Notes from the campaign: Election day’s dues


May 10,2018

LOOKING BACK ON GE-14

Notes from the campaign: Election day’s dues

The twilight of 1Malaysia, and the dawn of another well underway.

by Kean Wong @www.newmandala.org

Image result for Swearing In of Malaysia's New Prime Minister

There was already a queue of hundreds of Malaysian voters by the time the gates opened at my suburban polling station for the 14th general elections (GE14). While some were enthused to make their mark on Malaysia’s future, others seemed a little resigned yet determined to carry out what one retired civil servant in the queue said was a “citizen’s national service”.

There were numerous reports of long waits in huge queues of over two hours long, often double or more the time it took to cast a vote in the previous GE-13. There were also reports of unstamped ballot papers and votes going into the wrong boxes, and men being turned away and asked to change out of their casual shorts before being allowed into the voting booths. And the inconsistent reports of the Election Commission (EC) allowing those caught up in the big queues to be allowed to vote even after the 5pm closing time if the voters were still in queue. Some of these irregularities were addressed by the Election Commission chairman at a lunchtime media conference on election day, baldly assuring Malaysians their votes would still be counted.

Much social media traffic included posts of Malaysians showing off the indelible inked fingers of those who’ve already voted, and the typical Malaysian feasting that occurs soon afterwards. It was as festive a day as the Malay word for elections implied, a festival of choice or pilihanraya.

But the serious discussion on polling day was also about winners and losers, often raising the two factors previous rival private polling and data collections were inconclusive about: that winning GE14 was much about voter turnout, whether it surpasses GE13’s high of nearly 85%, where the higher the turnout the better the chances were for the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition. And whether the 37 or so marginal parliamentary seats “too close to call”, according to the final Merdeka Centre polling before GE14, were to be swept up in any purported momentum for change towards PH. For polling day, there was much speculation about an unprecedented hung parliament, and whether it was feasible given the depth of enmity between the rival coalitions and their leaderships, with all sorts of darkly muttered scenarios of extraordinary measures taken to grab power in such uncertainty. There needed to be some sort of emphatic win, either way, senior members of both coalitions had indicated the previous week — Barisan Nasional’s (BN) caretaker prime minister Najib Razak won’t survive his own UMNO party’s upset of not improving GE-13’s results for long if not. Nor will Mahathir’s coalition, which has built up a great head of steam, accept a slender loss.

Image result for Swearing In of Malaysia's New Prime Minister

New Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad –Changing the Tide of History and Redeemer of Malaysian Politics

Amidst polling day’s febrile climate of expectations, the night before GE14 was, by comparison, relatively sombre. Both the incumbent Najib Razak and his nonagenarian challenger Dr Mahathir Mohamad made speeches at the same time, on air and online. While the caretaker prime minister again used government-licensed and party-linked terrestrial television station TV3 to make a set of last-minute promises for the weeks ahead, Dr Mahathir relied on a Facebook broadcast that had streaming hiccups and was sketchy in parts, at least at the final opposition coalition rally in Petaling Jaya that I attended. The younger man’s short-term promises aired on traditional but sturdy broadcast architecture contrasted with the older man’s longer-term vision sold over a still flaky social media network.

Najib’s promises were planned for the near future, including exempting those under 26 from paying income tax, and adding extra holidays and toll-free use of the highways for post-Ramadan festivities later this month. The speech came across like another stump speech, another pitch for votes from the so-called millennial generation. The older politician was more future-focused on the horizon ahead, making an emotional appeal despite sounding tired after his hectic bout of national campaigning. Dr Mahathir promised his winning the elections would enable broad and deep institutional reforms, suggesting he wanted to right his previous wrongs as he confronted his mortality. Reviving the heyday of Malaysia’s industrialised economy, retooling it for the new services-oriented information age, and supporting women’s equality with better opportunities that also included the young were keys to restoring the nation’s glory and fame, he explained, as was defeating the spectre of corruption and the “cash is king” culture he alleged was now widespread throughout government.

Over the previous several months of meeting Malaysians across the peninsula, and especially in the past 10 days as the official campaign season nudged even usually disengaged and self-declared “fence-sitters” to pay attention, I found many voters agreeing on a few key themes: that the rising costs of living was a central worry, even in small towns and semi-rural areas like the FELDA kampongs in the interiors that were surrounded by palm oil trees as far as the eye could see, which BN has traditionally seen as a “fixed deposit” of votes for itself.

