded an explanation today from the country’s previous PM, after news reports emerged last week suggesting Malaysia had signed away its oil rights.

Murphy Oil, which had entered a production-sharing contract with national oil company, Petronas, for Block L and Block M offshore of Limbang, announced last week that it was ceasing operations because “it was no longer part of Malaysia.”

“It would seem that the loss of a huge oil producing area that had apparently belonged to Malaysia is okay,” said Dr Mahathir today in a posting on his blog.

Separately, Lim said Abdullah should explain whether he had indeed signed off US$100 billion (RM320 billion) worth of oil rights to resolve Brunei’s claims to Limbang a month before he stepped down as prime minister in March last year and if so, why.

In the waning weeks of his term as PM, Abdullah had visited Brunei for talks with Bandar Seri Begawan officials.

Following the trip he announced that Brunei would no longer continue with its claim on Limbang, the stretch of  land in Sarawak which partly splits Brunei in two.Abdullah, however, did not divulge details of the deal with Brunei.

Brunei also reportedly said later it had not dropped its claims on Limbang. “Block L and Block M had been claimed by Malaysia based on historical facts. Accordingly, PETRONAS entered into a production-sharing contract with Murphy Oil to start drilling to produce oil. It is estimated that the reserves amounted to almost one billion barrels.

“Abdullah Badawi negotiated with the Sultan (of Brunei) to get back Limbang in Sarawak. In return he agreed to surrender the two blocks to Brunei. No Petronas representatives were present, only foreign office staff and the foreign affairs adviser to the PM,” said Dr Mahathir, who had handpicked Abdullah to be his successor but eventually became his biggest nemesis.

Dr Mahathir questioned why Abdullah was allowed to proceed with the Brunei deal. The former prime minister (N0.4)

Dr Mahathir further claimed that it was now clear that the two exploration blocks were no longer a part of Malaysia.  The former PM did not cite the sources for his information about the meeting.He also did not provide justification for his claim that potential earnings could amount to RM320 billion.

“Abdullah has caused Malaysia to lose at least US100 billion dollars (about RM320 billion) of Malaysia’s oil in this agreement.

“Can Wisma Putra please explain why it did not stop Abdullah?” queried Dr Mahathir.

The DAP’s Lim also said it was now up to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to explain the true situation.

He said Najib must clarify whether Abdullah had signed off RM320 billion worth of oil rights to resolve Brunei’s claims to Limbang.

He said the PM should also explain the reports that Brunei’s claims to Limbang remains unaffected despite Malaysia losing these two blocks of offshore oil areas.

The Ipoh Timur MP then called on Najib to spell out “why the Abdullah Cabinet at the time of which he was Deputy Prime Minister had agreed to such unilateral and arbitrary sell-out of the country’s sovereign rights.”

Lessons from Defeat in Hulu Selangor

April 30, 2010

Defeat in Hulu Selangor:  Lessons for Pakatan Rakyat (Part 3)

by Dr. Bridget Welsh*

Nationally people are wondering why a widely-respected candidate such as Zaid Ibrahim lost the Hulu Selangor by-election to a MIC unknown. Yesterday, I described part of the story – the factors shaping the BN. Below I lay out the issues that undermined Pakatan Rakyat, drawing again from the campaign messaging, logistics and political dynamics.

Due to the size of the constituency and national political firepower they faced, this election tested Pakatan like never before. It showcases some deep weaknesses within the opposition that have to be addressed in order for Pakatan to win national power.

Ultimately, the real test will be whether Pakatan learns the lessons of strengthening cooperation and adapting to the new political environment. The fact of the matter is that they held their own, but underperformed. Underperformance is something that the opposition cannot afford to do if it seeks to take over Putrajaya.

On the back foot

From the beginning of the Hulu Selangor campaign, Pakatan was on the defensive. They did not set the tone of the campaign, having to respond to attacks on Zaid’s link to drinking and gambling, the Selangor Pakatan government and more.

