Bitter election: A long-term headache for Malaysia’s Najib.

May 26, 2013

Bitter election: A long-term headache for Malaysia’s Najib.

By Niluksi Koswanage

KUALA LUMPUR | Sun May 26, 2013 3:09am BST


(Reuters) – Malaysia’s divisive election has left a bitter taste for millions of people that risks creating a long-term problem of legitimacy for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

The outrage was clear at a busy intersection across from one of Kuala Lumpur’s fanciest shopping malls, where a huge poster of Najib and his deputy had been defaced — a rare display of public disrespect in the Southeast Asian nation.

One of the scrawled comments poked fun at the unconvincing share of the votes won by Najib’s ruling coalition in its May 5 election victory: “47 percent PM,” it said.

“If you don’t like it, you can leave,” mocked another, alluding to a comment by Najib’s new Home Minister that those unhappy with the result — and the electoral system that produced it — should pack up and emigrate.

The tense political atmosphere threatens to prolong policy uncertainty that investors hoped the polls would put to rest, as Najib braces for a possible leadership challenge and the Opposition mounts a noisy campaign to contest the result.

By securing 60 percent of parliamentary seats with less than 50 percent of the popular vote, the BN’s victory has served to expose starkly the unfairness of a gerrymandered electoral system that is also prone to cheating and bias.

That has galvanised the Opposition, led by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, into holding a series of big rallies as it refuses to accept the result and prepares legal action to challenge the outcome in nearly 30 close-run seats.

m_anwar265Disgruntled Malaysians have submitted over 220,000 signatures to the White House online petition page, exceeding the number required for a response from President Barack Obama.

In response, divisions have appeared in the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the main party in the ruling coalition — in power since independence from Britain in 1957.

Hardliners have urged a crackdown on dissent and blamed minority ethnic Chinese voters for deserting the ruling coalition. That has raised racial tensions in a country whose ethnic Malay majority dominates politics and enjoys special privileges to offset what its leaders see as its disadvantaged position compared to relatively wealthy ethnic Chinese.

Reformers have urged Najib to press ahead with social and economic reforms to blunt the opposition’s appeal and address the concerns of discontented young and urban voters. That includes many ethnic Malays who voted for the opposition.

“Every day Najib sees angry Malaysians on the Internet. It is not an easy thing to swallow,” said a senior government official who declined to be identified. “There are people in his cabinet asking for a crackdown and there are others asking for him to brandish his reformist side.”

The hard liners appeared to gain ground last week when police used the colonial-era Sedition Act to detain three opposition politicians and activists and charged a student with inciting unrest.

The three arrested were later released after a court rejected the Police remand order, but could still face charges.

Najib is under pressure from UMNO conservatives such as Mahathir Mohamad, who served as Prime Minister for 22 years, to show a tougher side ahead of a leadership election that could be held as early as August. At least until then, planned reforms such as steps to widen Malaysia’s tax base and reduce heavy food and fuel subsidies are likely to stay on hold.

m_drm265“Najib is not in a very strong position,” Mahathir told reporters in Tokyo on Saturday, saying there was a risk that his majority could be weakened further if some ruling coalition politician defected to the opposition.

“When you are concerned about that, the focus on development, economy and all that will be affected. That is Najib’s problem.”

Fraud Claims

The Opposition has yet to present clear evidence of widespread fraud, but Reuters interviews with 15 polling agents give an indication of why many Malaysians have lost faith in an electoral system that clearly favours the governing coalition.

A majority said that officials of the Election Commission (EC), which is part of the Prime Minister’s Department, did not follow procedures or were ill-equipped to oversee the polls.

“Some, not all, officials were not trained enough or did not have the experience to determine what was a spoiled vote,” said a counting agent in the Segamat parliamentary seat in southern Johor state, where the BN candidate won by a slim 1,200 majority with 950 votes deemed as spoiled.

“I cannot speculate on whether it was deliberate but there was quite a bit of incompetence,” said the agent, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Anwar’s three-party alliance says it has evidence that BN officials bought votes with cash and transported immigrants granted citizenship on shaky grounds to vote in areas with close races.

While its legal action, due to be filed with courts around the end of May, is unlikely to succeed, it will keep the electoral fraud issue in the spotlight for months ahead.

In Selangor state near Kuala Lumpur, a Reuters examination found at least 2,000 voters had identity cards deemed “dubious” by a commission of inquiry in Malaysia’s Borneo island state of Sabah. That commission is investigating longstanding allegations that the ruling coalition handed out citizenship for votes to immigrants.

The government denies the fraud claims, accusing the opposition of being sore losers and of trying to stir up an Arab Spring style revolt. The EC says it took a tough approach in eradicating possible fraud in the electoral rolls.

“The Opposition did not lose because of election rigging, it lost because they did not get the vote,” EC Chairman Abdul Aziz (below) told Reuters.

Aziz-EC ChairDeep concerns over the integrity of Malaysia’s elections are nothing new. The government has been shaken by huge street rallies in recent years organised by the influential BERSIH (clean) movement that has called for sweeping reforms, including a clean-up of the electoral roll and equal access to media.

After a violent police response to a 2011 rally, Najib burnished his reform credentials by rolling back some draconian security laws and introducing limited electoral reforms.

Reform Dilemma

BERSIH says those reforms did not go far enough, and is refusing to recognise the election results until it has verified hundreds of allegations of fraud in a “people’s tribunal”. It has previously highlighted instances of voters over 120 years of age and hundreds of voters living at a single address.

Likely far more influential than fraud are electoral boundaries that have been manipulated over the years to favour the BN. Pro-opposition constituencies in urban areas have up to nine times the number of voters than pro-government seats.

The opposition won just 89 seats in the 222-seat parliament, despite winning more than 51 percent of the vote.