Partly because of the skilful politicisation of the 1MDB scandal by the opposition PH, and the relatively inept way the BN federal government has also handled other related funds scandals, including the murky dealings over the Muslim pilgrims fund and FELDA privatisation, the unease over “uncontrolled” corruption is palpable. Few Malaysians I met outside the city elites could articulate the corruption scandals’ highlights or their details, but many felt the Najib government did not do enough to address their concerns, which had been stoked by the widespread messaging phenomena of WhatsApp chat groups. For UMNO operatives working to secure key state governments in Johor and Perak, there was a need to prosecute their case for reelection on state issues, to make the issues as local as possible, as UMNO in these states saw their chief ministers as popular bulwarks against an unpopular federal leader, a prime minister tainted by scandal that one Johor party campaigner said was “difficult to defend” over alleged lavish lifestyles that contrasted badly with underemployed locals struggling to pay the bills. Much politics was local, even though national issues often intruded as dangerous undercurrents. The ubiquitous use of smartphones even in rural areas was reflected in the second-generation FELDA settlers I met in Pahang, where a few traded short videos and memes with me over an allegedly irksome state chief minister.

On an airless hot night in a Pahang FELDA village surrounded by palm oil trees a few days before GE-14, an older “Pakcik Felda” (as he wanted to identified) shared his gnomic take on the GE14 ceramah taking place across the road, just beyond a row of third-generation settlers who had motorbiked in for the evening. They had just tasted the satay still sizzling nearby. In the muggy stillness, the Main Range hilly spine of the peninsula on the horizon contrasted with the flatness around us, that matched the modest Bahasa accents of the co-op market’s shopkeeper and his assistant. The pakcik said they were born well after he’d arrived in 1965, a few years after this then-jungle was opened up for cash cropping. The pakcik said the third generation of his own family was now mostly working and living elsewhere, a few in nearby Raub town and Mentakab. But all were expected home to vote at GE14 midweek, back in a village that was festooned with mostly BN and PAS flags.

When asked about how his village saw the GE-14 contest, he explained it was much like a tree: “when you plant a tree, you want it to grow straight and upwards, tall and strong. And after awhile, you’re rewarded with the bounty of fruits, sometimes so overripe that the branches bend downwards overly heavy, threatening the tree itself.” So it’d need some trimming and maintenance? Or uprooting and replanting as some plots nearby were doing? Pakcik Felda smiled slightly, winked, and strolled off in the darkness of the still night.

The previous night, at a field made muddy by the light drizzle, thousands had jammed together to cheer and chant the sort of “reformasi” slogans not heard in Putrajaya over 20 years ago, when I’d been in a nearby field watching Dr Mahathir launch this town, with his then deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim hovering nearby. Back then, like this night, it was much about notions of filial duty, about the obligations of both fathers and sons, and about the need to win legitimacy among Malaysians newly rich off the 1990s industrialisation boom. Dr Mahathir had launched Putrajaya in the name of the Father of Malaysia, the founding independence prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. But now, he was in the battle of his life against the son of his political mentor-father, the second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak, trying to save the national legacy Dr Mahathir alleged the son Najib Razak was irresponsibly damaging.

 

 

Yet the real star of the night was another son, fresh to the limelight, Nik Omar Nik Aziz, the oldest son of the still revered PAS spiritual leader and long-time Kelantan chief minister, the late Tok Guru Nik Aziz (popularly known as TGNA). Nik Omar in his national debut on the GE-14 hustings reminded Malaysians why his father was held in such high regard, across the racialised religious divides that still marked so much of Malaysian politics. At his national debut, in the administrative capital his late father disdained, Nik Omar was at turns generous about Malaysians beyond his Islamist movement, retailing an easy impish wit, while playing cute Kelantanese cadences and accents (or logat Kelate) with a crowd in love with his modesty and credibility as a clean-skin politician. As one son valiantly saved his father’s legacy, facing off today’s truculent PAS leadership, there was another unsparingly taken down by the elder on stage.

Down south a week before GE-14 polling day, in a quietly prosperous kampong near Muar, Johor, Abang Said, the warm-up act for local parliamentary candidates Syed Saddiq and former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, has the crowd in stitches with his crooning of a multiracialised medley of risque schoolyard tunes, which are punctuated with chants of “tukar!” (change). He sets up the night’s star, the 25-year-old youth leader of Dr Mahathir’s and Muhyiddin’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), with a feel-good muhibbah (togetherness) message that takes cues from Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, that Malaysians when united can do anything under tonight’s bright full moon.

The mostly under-40s Malay audience whisper to each other, sounding awestruck about their own boy-wonder-done-good, his filial stories of honouring the many sacrifices his working-class parents have made resonating for several sitting near me. Many know much about how families only have limited time together because so many are forced to work for better pay across the border in Singapore, doing 16-hour days during the working week commuting to the city-state for often menial jobs. Yet Syed Saddiq’s brand of populism and its doubts about globalisation’s costs and its underemployed bodies is ambivalent about how the allure of Singapore’s better paid workplaces can be addressed across the border in Johor. Syed Saddiq’s diatribe against corruption, the big debts the federal government is carrying, and for “maruah” or honour and honesty in governance wins him enthusiastic applause: “we are the coalition of the future!”