NONEMuch of campaign, including the visit by PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat in the last days of the campaign was tied to addressing the attacks on morality waged on PKR leaders. Rarely does a defensive posture engender a positive outcome.

This was exacerbated by a slow start to the campaign. Of the three component parties in Pakatan, PKR has the weakest machinery in Hulu Selangor. It took a few days for the party to sort out a productive working relationship on the ground internally and with the component parties in the opposition coalition.

Part of this had to do with resolving the issues of multiple sovereignty – the role of the state government and the role of the parties. The slow start was further enhanced by long-standing personality differences in style and outlook within Pakatan, and the opposition had to work to address these differences.

The election showed that the parties can work together effectively as they gained ground towards the latter part of the campaign. The DAP and PAS delivered effectively and all the parties worked well together – eventually. In a tight contest, however, every day counts.

Pakatan was slow off the mark and was unable to fully bridge the gap as it gained speed towards the finish line.

Stale and splintered messaging

Listening to the ceramah and observing the campaign paraphernalia, Pakatan seems locked in a time warp. The posters followed the same model of 2008, with the slogan “Hope for Malaysia”. The messages are two years old and resonated with the party faithful, not the swing voters.

Many voters asked what was new. The fact is that as Pakatan is in power in Selangor, the call for change or even reform has less political traction. In government, it is not adequate to use an anti-incumbent campaign. The cry of “reformasi” only served to strengthen the party faithful, not to secure new voters that Pakatan needed to assure a win.

hulu selangor by-election voting day 250410 pkr posterThe campaign also lacked a central theme. While some campaigners focused on contemporary issues such as the rival candidate, P Kamalanathan, others addressed concerns with Apco and even Altantuya Shaariibuu – the issue that was prominent in the Permatang Pauh by-election in August 2008.

The messages were all over the place, and, as such, it was not clear exactly what Pakatan stood for. Multi-ethnic inclusion? Reform? Anti-UMNO? New leadership? The voters lacked an anchor to identify with. For some voters, particular messages did connect, such as the poster of Teoh Beng Hock, which was particularly present in the Chinese areas. For others, it was confusing and uninspiring.

This was reinforced by the fact that the opposition was hampered in getting its message out. In Hulu Selangor, the alternative media had limited impact, particularly in Ulu Bernam. The challenge of communication exacerbated the problems of messaging as Pakatan was disadvantaged in its ability to connect with the voters.

The state newspaper, Selangorkini – with only a few thousand copies – was a drop in the bucket to reach this large constituency. Pakatan nationally has the disadvantage due to its lack of access to traditional media, and in this type of constituency – semi-rural and diverse – this disadvantage is particularly acute.

More broadly, this speaks to a real need to improve how Pakatan communicates with the public.

Burden of wearing two hats

Even more challenging is the dual roles that Pakatan has – in government and opposition. It is very difficult to wear two hats politically, especially when the roles are the exact opposite of each other.

This election provided the first real opportunity for Pakatan to showcase its record at the state level and they failed this test. One main reason involves the failure to develop new messages for the new context and move beyond March 2008. Pakatan has yet to develop a new identity that is tied to its role in state governments post-March 2008. No one person can be blamed for this since it is a matter for the entire leadership of Pakatan.

Even more difficult is showcasing the successes of the state government in a constituency where the state government has made minimal impact. Hulu Selangor was a neglected constituency. This has to do with the fact that all three representatives for the state are in BN. Pakatan did not effectively engage this area before the election, especially in the Felda areas.

This was driven home as the campaign progressed and state politicians learned firsthand that many did not even know that Pakatan was in government. Some voters lived in a ‘BN bubble’. This illustrated serious shortcomings on the part of the state government.

There were exceptions such as Selangor excos Elizabeth Wong’s work in the Orang Asli areas or Ean Yong Hian Wah’s work in the Chinese new villages, which contributed to gains for PKR in these areas, but overall, particularly in Malay areas, the state government had limited engagement and deliverables that it could showcase effectively.

hulu selangor by-election 100410 pakatan dinner ulu yam baru khalid 02While Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim was highly popular and respected, the actions of the government as a whole did not come across to the key voters.

