Zainah Anwar looks back on Malaysia’s GE-14- From 2008 to May 9, 2018


June 27, 2018

Zainah Anwar looks back on  Malaysia’s GE-14- From 2008 to May 9, 2018

http://www.thestar.com.my

Image result for Zainah Anwar

 

She writes:

It may have been a shock win for Pakatan Harapan in the recent election, but the writing has been on the wall for Barisan Nasional for more than a decade.

AH, finally, change has come! It was simply inevitable.

Inevitable change: Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announcing his resignation when Barisan lost GE14 after the people rejected the corrupt practices of some of the Barisan politicians.

I have been writing for over a decade of the politically manufactured extremism and intolerance within Malay society and how the 2006 UMNO General Assembly was the turning point when a party that had prided itself as the bedrock of centrist politics, presented an extremist face to Malaysians on live television.

“UMNO had become a gravy train for personal wealth accumulation for most of its leaders and members. The party had so lost touch with the ground that it no longer cared for public opinion. Their rhetoric of Malay dominance, and race and religion under threat was delusional when more and more Malays were rejecting them in favour of a multi-ethnic opposition promising good governance and equitable citizenship rights”.–Zainah Anwar

 

The histrionics of race and religion under threat, the keris waving, and the full display of Malay-Muslim machismo alienated and scared not just the non-Muslims, but the many moderate and progressive Muslims in the country. UMNO had crossed the line. The belligerent UMNO speakers thought they reflected the mood on the ground, only to fast discover that the ground had shifted from under their feet, as the President tried vainly to do some damage control with his closing speech.

By the 2008 general elections, the resounding victory that then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi enjoyed in 2004 based on his change agenda was overturned. The rakyat inflicted the most crushing blow to Barisan Nasional. Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor fell to the Opposition, and the ruling party lost its much vaunted two-thirds majority.

It all went wrong within just four short years. Abdullah Badawi had led Barisan to its greatest electoral victory ever, winning 199 of 219 parliamentary seats in 2004. He promised to eliminate corruption, to introduce open tendering for government contracts. He regarded the NGOs as the eyes and ears of the government, he stood up for women’s rights and a progressive Islam (Islam Hadhari) that must be re-interpreted to deal with changing times and circumstances. He promised a kinder, gentler Malaysia and more open and democratic politics.

While many of us shared in the fifth Prime Minister’s vision of a democratising, transparent and accountable government and his promise of an inclusive rule for all Malaysians, his failure to deliver on much of this grand vision and his inability to take charge of his change agenda in the face of resistance from powerful centres of power within UMNO, within the civil service, the Police, and even within his own cabinet eventually led to a massive loss of confidence. It was not supposed to be business as usual. But on the ground, it was much too much of the same thing.

From the endless manufacturing of a siege and crisis mentality among the Malays to supremacist speeches in the name of race and religion, from the Lingam tapes to judicial integrity, from rising crime to rising prices, local development without public representation, political leaders behaving badly, and allegations of corruption and cronyism that did not abate…the electorate was in no mood to wait for the promised change to come or to even acknowledge that some change had indeed taken place.

Anything but UMNO

I had written after the 2008 general elections that the massive public repudiation of Barisan was not just a repudiation of the Prime Minister Badawi’s rule, but of all the corrupt, immoral, authoritarianism of Barisan politics and governance in its 50 years of domination. The public has had enough.

That Pakatan Rakyat won votes on a platform of change from “Ketuanan Melayu” to “Ketuanan Rakyat” and a smorgasbord of promises to make democracy and good governance work for ALL citizens was beyond UMNO’s comprehension.

While the new alliance was fast capturing the shifting mood of Malaysian voters to a new political centre of equitable and fairer terms of engagement among the citizens, and between the citizen and the state, and generating excitement among young voters and community groups that their voices could indeed bring change, UMNO members were more preoccupied with power grabbing in the run-up to party elections in December 2009.