Next door in central Johor’s Sembrong electorate, Hishamuddin Hussein was defending his parliamentary seat. The senior minister, cousin of caretaker prime minister Najib, and son of the third Malaysian prime minister ran a campaign that featured his own style of logos and slogans, with smart shirts that played on his popular nickname “H2O”. In an electorate rich off palm oil and a fraction the size of neighbouring opposition seats, Hishamuddin was expected to win handsomely following the redrawing of electoral boundaries.

But his opponents and a few shopkeepers in this electorate noted that Najib’s billboarded faces were harder to find, and the H2O branding offered a distancing from a federal UMNO-led government that many disdained. While few in Sembrong expected a “Malay tsunami” of votes against UMNO, no one was willing to rule out this allegedly remote possibility if there was a major swing against the incumbents.

For a group of Malaysian Indian youth who had gathered to cheer on a passing parade of H2O campaign vehicles, there was a bracing reminder about a small community displaced in the transition of the area’s economy from rubber to palm oil trees, that had also paid a steep price in the racialised politics that informed this transition. Many families had been displaced with small compensations that barely replaced the homes and schools that were once provided by their estate owners, with these once-anchored communities now reduced to fringe-dwelling in towns nearby, barely making ends meet.

One of the group explained what GE-14 meant to them: “It’s the manly thing to do every five years (this election campaigning) and the kids have fun, doing campaign errands, putting up flags as high as possible, getting money for their bikes. Staying busy, avoiding temptations. You don’t understand how little there is to do in small places like this. Hope (or harapan) is for the rich.”

GE-14: Get even today and throw out the corrupt UMNO Hegemon, Najib Razak


May 9, 2018

Image result for Vote for Change in Malaysia

Today, MAY 9, 2018, is Polling Day in Malaysia. Voters must go out early to respective polling stations. Don’t forget to bring your identity cards and check the electoral register to verify that your name is in the register. Vote carefully since a spoilt vote favours UMNO-BN. Unlike the writer of this article below, S Thayaparan who is “angry”, you can remain cool and calm. Just get even by voting for the alternative Pakatan Harapan led by  Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in large numbers.–Din Merican, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

GE-14: Get even today and throw out the corrupt UMNO Hegemon, Najib Razak

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for s thayaparan cartoon

“I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

– Howard Beale, ‘Network’ (1976)

COMMENT | It is the eve of this great election. ‘Great’ to me is an ominous word. So much hope has been put in this election by folks who want change. I do not fear the Umno state. What I fear is that the hope of change is but an illusion. That the people who claim to lead for change will not transform this country before it slips into the delusional dreams of Islamic extremism.

Image result for najib razak and rosmah mansorNow it is the time to take this toxic couple out of Seri Perdana

 

What I do know is that if we do not take this first step, we are really screwed. A first step that we have never been in a position to take and if we do not, we would have lost the single best chance to change this country. If we do not finally have a two-party system, then we will only be able to watch as our country slips further down the dark path of totalitarianism. You think it’s bad now, wait and see.

For the record, my definition of a two-party system is a system where two coalitions have had a chance to govern the country. We have never had this. Yes, the opposition has made gains and is a credible threat to the Umno/BN establishment but we have only known UMNO rule and whatever permutations of it since Independence.

I know this man. A “pakar” Malay officer who worked his way up, as we say. He revered Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat and was a lifelong member of PAS, even back in the day. We reconnected in the heady days when PAS took to the streets after the ejection of then Deputy Premier Anwar Ibrahim from Umno paradise.

He still referred to me as “Tuan” and it was the happiest day of his life when PAS formally joined Pakatan Rakyat. With the passing of Tok Guru and the fragmentation of PAS, he quit the party. His family and most of his friends joined him.

Image result for dr. mahathir mohamad and dr.siti hasmah

Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah Mohamed Ali–Malaysia’s  Couple of the Moment with Decades of Public Service.

Then former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad made his play with the opposition. This old sailor who had left PAS and was thinking of sitting out in this election was suddenly stirred. He can’t explain it. He knows for a long time that Mahathir was the “mahafiraun”. It was what PAS had taught him.

However, these days he sees PAS cuddling up with UMNO and he hears how Mahathir wants to correct his mistakes that he made when he was with UMNO. He sees Tok Guru’s family “manipulated” by UMNO. He sees mothers turning against sons. He sees an old adversary not allowed to visit the grave of a religious scholar who once led the way. This old sailor is angry.

Now, of course, most of them (like my sailor friend) are retired but when they hear the call by their old Prime Minister, they understand that UMNO is not to be trusted. They tell their friends and families. They make it known by going to ceramahs. They donate to the cause, even though they do not have much.

These are not the service personnel – the high-ranking officers who got fat from the gravy train. These are the men and women who served on the ground. Who understood that the state security apparatus was a branch of government and that there were some honour and dignity in serving.