This was compounded by the fact that many problems in this constituency were associated with land. Traditionally land is a state matter, but on the ground it was difficult to resolve these issues since the jurisdiction of issues was not so clear cut.

Many problems had occurred in the previous BN state government – housing scams, land speculations, unfair land allocations, limited land rights, shoddy development – to name but a few. They remain unresolved and require the cooperation of the private sector, federal government and state government.

Sadly, the failure of these actors to work together to resolve issues for Selangor has hurt development in the state, and in the semi-rural parts of the state in particular. In the campaign, blame was cast largely on the new Pakatan state government unfairly to address these problems.

Come next election, Pakatan will have to address the concerns over land effectively in order to secure votes, and this will require working more effectively to accommodate the different actors involved. This only points to the serious work ahead that Pakatan needs to address as a state government to win votes.

Party of defectors, not leaders

Convincing voters that it can govern effectively is vital for the opposition’s future. This starts with the leadership of the opposition. Nationally, Pakatan has to come to terms that the attacks on Anwar Ibrahim have had their impact.

The opposition leader does not have the same level of popularity of 2008. In part, this was the product of his loss of credibility over the September 16 Affair that lingers in the minds of voters. In part, this has to do with questions associated with the Sodomy II trial, although the majority of the electorate see this as a political ploy.

NONEIt nevertheless has cast a shadow over the future direction of the leadership of Pakatan. Voters want to be assured that the coalition they vote for has clear leadership and direction.

The major issue in this campaign was the impact of the defections. People supposedly loyal to Anwar, such at Hulu Selangor’s Dr Halili Rahmat, people who were touted by Anwar to be important PKR leaders and personal friends openly joined the other side. This raises questions about Anwar’s leadership that have to be addressed in order to win the confidence of the electorate.

PKR is becoming perceived as the party of defectors, not leaders. The defections also affected campaigning as they spilled over into weakening the local machinery resulting in the party relying heavily on outsiders to run the campaign.

Are the rats leaving a sinking ship? Or is the party finding out who is willing to commit to real reforms in government and stick with the fight? While these may be true, the impact of the defections was especially damaging in Malay areas, and had broader resonance.

Pakatan needs own identity

More fundamentally, Pakatan needs to come up with a programme for the future in government. Malaysian voters are pragmatic and want direction on the part of their leaders. Nationally, Prime Minister Najib Razak has adopted economic reform as his own platform. He has usurped the position as the reformer, at least symbolically.

Pakatan has yet to showcase a new set of ideas to address the current challenges. It has yet to engage with how the Najib leadership in BN has evolved and is evolving. Personal attacks on Najib are not adequate to win votes. They need a clear programme and direction, based on being in government at the state level and as a potential government nationally. It is no longer enough to be different from BN. Pakatan needs its own identity that voters can connect to.

Pakatan may have lost in Hulu Selangor. The bigger challenge is to make sure that it has not lost its direction. The by-election showed that the opposition is learning – it gained ground towards the end – but faces challenges in communication, leadership and identity.

If it wants to win power nationally, it has to take bold steps to engage the electorate and current political conditions. To avoid getting lost and further losses, Pakatan has to avoid internal blame and recognised that voters want change to be more than symbolic.

* DR BRIDGET WELSH is associate professor of political science at Singapore Management University. She can be reached at

An Opinion: Want to save Capitalism?

April 30, 2010

Want to save capitalism?

by E J Dionne Jr (April 29, 2010)

Maybe the next time someone calls Barack Obama a socialist, the president shouldn’t issue a denial. He might instead urge his accuser to read the hearing transcript of this week’s congressional testimony from the Goldman Sachs guys in their beautiful suits.

Capitalism has not taken a hit like this since Mr. Potter made his appearance as the evil banker in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” No leftist polemicist could come up with as damning a description of contemporary capitalism as the contents of an e-mail that Goldman’s Fabrice “Fabulous Fab” Tourre sent to his girlfriend.

