Malaysian Cabinet formed but legitimacy crisis continues

May 15, 2013

Malaysian Cabinet formed but legitimacy crisis continues

By Anil Netto

PENANG – Large crowds have turned out in protests in major cities on peninsular Malaysia in response to a general election marred by allegations of irregularities and vote-buying. As the protests spread across the country, the Opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat’s challenge has the potential to destabilize Prime Minister Najib Razak’s new government.

Despite winning less than half of the national vote, BN now controls 10 out of 13 federal states due to its careful carving of constituencies.

Despite winning less than half of the national vote, BN now controls 10 out of 13 federal states due to its careful carving of constituencies.

In the central state of Selangor, some 100,000 thronged a stadium in the first major protest three days after the May 5 polls. Thousands more attended a simultaneous protest at the Rusila Mosque in Terengganu on the peninsula’s east coast. These were followed by another large turnout of close to 100,000 at another stadium, in the northern state of Penang, on May 11.

On Sunday night, some 30,000 crammed into the streets of Ipoh, the capital of the state of Perak, for yet another rally. More rallies are expected this week, including in Johor Bahru in the south and Kuantan on the east coast of the peninsula. Smaller groups of Malaysians have congregated in cities abroad, including in Melbourne, Taiwan, and Singapore.

malaysian-opposition-leader-anwar-ibrahim-speaks-during-a-rally-at-a-stadium-in-kelana-jaya-selangor-on-may-8-2013-3At all the rallies participants have dressed in black to symbolize a democracy “blackout”. The de facto Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leader Anwar Ibrahim and other coalition politicians have made several rousing speeches decrying fraud and irregularities at the polls. They have also made their case with international audiences, including in interviews with big global broadcasters.

In a campaign that highlighted rampant corruption and cronyism in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, the PR won almost 51% of the popular vote at the polls. But with constituencies gerrymandered to favor less-populated rural areas traditionally held by BN, PR won only 40% of parliament’s 222 seats. (BN captured 133 parliamentary seats to the PR’s 89.)

PR retained the state governments of Penang and Selangor, both developed states that it has governed since 2008, and the rural east coast state of Kelantan and lost narrowly in the northern state of Kedah.

Despite winning less than half of the national vote, BN now controls 10 out of 13 federal states due to its careful carving of constituencies. In Perak state, which PR captured in 2008 only to lose power after a few of its elected representatives defected, the BN won only 43% of the popular vote but still captured the state assembly, winning 31 state seats to the PR’s 28.

Subramaniam Pillay, a steering committee member of the civil society Malaysians protest over GE13 results in Kelana Jaya Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH), notes that the last time constituencies were redrawn was in 2003, and that only a simple majority in parliament and the state assemblies is required to redraw electoral boundaries – though a two thirds majority is required to increase the number of seats.

PR’s three component parties are expected to challenge the results in some 30 parliamentary constituencies where the BN won with small majorities. They have 21 days from the date the results are officially gazetted later this month to submit court petitions.

They could also file more general suits relating to vote-buying and constitutional issues related to the conduct of a caretaker government. Bersih, which has staged massive street rallies in the past against BN’s perceived manipulation of the electoral system in its favor, has said it would set up a “People Tribunal” to investigate the allegations of fraud and irregularities.

UtusanNajib, for his part, claimed a “Chinese tsunami” (a reference to the ethnic Chinese who represent 25% of the population) voted down BN candidates in many urban areas. Utusan Malaysia, owned by Najib’s United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party, took the cue with a headline splashed on its front and back pages asking “What more do the Chinese want?”.

BN’s insistence on viewing the country’s fast-changing political landscape through a race-tinted lens is consistent with its old style of politics, which is theoretically based on power-sharing among race-based political parties in BN but in reality is dominated by the ethnic Malay-led UMNO.

The contrast with the PR’s self-proclaimed “new politics” could not be more pronounced. Multi-ethnic demonstrators have said they represent a “Malaysian tsunami” that wants good governance, clean and fair elections and an end to corruption, and an end to the BN’s practice of exploiting ethnic divisions.