He has repented, my old colleague says to me. “Soon, there will be many in PAS, who may have to repent as well.”

Anyone who has read my articles will know that my issue with PAS is not their Islamism. My issue with PAS is their Umnoism. My friend will not join any political party, but he will vote Pakatan Harapan in this election. From now on, I am independent, he says.

Your choice

Now, of course, the “choices” in this election may seem identical but eventually, these will be refined or redefined. The first step is understanding that you have a choice. This is what UMNO fears. This is what the former Umno prime minister is banking on – that people will take that leap of faith. That the Malay community realises that they have a choice. And because the Malay politics is defined by Malay institutions, he wisely chooses to directly appeal to those institutions.

Will things change? Who knows? I do know that after decades of being ruled by Umno, things have to change. I do know that after decades of being told by successive UMNO potentates that they are the only ones who can rule this country, that things have to change. I do know that after decades of UMNO rule, our country is heading down a dark path and it’s not because of the corruption or the systemic discrimination but because the underlying policies of Umno – using religion – has opened the majority to influences from the outside that would bring ruination to this country.

Could the opposition bring this change? I have no idea. I only know that we cannot carry on this way. We cannot carry on believing that this country is doing well when there are no political voices to dissent against the hegemon in Putrajaya. I know that if politicians think that it is their birthright to rule this country in perpetuity that this will only lead to sorrow.

I know that if politicians continue to think that they are not accountable to the people, they will continue suppressing voices of dissent. The UMNO regime is doing everything in its power to stack the deck. They are doing everything in their power to ensure a victory that they do not deserve. This is politics, they say, so what has “deserve” got to do with it.

Fair enough, but every time the establishment does something like this, they make people angry. I am not talking about the vitriol that some opposition supporters display online. I am talking about the real-world anger that could manifest in so many ways.

In a Muslim-majority country, this is especially dangerous. I am on record as saying that the greatest danger to this country is the National Security Council Act. There is a reason for this obnoxious law. But I think that the state security apparatus understand that their role is to facilitate a smooth transition of power and not hamper it.

All I know is this. After decades of rule by a single party, watching the corruption, the bigotry and smug assurance of rule, I am mad as hell and I am not going to take this anymore.

We can worry about how we are going to reform the system later. We can worry about how we are going to reform the institutions later. We first need to take the first step with people who say they are interested in doing those things and have never – well, the majority of them – had the opportunity to govern this country.

If the opposition carries out even a quarter of what they promise, that would be something that the country desperately needs.Are you as mad as hell and not going to take this anymore?


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

GE-14:Will anybody win in Malaysia’s election?


May 9, 2018

Malaysia: Today is Polling Day

GE-14:Will anybody win in Malaysia’s election?

by Editorial Board, East Asia Forum

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/04/30/will-anybody-win-in-malaysias-election/#more-121574

Image result for vote pakatan harapan

Win or lose next week, in his determination to stay in office at whatever cost to Malaysia’s political institutions, its social cohesion and its international reputation, Najib has ensured that history will not remember him fondly.–Editorial Board

There’s not much doubt about the outcome of Malaysia’s 14th general election (known in Malaysia as GE14). Most analysts agree that the incumbent Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition government, led by Prime Minister Najib Razak’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party, is likely be returned on 9 May, continuing its run as the world’s longest-serving elected government.

Image result for Najib Razak

Is this the face of a winner or that of a felon waiting to go to jail? We can make the difference if we use our right to vote wisely today. We have a Pakatan Harapan government in waiting led by a resurgent and energised Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.–Din Merican

Much of that electoral success over the past 61 years has been down to a strong record of economic development combined with a skilful — if cynical — deployment of ethnic and religious politics. As the years have gone on, however, regular BN victories have grown more and more dependent on the government’s rigging the electoral game in its favour.

Successive BN governments have taken advantage of a politicised Election Commission to concoct malapportioned and gerrymandered electoral districts in Malaysia’s 222-seat Parliament. Thanks both to the Election Commission and to Malaysia’s first-past-the-post electoral system, it’s theoretically possible to win a parliamentary majority in Malaysia with only a fifth or so of the popular vote. Indeed, in Najib’s first election as prime minister in 2013, BN lost the popular vote but was re-elected with a large parliamentary majority.

Malaysia is not the only country where elections deliver unfair outcomes. The unrepresentativeness of electoral systems in Britain and Canada until quite recently (and in Japan to this day) is well-known. In 2016 the United States’ Electoral College delivered the presidency to the candidate who lost the popular vote by millions of votes.

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But the flaws of Malaysia’s system are of another scale entirely. They reflect a sustained and deliberate effort to skew elections in favour of the BN, writes Clive Kessler in this week’s lead article. That’s why a BN victory on 9 May would not necessarily reflect a vote of confidence in Najib’s leadership nor in the competence of his government.