“Well,” he wrote, “what if we created a ‘thing,’ which has no purpose, which is absolutely conceptual and highly theoretical and which nobody knows how to price?”

Perhaps Fab once read the Karl Marx who wrote: “The more abstract money is, the less natural its relationship to other commodities.

“If money is an abstraction, the investment industry’s creative inventions are abstractions of abstractions of abstractions. Banks no longer just give people loans to buy houses. Now Wall Street’s geniuses — and they are ingenious — trade bizarre financial products in which the original loan is packaged with thousands of others and buried under piles of equations and economic gibberish.

Goldman may face charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission, but it’s the entirety of our deregulated financial system that’s on trial. In this new order, the inventiveness of our entrepreneurs goes not only into creating products that enhance our lives (from refrigerators to laptops to iPods) but also into fashioning “absolutely conceptual and highly theoretical” financial products whose main function is to enrich a very small number of well-placed people.

The ever-more-complex financial instruments are defended on the grounds that they make life better for everybody. Tourre offered this justification in another of his revealing e-mails: “Anyway, not feeling too guilty about this, the real purpose of my job is to make capital markets more efficient and ultimately provide the U.S. consumer with more efficient ways to leverage and finance himself, so there is a humble, noble and ethical reason for my job.”

Then he added: “amazing how good I am in convincing myself !!!”

Tourre’s unconventionally punctuated observations go to the heart of the debate we need to have: How many of the arguments offered on behalf of these exotic transactions are nothing more than rationalizations for the capacity they give a few investment bankers to get very, very rich?

Does it make sense to have investment houses playing the role of “market makers,” peddling financial junk with one hand that they then bet against with the other? Let’s assume for the sake of argument that this is perfectly legal. The real question is: Why should it be?

I’m prepared to believe that some of these financial innovations do real work for the real economy. Yes, it’s good that farmers can use the futures markets to lock in prices, and the secondary mortgage markets may well free up capital. But Wall Street has gone way beyond the original purposes of such devices and created a world unto itself in which the gains are reserved for privileged insiders and the losses are borne by everybody else.

At one point during the hearings, Sen. Carl Levin played the Jimmy Stewart good-banker role from “It’s a Wonderful Life” by describing capitalism as it’s supposed to be. Levin noted that Wall Street “has been seen as an engine of growth, betting on America’s successes and not its failures.”

Well, that’s what Wall Street proclaims in its advertisements for itself. But when defending themselves against legal charges, Wall Streeters retreat to honesty by saying that everybody knows they are really there to make money and that it’s naive to hold them accountable for the social impact of what they do.

It is, indeed, naive to expect Wall Street to act as charitably as the Salvation Army, and you have to respect Fabulous Fab’s brutal candor about this. Which brings us back to socialism.

Marx’s predictions about the inevitable collapse of capitalism have been wrong so far because the system has worked reasonably well, thanks to the rules and redistributive programs established after the Great Depression.

The lesson is that the surest way to save capitalism is to regulate it in the public interest. The surest way to create socialists is for everyone to experience the economic consequences of counting only on the goodness in the hearts of Mr. Potter and Fabrice Tourre.

The PKR blame game is on

April 29, 2010

Post Hulu Selangor : The Blame Game in PKR is on

by Regina Lee

With nearly all bases covered in the post-mortem of the Hulu Selangor by-election, new allegations of internal dissent and discord have surfaced in defeated PKR.

While PAS and DAP could boast of well-oiled machinery, often borrowing experiences of party stalwarts who have seen more elections up close and personal even before many of the party workers were born, PKR is still considered a baby in politics.

NONEAnd despite Opposition leader and Ketua Umum Anwar Ibrahim’s (left) iron grip on the party, and Pakatan Rakyat for that matter, there was dissent and disharmony visible.

In the run-up to the Hulu Selangor by-election, there were complaints that the PKR machinery was split into three camps: the party machinery under MB Khalid Ibrahim, the party workers mainly aligned to vice-president Azmin Ali and the candidate himself Zaid Ibrahim.