“Some commentators here have missed the whole point: we are not saying the opposition will take over the government or whether the elections results can be verified and fraud detected,” said Jeremiah Liang, who left a comment on a blog. “No. The real change is that the people of Malaysia, from all races and mostly urban, starting with Selangor and then to other states, are saying to the incumbent government: You have lost the people’s mandate to lead and to govern.”

sabmThe Police have responded by threatening to investigate 28 speakers at recent rallies for sedition, an offense, punishable by imprisonment, that the BN has long used to stifle criticism of its rule. The organizers of the various rallies will also be investigated for allegedly violating the Peaceful Assembly Act, which requires they give 10 days notice to the police before staging rallies. Should the government make mass arrests, the situation could tilt towards instability, some analysts believe.

To what extent election fraud, including allegations of voting buying in the crucial North Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, can be proven with sufficient evidence to overturn the results remains questionable. PR parties will face significant constraints to scrutiny in interior and difficult-to-access rural areas long controlled by BN politicians.

However, in one significant expose, the social reform group Aliran found people lining up for payments ranging from 150-200 ringgit (US$50-67) over the weekend in a few nondescript locations based on vouchers received before polling day. Some of those lining up for payments but who didn’t receive cash were told they would only receive payment if the BN candidate in their area won.

Others says the real source of fraud lies in the integrity of the electoral rolls. The BN’s granting of identity cards or citizenship documents to migrants in Sabah that allow them to vote had been the subject of a royal commission of inquiry but was postponed ahead of the election.

The Election Commission, meanwhile, has received flak for using indelible ink that disappears with mild scrubbing. With 260,000 military and police personnel eligible for early voting five days before official polling, the issue has raised concerns that BN-loyal security officials may have voted more than once.

The PR’s focus on electoral irregularities and gerrymandering may mask somewhat the coalition’s failure to deliver its clean governance message in grass roots rural areas. Many of the rural voters receive their news from television, radio and newspapers tightly controlled by the BN-led federal government, while few have access to more independent Internet-based news.

If PR did get its message across, it may not have resonated with rural voters as it did with urban ones. For instance, its pledges to reduce highway tolls, provide free higher education and usher in good governance lacked popular resonance in remote areas of Sabah and Sarawak where direct BN populist hand-outs maintained voter loyalty.

Among rural voters and some urban voters there were no doubt concerns that they would lose out if the BN’s affirmative action policies were replaced by the PR’s promise of more meritocracy in the distribution of state funds. While PR had indicated it would adopt a more needs-based – rather than race-based – approach, old insecurities remain.

Other weaknesses in the PR campaign included disputes over seat allocations among component parties that led to several multi-cornered contests that split votes in pro-PR areas. The late selection of PR candidates also gave them little time to familiarize themselves with the area and electorate in Malaysia’s short campaign period.

Despite these weaknesses, Anwar has announced plans to hold more ralliesMalaysia's Political Comeback Kid-2013. While it still seems unlikely these will morph any time soon into a larger Arab Spring-like movement that overturns the result, the rallies and the allegations add to the pressure on Najib, who is clearly struggling to come to terms with the erosion of BN popular support.

Anil Netto is a Penang-based writer.

11 thoughts on “Malaysian Cabinet formed but legitimacy crisis continues

  1. I hope these demonstrations are peaceful and the police show restraint. Otherwise they will turn ugly. It is too early to tell the calibre of the new cabinet formed just now. I would be very cautious but not at all optimistic. We who live overseas are watching. I have been reading a lot on the election from the foreign correspondents’ perspective.

  2. Very revealing and hoping positive moves will arise due to the gatherings. However violence like Arab Spring is very damaging and all parties must be vary of it.

  3. 4 years ago……….on ………….November 22, 2009.

    Posted by Bryant

    Foreign writer Bryant’s comments on Mahathir’s article : Kaki dalam Kasut where he says Chinese is the real master of Malaysia . This is a rational article written by a foreign observer in Malaysia.

    The highly respected Tun,


    China is coming up, India is coming up, Vietnam is coming up and now even Russia is on the rise. In this flat world that is all wired up and regardless whether we are Malaysian Malay, Chinese or Indian, and if Malaysia does not progress, all of us would become history of this country! Without the Malay, Chinese could not do well in the country and without the Chinese, Malay would not do well. Both have to work together to bring up Malaysia and mitigate the ascute impact that is being brought about by the globalisation.

    For me, a true leader is someone who has the foresight that not only focus on one particular group in the country but take care of the future of everyone. A good leader is someone who know what is the biggest threat the country is facing and direct the people to fight off the threat.