As Kessler writes, malapportionment has an effect far beyond simple matters of parliamentary arithmetic. It profoundly shapes the character of political discourse and ideological competition. Malaysia is a famously multiethnic, multireligious nation, yet ‘[t]he Election Commission’s constituency delineation ingenuity constructs a “voting nation” that, through the vastly unequal weight given to rural over urban electorates, is far more hardline pro-Malay and pro-UMNO than the nation as a whole and its citizens’.

This is undoubtedly the logic behind the Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition’s naming former UMNO Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad as its candidate for Prime Minister. The choice of a 93-year-old authoritarian ex-leader as a symbol of political renewal seems an odd one; indeed, Mahathir’s 22-year rule saw the degeneration of Malaysia’s public institutions and the flourishing of crony capitalism.

But in the context of the electoral distortions Kessler outlines, having Mahathir lead the charge against Najib makes some sort of sense. The opposition is banking on the pull of nostalgia for the Mahathir era to make it competitive in the Malay heartland, where voters are growing impatient with government corruption and policy missteps.

In her pre-election analysis, however, Bridget Welsh highlights that elsewhere the picture is more complicated. ‘The opposition’, she writes, ‘is struggling with how to distance itself from Mahathir’s divisive political legacy, especially in East Malaysia where he remains unpopular’. Which way seats fall in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, where a desire for autonomy is seeing voters turn away from local BN affiliate parties, is one of the ‘wild cards’ in GE14 that pundits are watching closely.

For Najib there is a lot at stake personally. His leadership of UMNO will come under threat if he doesn’t deliver a convincing result, and because of this ‘the election is seen as so personalised that he cannot lose’, writes Welsh. In the background lies the ongoing 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal. The United States Department of Justice has stated that a ‘senior official of the Malaysian government’ — later identified as Najib — received US$681 million in funds misappropriated from 1MDB into his personal bank account. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s criminal investigation into the handling of 1MDB monies continues. It’s not surprising, then, that Najib’s government has resorted to petty tricks to swing the election its way, such as scheduling the election on a Wednesday as well as more sinister moves like passing a broadly-worded anti-‘fake news’ law and expanded emergency powers.

As Kessler predicts, ‘the elections will produce their required result: an UMNO and Barisan Nasional coalition victory. But this will deliver little legitimacy or political authority to Prime Minister Najib and his party’. This should give Malaysians, and Malaysia’s international partners, some pause. To consider the worst-case scenarios: would a BN victory despite a major popular vote loss be the trigger for a cycle of public protest and government crackdown? In case of an (improbable, but not impossible) opposition victory, would Najib be prepared to hand over power in an orderly manner?

Win or lose next week, in his determination to stay in office at whatever cost to Malaysia’s political institutions, its social cohesion and its international reputation, Najib has ensured that history will not remember him fondly.

The EAF Editorial Board is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.

Najib Razak, Tony Fernandes, AirAsia and GE-14 Politics


May 8, 2018

Opinion

Najib Razak, Tony Fernandes, AirAsia and GE-14  Politics

by P Gunasegarhttp://www.malaysiakini.com
Image result for Tony Fernandes and Najib Razak

A QUESTION OF BUSINESS | We all know that caretaker prime minister Najib Razak has at his disposal a luxuriously appointed private jet which he can use at any time. It’s not one of those timeshare jets – it’s there for him to use anytime, day or night.

So why did he return to Kuala Lumpur on a low-cost AirAsia flight after a campaign trip to Sabah and waste precious time? The simple answer: a carefully orchestrated campaign with AirAsia supremo Tony Fernandes, a personality more recognisable than most cabinet members, who very publicly endorsed Najib and by extension, BN.

Not only that, the jet that Najib flew was draped in the blue of BN with the air stewardesses decked out in that same blue too. Splashed across the fuselage were the words “Hebatkan Negaraku” in Malay with the English equivalent “Make my country greater” in smaller letters. And the tail end carried an image of the BN’s ‘dacing’. What a show!

This open endorsement of the Najib government by AirAsia and Fernandes, who characterised the government as one that put people first, raises all sorts of questions and implications. By praising Najib, is Fernandes implying that if the opposition comes to power on May 9, they would discriminate against him?

Is it not the duty of government to help budding airlines and hasn’t Fernandes complained in the past about how government agencies constantly discriminate against him? And is it not true that other governments under Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi also helped him?

Image result for Tony Fernandes and Najib Razak

Also, there is the issue of potential conflicts of interests that arise if support is given for other reasons as we shall explain later, which indicates that it’s better and more desirable that businesses which deal with government regulators and other authorities remain apolitical.

 

I am a great fan of AirAsia and yes, even of Tony Fernandes. They brought affordable travel to Malaysians, especially to regional destinations, and made AirAsia a brand recognised throughout the world and one that obtained top rankings in its class for Asia year after year – truly an airline that all Malaysians can be proud of.