And in wake of the defeat, supporters from each sides are pointing fingers, accusing each other of being weak links.

Malaysiakini understands that many have been unhappy with Khalid’s leadership even though he was handpicked by Anwar himself to head the entire machinery for the by-election.

“He was inexperienced and inefficient. He was good at logistics, but he did not know much about anything else. Elections are not just about getting people to set up ceramah tents,” said a party source.

Khalid Ibrahim did nothing in Hulu Selangor

The source also complained that Khalid was tight with the purse strings and that he would give unrealistically low sums to run the whole eight days of campaigning.

NONEA top PKR leader also said for the next election in Selangor, Khalid (right) would no longer be heading the team. “He is just too busy as MB. A lot of people could get away with telling him that they had done something when they had not,” said the PKR leader.

Klang MP from DAP Charles Santiago, who was tasked with canvassing the Indian votes, also said that there was just too much responsibility to be an MB and manage the party election machinery.

“There must be a separation of operations. Usually, the nerve centre of any by-election has to come from outside the circle,” he said.

The election machinery head on BN’s side was, incidentally, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Member of PKR’s political bureau S Manikavasagam, also widely known be a vocal critic of the MB, said that while he did not want to blame anyone, it was clear that he was unhappy with Khalid.

“The machinery did not start work until the by-election was announced. It should have been done the moment (late MP Dr Zainal Abidin Ahmad) became very ill. Khalid said that he was willing to work 24 hours a day, but what exactly was he doing?”

Zaid headed out on his own

A news portal recently reported that Zaid, fed up with the inefficiency of the PKR machinery, headed out on his own and formed his own team to oversee the campaigning operations.

NONEParty observers have noted that Zaid (left) went off and decided his own schedules and generally did not stick to the plan that the machinery has put in place for him.

“It looks like he doesn’t trust the party workers. His people didn’t even attend the coordination meetings.”

And at the same time, the party workers aligned to Azmin, who incidentally have had famous spats with Zaid in the past, said that Zaid did not know how to campaign.

“When Zaid visited certain areas, he didn’t even get down from the car. It even took a lot of effort just to get him to smile and shake hands with the locals,” said one of them.

It is also fairly obvious that Zaid had his own agenda on his mind and there were times when the party machinery would not know his schedule or his whereabouts.

Indeed reporters covering the by-election had to check with the party machinery and Khalid’s team for an ‘official’ itinerary, and also for Zaid’s own schedule.

Azmin is MIA

It was also curious that Azmin, who had been previously speculated to be miffed that he did not get the job to helm the campaign, was noticeably missing. But it is understandable that as chief whip, he had to hold fort at parliamentary sittings which coincided with the campaigning dates. And so the skilled orator hardly took to the stage at the ceramah.

pkr national congress 301108 azmin aliWhile Azmin (right) has repeatedly stressed that there is no rift between himself and Zaid, as well as Khalid, there was not much sign of him between nomination day until the final leg of campaigning.

“In previous elections, Azmin gave 100 percent, but in this election, he didn’t. Frankly I don’t know why, maybe he was afraid Zaid might take over,” said Manikavasagam while refusing to elaborate further.

However, many of the parties, including PKR elections director Fuziah Salleh were quick to quell rumours of disunity in the ranks.

“The allegations are baseless. I don’t deny that we have our own weaknesses, but all the leaders worked very hard,” she said.

Arrogance in the office

While the PKR machinery may need to take a step back and take a further look at the machinery to improve it, much will still have to be done to keep the party in touch with the people.

Santiago also said that apart from the lack of cohesion in the machinery especially at the grassroots level, many of the MPs and assemblymen from the various folds of Pakatan Rakyat had “airs”.

“Some of the YBs think that they need an invitation to go help out with the campaigning. They would rather not go from house-to-house but prefer the ceramah circuit instead. At every night, there are five to six speakers when time is better used to meet the voters on a personal basis,” he said.

Manikavasagam also quipped: “If all the Excos think that they are federal ministers, we are finished”.