    A leader is also someone who is impartial that has the ability to promote harmony in the country for a long period of time.


    UMNO is a political loser that leads the country to nowhere. They do not understand what is going on the outside world. They have no clue where Malaysia will be in the next 30 years. With the 3 new superpowers, i.e Indian, China and Russia standing tall and high together with USA and the Europe Union, they do not know what kind of world it would be and how Malaysia is going to compete and share the ever smaller slice of cake of the world economy.

    They only know how to get the Malays to fight with other Non-Malay on tiny issues within Malaysia , while the two races know jolly well that the issues they are fighting are trivial and is totally self-satisfying. UMNO does not give a damn to how the poor Malay is going to live in the future and they do not care about the real benefits of the poor Malays. They only want the votes from them.

    The NEP is a good evidence on how they benefit the cronies, instead of the poor Malay.Despite all their despicable acts they are still in the power.


    As you are aware, the Malays control the rights to all the lands and all other natural resources in this country. They control all government institutions, GLC and State owned companies. The Malays dominate the lawmaking process in Malaysia ; The Malays control the decision making process in formulating the economy policies. The Malays own the largest national assets and the Malays are given shares in the public listed companies for free.

    The Malays have also been given all kind of priorities when it comes to buying properties, awarding of public contracts, tertiary education opportunities, awarding of scholarships and even getting a job in government departments. With all these privileges and rights enjoyed by the Malays, you are saying nothing has been done enough to help the Malays to catch up with other races, mainly the Chinese. Then what else should Malaysia do to satisfy the Malays?

    Did the Chinese seize or rob anything away from the Malays or all their wealth was a result of their hard work? If it is all due to their hard work, why do you say it is unfair? I don’t quite get your point here.


    May I humbly ask you what do you expect the Chinese to do if your so-called NEP did not achieve the desired result? Would the Malays be happy if the ethnic Chinese in this country do any of the followings:

    surrender their assets and hard earned money to the Malays unconditionally;

    -not to engage in any business activities;

    -not to score As in all sort of examinations;

    -not to make money that is more than the Malays are earning;

    -not to advance to higher education; or

    – renounce their citizenships and go back to China or migrate to some other countries?


    I am a foreigner but I am surprised that your intention is to divide your own country. I think you are mainly targeting the Chinese. Frankly, tell us, what do you expect the Chinese to do in order to achieve what is so called “equality” meant by you?


    Tun, after all these criticism you have against the present government, I feel that you are starting to lose your rationality on your arguments. You have run out of good reasons to convince us. I guess it could be due to your accumulating jealousy of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, your former counterpart in Singapore . But reality is always hard to accept. No matter how, you have to accept the fact that he is regarded the Father of Singapore but you are not regarded the Father of Malaysia; you have to accept the fact that Mr Lee is able to influence the government of Singapore until he the day he dies but you have not been able to influence the government from the moment you stepped down as PM.

    You must also accept the fact that he is still very popular on the world stage and a leader respected by many but you are not quite. Because of these jealousies, you are starting to accumulate imbalances in yourself that lead you to embark on a series of action to attack your successors. It is very obvious that you are not happy when your successors are more popular than you.

    Is there any good of doing that? What is your intention? Can’t you take it easy? During your time, you criticised most of the developed countries especially the Western Countries out of jealousy and after stepping down as PM you criticise every single soul remained in the cabinet for not listening to you.

    When will you ever stop criticising any people?
    Can’t you respect the decision of others?


    Back to your recent blog, is there anything wrong with Chinese in this country? Did they seize or rob the money away from the Malays? Did they have the ability to come out with any policies to marginalise the Malays? Did they dominate the lawmaking process of this country? Did they formulate the economy policies in this country? Did they control the government departments in this country? Did they control the state owned companies and GLC in this country? Did they control the country’s largest oil companies and banks? You know the answer right?


    Malays are the one who dominate the the lawmaking process of this country; Malays are the one that formulate the economy policies in this country that favours the Malays. Malays are the ones that control the government departments, state owned companies and GLC. Malays are the one the control the funds in this country. Malays are also the ones that control the largest oil companies and banking industry in this country. With all these rights enjoyed by the Malays, what else do you want the Chinese to do?