But is it politically correct to make such an open show of affection for the BN government just two days before the country goes to the polls, seen by many as a blatant move to influence voters towards BN?

Yes, Fernandes and AirAsia have the right to do it, but is it wise in terms of their business to anger a large section of its customers who might be opposition supporters (remember, 52% of voters picked the opposition in the last election)? And what if there is a change in government? How will it affect AirAsia and Fernandes going forward with a new government it has already offended by taking sides during a rather bitter and contentious campaign?

Imagine, for instance, American Airlines or United Airlines endorsing Donald Trump for President before the US presidential elections. Unthinkable. Companies which service a wide clientele base simply do not endorse particular parties or candidates because they risk offending the other half or so who they tacitly oppose by their stance. It makes perfect business sense for them to stay neutral.

This comes after AirAsia and Fernandes endeared themselves to all Malaysians when they facilitated flight changes for those who wanted to make them because of the elections which the Election Commission in its unfairness and partiality scheduled for mid-week in a rather irrational decision which will discourage instead of facilitate voter participation.

 

AirAsia’s commendable actions in that instance facilitated Malaysians to return home and to their hometowns to vote but strangely provoked ire from UMNO goons who saw it as an anti-government move. If it is anti-government to encourage and facilitate voters to come back and vote, so be it – it furthers the cause of a functioning democracy.

Currying favour?

So why did Fernandes now undo all that goodwill he earned for encouraging people to vote by coming up with this needless support for Najib and BN?

Perhaps it was not so needless. Perhaps his arms were twisted to show his “support”. Perhaps he wanted to buy some insurance for his airline which may otherwise be discriminated against if Najib was returned to power. And perhaps it was to make up to the government for his earlier move, a move which endeared him to the public which respects a maverick outspoken businessman who has disdain for excessive regulation and government.

Even if Fernandes’ unqualified support for Najib had no sinister or underhanded purpose, the general public is not going to believe him because AirAsia is in a position to benefit or suffer from decisions made by the government and therefore has everything to gain from currying favour with the government.

For example, this year, a ruling was supposed to come into effect which would have equalised airport passenger service charges between low-cost and full-service airlines. However, according to this report in The Edge, some passengers are paying less than others.

Image result for Tony Fernandes and Najib Razak

 

According to the article, online checks on airline websites show that some international passengers flying out of KLIA2 appear to still enjoy the previous rate. Airport operator Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd said, “While Mavcom (Malaysian Aviation Commission) has regulated the revised PSC rates, which includes RM73 for non-Asean international passengers, the implementation has been deferred until further notice.”

For a one-way Malaysia Airlines flight from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport main terminal (KLIA) to Perth on April 30, a passenger is charged a PSC of RM73. Likewise, Malindo Air also collects RM73 PSC for a flight to Perth on April 30, according to the report.

“On the other hand, online checks by The Edge show an AirAsia flight to the same destination on the same day is levied a PSC of RM50 only. AirAsia declined to comment for this story,” the article said.

Clearly, such a difference in charges will help to keep AirAsia fares low and more competitive with others, which is a good thing for its customers. But it also clearly illustrates how there is a potential for conflict and possibility of discrimination against others when AirAsia begins to indulge in politics by endorsing a particular political party. There can be a quid pro quo here and that’s bad.

The existence of such conflicts and the immense possibilities that it raises for cosy patronage arrangements and even corruption is one more reason for voting this government, which AirAsia and Fernandes wholeheartedly endorse, out.

And then hopefully with a new government, AirAsia and all other companies can be dealt with at arm’s length, fairly and equitably to take into account everybody’s interests, and especially the public’s. This is putting the people first.

Sorry, Tony, I disagree with you vehemently. This government does not put people first. I have seen that happen over and over again over the years and get worse and worse so much so that it now threatens the very health of the country if we do not put a stop to this government’s excesses. Hopefully a new government will.


P GUNASEGARAM votes against patronage and corruption of any kind. Email: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

GE-14 – show me the money


May 7, 2018

GE-14: Only  48 hours left to May 8 Polling Day. Do your duty, Fellow Malaysians and vote wisely for our Future. Vote for Pakatan Harapan and Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.–Din Merican

GE-14 – show me the money

Dr. Bridget Welsh

COMMENT | Money remains one of the most important facets of this election. The scandal over election financing at the 2013 polls tied to 1MDB is a major campaign issue in the urban areas, and, of course, money is being used to finance this campaign and woo voters, often through direct vote buying. Videos and pictures of cash handouts in GE-14 have circulated widely, so much so that this is the norm.

 

Image result for i help you you help me

A conservative rough total estimate of promises made in this campaign by the BN reach RM100 billion – a figure drawn from a study of promises made by senior BN leaders since January this year as well as from published manifestos.