Ahead of May 6 British Election: The Economist endorses the Conservatives

April 29, 2010

The Economist endorses David Cameron and the Conservatives

The influential Economist magazine endorsed Britain’s main opposition Conservatives today, giving them a boost ahead of next week’s parliamentary election.

The magazine switched its support from centre-left Labour for the May 6 election because it said the Conservatives seemed the most committed to reducing the size of the public sector.

“Government now accounts for over half the economy, rising to 70 per cent in Northern Ireland. For Britain to thrive, this liberty-destroying Leviathan has to be tackled,” the weekly magazine wrote in an editorial.

“The Conservatives, for all their shortcomings, are keenest to do that; and that is the main reason why we would cast our vote for them.”

The Economist praised Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s response to the global credit crisis, but tempered this by criticising him for pouring money into public services during his decade as finance minister until 2007.

It concluded that Labour, in power since 1997 when Tony Blair won the first of three successive victories, had run out of steam.

“Above all, the government is tired. Mired in infighting and scandal, just as the Tories were in 1997, New Labour has run its course,” it said.

The Economist has a circulation of close to 200,000 in Britain and 1.4 million worldwide. It is widely read by people in financial services and the higher echelons of business. Opinion polls show the centre-right Conservatives or Tories leading the election race, but suggest they may not have enough support to command an outright majority in the 650-seat parliament.

A strong showing by the centrist Liberal Democrats, long the third party in British politics, has seen them overtake Labour in some polls and complicated the electoral arithmetic. Britain has a first-past-the-post electoral system, not one based on proportional representation.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has shone in televised debates, but the Economist said the party’s policies were less appealing.

“To the extent that elections are holidays from normal politics, Mr Clegg has been a delightful holiday romance for many Britons; but this newspaper does not fancy moving in with him for the next five years,” it said.— Reuters

Najib not quite the conqueror of Hulu Selangor, says Dr. Welsh

April 29, 2010

Najib not quite the conqueror of Hulu Selangor (Part 2)

by Dr. Bridget Welsh

Najib Razak and the BN won bragging rights in Hulu Selangor. A win is a win. The BN had the advantage up-front with its machinery and resources for this large semi-rural constituency and it used these effectively.

To date, the focus has been on BN’s use of financial incentives to woo voters. This has been a long honed practice, especially in the rural areas. It is nothing new, and part of any by-election. To understand the dynamics on the ground, one has to look further.

NONETo attribute Najib’s victory on money politics obscures important transformations taking place within the BN. The use of ethnic politics and new messaging underscored the BN’s campaign.

The BN’s efforts may have helped secure a win, but the long term points worryingly to further political challenges.

Comparatively, this election mattered more for the BN, especially Najib. Najib has staked his political future on a victory. Since he assumed office in April 2009, Najib has lacked his own political mandate. Hulu Selangor, with the slim 2008 majority of only 198 votes, gave him an opportunity to show both the public and, even more important, his own party that he could win.

It is thus not surprising that the dominant message in the BN campaign was focused on him, from the posters to the unprecedented prominent role he played in the campaign. The prominence of his concept 1Malaysia reinforced the Najib connection.

To date, Najib has staked his future on improving the economy. Najib needs political room to implement difficult policy decisions that go to the core of the future of the country – economic reforms. He needs to cut the use of subsidies, improve state revenues, remove ethnic-based preferences (aka the NEP) and generate new sources of growth.

Without economic reforms, the country faces serious obstacles in maintaining its competitiveness. These reforms will not be easy to carry out. He will need public support. Sadly, the size of the victory does not give Najib adequate political space for hard economic decisions.

Focus on Najib’s personality

Najib’s personal battle involved more than the public and his policy measures. Listening to Najib on the campaign trail, it was clear that the election was centred on damaging his political enemy – Anwar Ibrahim.

With innuendos such as “main belakang” and references to how US President Barack Obama personally supports him, Najib used the opportunity to continue the battle for national leadership that is playing out in the courts and through censure motions in Parliament.