    Surrender their houses and savings and their wealth that they earned with their hard work to the Malays, for no reason? or ask all the Chinese to renounce their citizenship and go back to China ? Have you ever thought of after 30 years of implementing NEP, why it does not achieve the desired result? Don’t forget under the NEP there are a series of policies that favors the Malays. The obvious ones would be the distributions of APs and awarding of contracts.


    If with all these policies, it still does not give the Malay what they want, what else do you want the Chinese to do? Is the Chinese to be blamed because they are too hard working? Or the Malays to be blamed because they do not treasure the opportunities given? You know very well the NEP has been misused and it only benefits the cronies. So if you have designed NEP to only benefits the cronies, please don’t say it is the problem of Chinese that NEP does not achieve its result. It has nothing to do with the Chinese but NEP and the Malay themselves.


    This is a globalised world, Chinese and Malays should not be fighting against each other because Malaysia is competing with other countries. China used to be backward and lagging behind Malaysia but now they have caught up and have even surpassed Malaysia . Can we ask them to slow down their development? If they refuse to listen can we make a complaint to the United Nation that China is developing too fast and this is very unfair to Malaysia, which adapts a more a passive approach? Who give you the right to prevent others from progressing?


    If Malaysia does not progress, no matter we are Malay, Chinese, Iban, Kadazan, Indian etc , we must work together or we would be extinct one day!

    Change WE Must

    Who do you think you are? This is a flat world (Obviously Tun did not read the book named “The World is Flat”). Don’t be so narrow minded to only focus on the Chinese or Malay in Malaysia . We should now look at the world as a flat world. If Malaysia does not progress, no matter we are Malays or Chinese, we would be extinct one day!

    Perhaps one of the most humourous decision they made was to revert to Malay in the teaching of mathematics and science because there is insufficient teachers to teach the subjects in English. Why must they destroy the use of English in education over the last 35 years to the extend that they can’t even find teachers for the subject. It can only be pure arrogance. Even China is adopting the use of English in their education system.

  4. Frankie, the demonstrations are peaceful but the new cabinet knowing that they are there only by fraud will unleash the security personnel that could lead to a real Malaysian Spring. There have been unsubstantiated news of vote buying, counting agents (some) been paid staggering sums, foreign voters, but all the above difficult to prove. God only knows how much the EC was paid. Anwar made an announcement at 7.00 pm that PR has won, obviously having inside information, however only at about past midnight the announcement was made giving victory to the BN. Why the long delay? This is not Malaysia, more like Zimbabua or some third world country.

  5. Malaysia has lost valuable time. Our peers in the 70s and 80s are ahead of us. We must not allow our peers of the 2010s to be ahead of us in the future. Yes. YAB Anwar the elections are over and you have lost. If you have indeed any evidence of wrongdoing then you have to go by the book. I hope that you boys and girls will make out their respective cases and take it to the courts. I know your views on the courts. One of them may stand up and rule by the book as we had witnessed in the case against the MB of Selangor by Persatuan Ibu Tunggal.

    Many countries in the Third World and now even many countries in the First World are in a tail spin or are being taken slowly taken into a tail spin because we are not doing things by the book. In the era of globalization and man’s greed coupled with high sounding promises we have lost the simple and basic desire to do things by the book. That is the key to the survival of nations in the future. The Olympic Games and sports in general has survived to this date because there is a constant reference point- Play By the Book or your future will be determined by the book. You cannot escape it. Ultimately the book will catch up with you.

    It is now incumbent on the PKR to demonstrate that the way forward is by playing according to the book. Civil Servants and Constitutional Office holders, it is your incumbent duty to uphold the book and play by the book. Otherwise we have to learn form the painful lessons from spring cleaning. We all know that man seldom profits from the experiences of other and never form his own. We are now on the verge of becoming a developed nation and I would not want to see it going to waste because we missed this opportunity to play by the book and transform ourselves instead of recycling our past mistakes.

  6. An invaluable piece there by Thumb Logic that Malaysia has no other way but to play the game by the book. Indeed its the very essence of civilisation in all civil societies to abide by the rule of the book, simply because the book is the only Scientific mode to guide human affairs , be it the economic or the political life of any nation-state. Not that it can be ‘absolute’, but anything reaching a point of reasonable certainty will be the measure in conformity with Scientific values greatly needed for human survival to live with semblance of order and peace – otherwise, not abiding to the rule of the book, Disorder prevails… will turn chaotic no different from the rule in the life of the Brute which lives in lawlessness….

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