This does not include the discretionary (and often non-accountable) funds allocated by the Prime Minister’s Office, estimated to have a budget of RM18 billion for operating and development expenses, and funds that have been brought in or donated specifically for party spending in the GE-14 campaign.

Despite the bonanza of promises and rewards, there are marked differences in how money is shaping GE-14 compared to earlier campaigns. Spending levels in this campaign on the ground outside of the capital are lower, as the machinery for all sides has been less well-oiled. Money may have been pocketed but it has apparently not gone down to the same degree as the past.

Importantly, there are more liabilities for caretaker Prime Minister Najib Razak in having a campaign dependent on money. GE-13 was a campaign flush with cash, this time the cash seems to create more of an embarrassing flush for the BN campaign.

Expected promises

When Najib announced BN’s 220-page manifesto with 364 initiatives last month on April 7 to a crowd of 40,000 supporters, he did so with fanfare. In the following week, almost all of the states introduced their own BN state-based manifestos, detailing many similar measures and expanding on a few.

The manifesto identified 14 areas, from sustainability, housing to the economy and narrowed in on groups that have been left out, namely women and senior citizens. Some states also focused on youth as well, which was complemented by the Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) initiative.

A month later, much of this wide breadth of promises have largely been ignored in the campaign. Even the promises to increase the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) programme, doubling payments at the lowest bracket and increasing outlays to lower middle-class families have had little traction. Unlike 2013, where 1Malaysia was everywhere, this time around there is little discussion of its actual measures and programmes.

Three things have happened. First of all, the manifesto was an overkill – it is too much for ordinary citizens to absorb. It thus did not connect. There are so many promises in the manifestos of all the different parties – all highly populist in nature – that voters are essentially tuning them out. Many voters just don’t believe politicians.

Second, Najib’s promises are the same (tired) song as last time. Najib has always anchored his electoral strategy on distributing rewards. As GE-14 is a Najib election sequel, these promises are now expected and as such, less impactful overall. They are not new.

Finally, there is a growing sense of entitlement that has deepened in the challenging climate of economic hardship. As people struggle, there is a sense that greater financial support should be distributed.

It is important to realise that some of the promises in the campaign are actual government programmes already in place, such as the Pan-Borneo Highway. There is considerable double counting happening (in some cases, triple and quadruple counting).

Many of the programmes have been announced earlier and have already started, so they are in fact not specific for the election itself. Also, some of the promises, such as 30% increase for women’s representation belie practices. The BN, for example, only increased its fielding of women candidates by 1.8%, and continues to be at a record low within UMNO under Najib compared to previous leaders. More substantively, the BN is promising things it is supposed to be doing, helping the people.

 

It is also necessary to acknowledge that while it is common for BN politicians to tend to conflate existing policies with new ones and vice versa, much of the manifestos are conditional spending, conditional on winning. The RM11 billion promised on BN campaign posters in Kelantan is one example of this conditional spending, as it is seen to be allocated only as a result of BN winning the state.

Cash and carry

One of the most important shifts in GE-14 is the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). All the opposition parties have promised to remove it, while the Najib government introduced it in 2015 and widened its scope by removing exemptions over the last year.

Among ordinary voters, the GST is blamed for higher cost of living, and although it is not the only factor for inflation, it has contributed to higher costs. The revenue from the GST is expected to reach RM44 billion in 2018. More than ever, Malaysians are conscious of the taxes they are paying. Many see the BN promises as entitlement because they have paid for them.

There is an additional dimension. It is the legacy of 1MDB. The scandal outside of the BN political base personifies corruption and abuse of power. Nowhere is this more apparent than in campaign spending. So, when they see and hear about the vote buying, which is endemic in the system, their anger against the Najib administration surges. Vote buying in GE-14 strengthens Pakatan Harapan and hardens discontent against corruption.

Image result for Rosmah Mansor and her jewellery and handbags

Hey Big Spender Rosmah Mansor, Malaysia’s self-anointed First Lady

With RM2.6 billion reportedly deposited into Najib’s bank account, there is another sentiment: that they should get their share, especially within the Umno patronage base. Perceptions abound that Najib (and his wife) are ‘too greedy’ and should distribute more to the base. Ostentatious purchases and lifestyle a.k.a. diamond rings, handbags and quinoa reinforce these perceptions. So, when money goes down to the party machinery, there is jealousy and resentment of the amounts even though the sums are in fact larger than before, especially before 2013.

Thus in this campaign, we see the adoption of a well-honed practice of “cash and carry” among UMNO supporters and among many ordinary citizens. Malaysians love their shopping, and the distribution of the rewards (now usually primarily in cash) are being happily carried home.

It remains to be seen whether the vote buying will actually be connected to political support to the extent as it was before. Patronage and vote buying has been crucial for the government in rural areas and among lower-class voters. However, Malaysia may in fact be reaching a turning point (which occurred in Indonesia in 2004) where vote buying became less effective in shaping outcomes. The message that is going around in GE-14 is “take the money but vote the way you want – it is your money after all”.