The BN’s use of personal attacks on Zaid Ibrahim is an extension of the series of attacks on members of PKR from Anwar downwards. Najib and the BN engaged in an all-out war against the opposition because the increasing power of the opposition has become personal to them, a challenge to their positions and wealth.

The prime minister’s focus on personality rather than his deliverables suggested an element of insecurity on Najib’s part. One of the reasons for this insecurity involves increasing pressure from within UMNO itself.

hulu selangor by-election voting day 250410 muhyiddinDeputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin took the opportunity to cast a shadow on Najib’s victory by contrasting the target of 6,000 with the slim victory of 1,725.

In fact, Muhyiddin is not far off from traditional patterns of BN – largely UMNO – support in this seat. By showing that Najib did not make this target, he has maintained the pressure from inside Umno on Najib to meet the needs of the party and address many of the concerns of the ultra-Malay chauvinist agenda.

Najib faces a real challenge of securing the support for economic policies and simultaneously building security for his party members who are concerned with their own positions Najib’s personal battleground – from Pakatan and Anwar to UMNO and Perkasa – was played out in Hulu Selangor, and it is long from over.

The intensity of the BN campaign reflected this high stakes involved. The BN went all out and it translated on the ground to hard work, zeal and pressure in local communities. Many in the Malay Felda areas of Ulu Bernam, for example, expressed fear of being ostracised for supporting the opposition. Many villagers were genuinely afraid of the implications of not voting for BN.

This was the product of the hard court press of the BN machinery, which was well-oiled from beginning of the campaign and much stronger in localities, especially in Batang Kali. The opposition lacked the same networks to exert pressure, and some Malay and Indian villagers wisely opted to follow along rather than challenge the local BN campaigners.

It is striking to see the low voter turnout in many Malay areas, as many stayed home in a quiet protest rather than oppose the BN machine. It was not a surprise that tensions were high in areas, with small fights on election day as a result of how the national intensity was translated on the ground in rural communities.

UMNO throws its weight

There was another unspoken weapon held over the heads in this campaign. It involved the component parties – MIC and MCA. They were called to deliver or face further encroachment in their power base by UMNO. Weakened and riddled by factionalism, both the MIC and MCA struggled to show that they had support among their respective traditional constituencies.

At stake was the future of seat allocations, ministerial positions and even more intense issues of their future in the BN as threats of bypassing these parties altogether were banded about, largely as rumours. They reinforced a real sense that UMNO was throwing its weight around.

This was most obvious for MIC, as the emasculation of the party through the candidate selection illustrated publicly the weaker role it plays in BN. The MIC branches – those that opted to campaign for P Kamalanathan – understood it was a matter of their survival not just in Hulu Selangor but nationally. UMNO was waiting in the wings to take over the seat.

hulu selangor by-election nomination 170410 samyvelluFor MIC, they may have won a respite for their seats and gained a potential settlement of the Maika scandal in the process.

The leadership of the party remains at question, as does the fundamental fact that the MIC has a long way to go to bringing Indians back into the BN fold.

One cannot ignore the fact that any gains have to be seen within the lens that this has been a MIC seat for over 10 years before 2008 and they won less than an estimated 60 percent of the Indian vote. This is not quite a national mandate for the MIC.

For the MCA, reeling from battles inside its own ranks, the cracks spilled over into the campaigning, with party president Chua Soi Lek’s late arrival on the ground in a constituency that had considerable popularity within the MCA for Ong Tee Keat. The MCA faced real pressures to show its relevancy and did not win recognition in this contest as Chinese voters overwhelmingly rejected their efforts.

hulu selangor by-election voting day 250410 mca chua soi lekChua said it best when he talked about the need to address issues nationally and move beyond its grassroots campaigning in villages to secure votes.

The reality is that some of its own party workers are not loyal to the party in the voting booth. MCA had less to lose short term in the contest, but in the longer term serious questions of relevancy and its ability to effectively represent Chinese Malaysians loom.