“Najib won on malapportionment rather than his policies to eradicate corruption and reform the economy as voters felt he wasn’t sincere,” said Ooi Kee Beng, Singapore-based Deputy Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Najib, the 59-year-old son of a former Prime Minister, is unlikely to countenance deeper electoral reforms, a move that could be political suicide for the BN.

Reformists within UMNO are urging him, however, to ignore calls for a security crackdown and push ahead with steps to tackle corruption and make the ruling coalition more appealing to urban and ethnic Chinese voters who have deserted it.

“Of course the debate on whether we are truly a majority government will go on. But we can gain respect from the people,” said Saifuddin Abdullah, a prominent reformist who is a member UMNO’s Supreme Council.

(Additional reporting by Stuart Grudgings, Siva Sithraputhran and Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah in Kuala Lumpur, and Yoko Kubota in Tokyo.; editing by Stuart Grudgings and Ron Popeski)

16 thoughts on “Bitter election: A long-term headache for Malaysia’s Najib.

  1. Get to the bottom of this asap. The politics is getting out control. We have a country to govern and business (that means investment and jobs) to run. Political uncertainty due to indecisive and unpopular leadership is a bane for our future.

  2. If one were objective it is clear that the “headache” was self-inflicted…by not ensuring the reasonable demands of Bersih were met for the conduct of the elections and appointment of an Elections Commission whose independence can’t be doubted. To get out of the present political quagmire post elections, surely an independent investigation of the alleged irregularities is the solution…but alas, will there be the political will to carry this out? The use of outdated and draconian laws of a previous colonial era is definitely not going to win the hearts and minds of Malaysians. We, the silent majority, will pray that our PM is wise enough to do the right thing…even belatedly.

  3. It looks likely that Najib will find difficulties discharging his duty to rule with such tainted image with fradulent election results with support from the election commission and agents. The exposure of foreigners moving to Selangor with police escorting them to the polling stations coming in chartered buses are not normal and with indelible ink washable as reported without the knowledge of the election commission. As someone said that one sentence tells all.

  4. Algore vs GWB: lights on, parameters sealed against extra ballot boxes.
    DSAI vs Najib: lights off, doors open, extra ballot boxes found

  5. In most write ups I noticed the majority missed out the worst of the fraud which is adding “Fake votes” after finalization. By right all involved mush have a copy of the final figures as the final figures were in the hands of an untrustworthy EC authorized personal. The most glaring case is with Nurul’s Lembah Pantai win. Polis were seen escorting the “Fake vote” bags to be added but people stopped it from happening otherwise she would have also lost. It is this act that turned many losses into wins! THIS IS THE WORST OF THE BARE FACED FRAUD!

  6. Every democracy has factions and differing views. These are natural problems, and they have to be managed as practically as possible. The test of leadership is to rise above contentious factions, and find the least unacceptable solution, but one that is morally defensible.

    Only a morally defensible solution should be accepted. The use of force, or misuse of state institutions, will only make things worse.

  7. It all started because one man put the blame squarely on “Chinese Tsunami” to cover-up the cheating, the fraud and even the desertion of his own race from his party… “its not that I love Malaysia any less, it is that I love my position of Prime Minister more”…… semua mampus…

  8. Look, forget the ‘Economy’. We are in deep shit, if we continue at this rate.

    Manufacturing is down, exports are tanking because we have not upgraded our industrial output/efficiency and are depending on useless FDI’s which are a joke.The country is being overrun by foreign cheap labor, while the skilled talent is being forced to ‘migrate’. The SME/Is are running helter skelter like headless chickens.

    Meritocracy remains subject to ethnic cleansing and competitiveness is related to playing marbles. Educational policy are a rote of Medieval alchemy. Rule by Law trumps. Brute misuse of power and inability to reign in basal instincts, de riguer.

    Kleptocracy and Elitism rules. And we have the one and only First Lady Syndrome in any Westminster Parliamentary system. If our beloved Raja Permaisuri Agung is not spared, what can should we mere peasants expect?

    We don’t have the luxury of playing politics. But Politics have the habit of screwing us black and blue. The ruling Kampung party is without talent and is unable to dig itself out of the quagmire of circular Octoism. The Opposition has a better prospects? Perhaps.

  9. And if anybody thinks the services industry and domestic economy can pull us out of the Abyss – he/she should have their CPU serviced asap.

  10. CL. on the dot.

    Since when a monarchical system has first lady ?
    Who is first lady of UK, Holland, Thailand, Sweden, Saudi, Australia, NZ, Brunei etc.?
    Some republics has NO first lady; Indonesia, Spore,

    Toh Puan Sri Hasmah dont call herself FLOM.

    Our constitution dont provide for a FLOM. Had it, then who is our Bapa Malaysia’s FLOM?

  11. It does appear that in this beautiful Malaysia crime does pay, personally, communally and nationally. What is the message the leaders are giving the young and future voters? Obviously credibility needs to be established urgently especially where it affects livelihood and social justice: national wealth management, fair policing and public prosecution, and quality of national institutions. I have passed my three score and ten years but I cannot help feeling sorry for my grandchildren who will be facing a worsening future unity-wise. Something must give. Less politics and more conscience please.

  12. Siapa yang bitter? The Cabinet is in place. Najib and the Ministers are all doing their jobs. Yang bitter adalah Anwar dan gerombolammya. Tak puas hati tak menang. Kempunan jadi PM. Kita muaklah. WE want life to go on as usual.

  13. In actual fact the headache is caused by none other than Anwar who had disunite the Malays for his own selfish reason to occupy the PM Office by all means even at the expense of his race, religion, stability, security and sovereignty of the nation…Like a fox in a sheep skin, Anwar will accomplished the impossible, betraying anyone who cross his path and a true ‘musang berbulu ayam’…

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