 

There is already a recognition that vote buying is having diminishing returns. This helps account for the less financial splash in GE-14. The approach in Malaysia has also become increasingly more targeted, focusing on fence sitters and base mobilisation. This can still be effective as it is coupled with the changes in delineation and malapportionment, which builds in the movement of voters who are more susceptible to vote buying in competitive seats.

Campaign finance reform

The problems of vote buying speak to a more serious structural problem – campaign financing. In GE-13, an estimated RM2 billion was spent to finance the campaign. Post-1MDB, the estimates of spending have risen to RM4 billion. We are likely never to know the real amount, given the money-laundering issues and scope of the 1MDB scandal.

This election it is hard to determine the total amount of campaign spending as much of it is hidden, targeted rather than splashed around. Each UMNO division is supposedly receiving large distributions in different tranches. The expensive billboards in cities, especially in Kuala Lumpur, and slick dominance of social media are reminders of the BN’s resource advantage.

As with previous elections, the spirit of the Election Offences Act limiting candidate spending is not being observed. This appears the case across the party divide. It is not just a matter of candidate or party spending. There is no accountability. This includes opposition parties as well.

 

The question of where money is coming from, especially the BN largesse of funds, remains unanswered. Speculation is rife that funds are being brought in from outside. Some accuse China or Saudi Arabia, pointing to significant funding tied to pre-election deals.

It is not just about potential foreign funding. There continue to be reports that domestic businesses (especially those that have been seen to benefit from political favour) have been approached for funds and that individuals have built private war chests (some of which is being stored for post-election party polls). There is also discussion that favoured tycoons of the Mahathir era have entered the non-transparent and non-accountable campaign finance fray.

The National Consultative Committee on Political Finance has not yielded the much-needed finance reform. All the political parties need to take responsibility for this lack of action. GE-14 brings to the fore – once again – how serious the problem of campaign finance is for electoral integrity and public accountability in Malaysia.

Money matters

We are at the stage of the campaign where money is starting to go down in earnest. Carpet bombing in Sabah in places such as Batu Sapi and Pensiangan. Cash payouts to villagers in rural Perak and Felda areas in Negeri Sembilan and even in semi-rural areas in Johor.

People are saying: “show me the money”. This is arguably the most important tactic the BN government is using to try to reverse the momentum against them during the campaign to hold onto power.

Many believe it will work. Money this time however comes with greater risks, as it appears to have less connectivity and is backfiring by fostering resentment within and outside of Najib’s political base. We will see on Wednesday whether Najib’s style of money politics proves to be his own political lifesaver.


BRIDGET WELSH is an Associate Professor of Political Science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a Senior Associate Research Fellow at National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book (with co-author Greg Lopez) is entitled Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore. She is following the Malaysian GE14 2018 campaign on the ground and providing her analyses exclusively to Malaysiakini readers. She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Also by Bridget Welsh

Ambitions in the east coast: Terengganu and Kelantan

A tightening ‘Umno Belt’ in Malacca, NS, Pahang

Battle royale in Johor: Determining the future of Umno leadership

Engaging disengagement – the youth vote in GE14

Heavy, hidden hands in GE14: BN’s electoral advantage

Power and place in Penang

All quiet on the Sarawak front

Is Sabah ready for political change?

GE14 unknowns: Malaysia’s highly competitive polls

GE-14: Tony Fernandes urges voters not to choose based on hearsay, but vote based on facts


May 7, 2018

Tony Fernandes is Right : “AirAsia is a Fact.” Vote based on Facts, he urges

Image result for Tony Fernandes

BN leader Najib Abdul Razak’s policies have been endorsed by AirAsia boss Tony Fernandez, who said that the Najib-administration “puts people first” and has helped his company to grow.

“I have always used to say to the government and the Prime Minister: Put people first then the decision becomes easy.”

“AirAsia has gone from two planes to 230 planes. From 200,000 passengers, this year we carried 89 million passengers. And I believe the prime minister puts people first and allowed AirAsia to grow despite opposition from all over the place.”

“I think the government and the Prime Minister put not Tony Fernandez, not AirAsia first, not other GLC, but put the country first and put what Malaysians would benefit the most (first),” he said in a video uploaded to the NegaraKru YouTube channel.

More Meritocracy

This channel has been uploading videos of personalities lauding Najib-administration policies, without overtly urging viewers to vote for BN.

Fernandez said the Najib-administration’s policies had helped AirAsia grow over the past 10 years. He then urged voters not to choose based on hearsay, but vote based on facts.

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“And AirAsia is a fact. We have grown from two planes to 230 planes. We have grown due to market-based policies through protectionism being brought down,” he said.

He said such policies will allow more companies to thrive, more jobs being created and more meritocracy. “That is the Malaysia I dream for,” he said.