Both the MIC and MCA have to face the fact that the BN has changed. Umno is more in control than ever before. Non-Malay voices inside the BN coalition are apparently being ignored and this was evident in the campaign itself. Logistically, substantial BN cooperation – touted as the new campaign strategy – was minimal, as parties focused on their communities. Rarely did they work together, except with Najib’s visits.

In order for the non-Malay component parties to win back support they need to show that they are respected and appreciated by UMNO, that Malays in UMNO believe that Indian and Chinese leaders and members within BN should be genuinely included. This did not come across during the campaign, and is a even more serious challenge nationally as UMNO interferes in these parties as factional fights over leadership develop.

Ethnic politics within the BN itself was also a factor shaping the Hulu Selangor campaign. The MIC won the most as some Indians did come back to support the BN, while the MCA faces even more obstacles as a result of the further erosion of Chinese support.

BN rebrands itself

The BN campaign in Hulu Selangor was not just well-oiled and highly politically motivated, it was one of its best campaigns. It challenged the core of Pakatan Rakyat’s identity. First of all, the BN fought to undermine Pakatan’s call for “change”.

They focused on local sentiments of neglect and blamed the new Pakatan state government. While this did not fully resonate, the fact that the area was under multiple sovereignty undercut the ability of the opposition to rally voters along the same lines as they did in 2008.

The BN slogan “Mampu Berubah” (Ability to change) – illustrated the recognition that they have to change. While most saw this cynically, some voters acknowledged this new tone. Clearly the arrogance of UMNO before 2008 was not repeated in their Hulu Selangor campaign messages. Instead they used the slogan “Yes, We Can”.

NONEAnother key dimension that was challenged was the multi-ethnic composition of Pakatan. The BN used the 1Malaysia concept to portray that it was inclusive. While the campaigning on the ground was racial – vote for the Indian in Indian areas, voting for Pakatan is a vote for a Chinese government in Malay areas, voting for BN is a vote for Malay power – to paraphrase comments made at BN rallies and reports from voters – the 1Malaysia umbrella was multi-racial and Najib’s campaign efforts were as well.

The issue here is that the BN worked to try to win back the label of being the multiethnic representative that assured “stability”. Voters reported mixed acceptance of this message, but it clearly was more sophisticated and goes to the heart in challenging Pakatan which has aimed to portray itself as more multi-ethnic.

NONEThe final element was an attempt by the BN to portray themselves as ‘Generation-Y’. Najib’s campaign was linked with a new generation of leaders and an attempt to reach out the young. The idea was to showcase a new generation of Malay leaders for Malaysia.

This also goes to the heart of another dimension of Pakatan’s support, as it has presented itself as young and its engaging of the younger voters has resulted in greater political support.

These new themes in the BN campaign show that BN is changing how it is packaging itself. On the ground, many of these messages were not effectively delivered by the BN campaigners, who are locked in historic molds of race-based campaigning, use of incentives and mind-sets of entitlement. Yet, one cannot ignore that the BN at the top showed the most innovation and ingenuity this campaign.

Further polarisation

There was a cost for the political use of these messages. 1Malaysia aims at inclusiveness. It has now become a BN political tool used for political expediency. It now serves to alienate many rather than engage, in part due to the fact that people used the slogan while simultaneously adopting tactics of race and character assassination.

From Hulu Selangor onwards, Malaysian voters may potentially be increasingly become polarised around the 1Malaysia concept. This does not bode well for inclusion across races. In order to win over voters in the long term, the BN needs to implement real changes within itself and in its engagement with voters. The campaign remained highly racialised even as the messages were not. A slogan is not enough.

Further by associating himself with the Hulu Selangor campaign, Najib has entered the fray of election politics like never before. The new messages revolve around his leadership. They have the potential to raise his own personal stakes in future by-elections.

Ironically, he may have made himself more vulnerable politically. He won Hulu Selangor in a tight race, but he now will have to face even more battles ahead as he has yet to fully emerge as the conqueror.

DR BRIDGET WELSH is associate professor of political science at Singapore Management University. She can be reached at