They might win party elections whooping their “Ketuanan Melayu” battle cry, but they would cause the party to lose the next general elections, I predicted. The ground had shifted, but they dug deeper into their bad old bag of tricks of race, religion, money politics, and self-enrichment. I never understood what was there for MCA, Gerakan and MIC to stay on with UMNO and its intemperate and relentless stomping and condoning of ethno-religious supremacy that was driving away Chinese and Indian voters into the waiting arms of PKR, DAP and even PAS. The mood indeed was anything but UMNO.

It was clear by 2008 that Malaysian politics was taking off into an epochal transformation from race-based to issue-based, I felt. Increasingly, Malaysians were building new solidarities based on issues, not race or religion. Be it human rights, women’s rights, free and fair elections, democracy, good governance, anti-corruption, freedom of the press, detention without trial, death in custody, local government, environment, land rights, quality education, arts and culture, … it would be issues that would bring Malaysians of all ethnic backgrounds together, I wrote then.

So Abdullah was forced into early retirement and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak became the sixth Prime Minister, warning UMNO to “change or perish”. He called on UMNO members to be the eyes and ears of the rakyat so that UMNO could read accurately the pulse of the nation and translate that into policy and action. In grand style, he called on the people to restore the bridges that brought us together and tear the walls that separated us. He introduced 1Malaysia and he wanted repressive laws repealed and UMNO party rules to be more democratic.

Regime crisis

That was 2009. But I wrote early on that Najib might have the dubious honour of being the first UMNO President to become Leader of the Opposition, as I saw no mood for change among UMNO leaders and members. They felt they were the only rakyat that mattered. All they were preoccupied with was to use the race card to enrich themselves – to get more handouts and more contracts into their grubby hands.

Almost 11 months after the 2008 elections, UMNO lost a by-election in Kuala Terengganu as PAS, PKR and DAP displayed unprecedented cohesion and dazzled the voters with their unity, sharing the same platform everywhere.

It had made no difference to UMNO thinking and strategising that 74% of the Malays in the Kuala Terengganu constituency polled a week before polling day believed that “Malay political power was weakened by corrupt and self-serving leaders”, while only 17% said it was weakened by “demands made by the non-Malays”.

UMNO had become a gravy train for personal wealth accumulation for most of its leaders and members. The party had so lost touch with the ground that it no longer cared for public opinion. Their rhetoric of Malay dominance, and race and religion under threat was delusional when more and more Malays were rejecting them in favour of a multi-ethnic opposition promising good governance and equitable citizenship rights.

That a newly cobbled coalition of strange bedfellows could present a united front and work together as a team and sell their multi-ethnic agenda to a Malay electorate showed what a pathetic empty shell Barisan as a multi-ethnic coalition had become.

2009 under the new leadership brought no respite to the rakyat. Incident after incident piled up and we felt as if the country was going to implode. Issues on whether one was a Muslim or not, whether a father who converted to Islam had the right to unilaterally convert his underage children, the sentencing of Kartika to caning for drinking a glass of beer, the arrest and prosecution of then former Perlis Mufti for teaching Islam in a private home in Selangor without a letter of authorisation…the endless sledgehammer of persecution in the name of Islam went on.

By 2010, the likes of the belligerent Ibrahim Ali and Zulkifli Noordin had emerged as the poster boys of UMNO and the future the party believed in. It was their voice and those of their ilk that the government of the day seemed to listen to. Not the voice of Malaysians, who believe in our founding fathers’ vision of a modern, democratic, secular, culturally pluralistic and inclusive political community.

 

Unpopular tactic:: Umno continued to play on the race and religion sentiments to maintain power, like its Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, who brandished the “Keris Panca Warisan” at the begining of their assembly in PWTC in 2011.

Unpopular tactic: UMNO continued to play on the race and religion sentiments to maintain power, like its UMNO Youth Chief Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, who brandished the “Keris Panca Warisan” at the begining of their assembly in PWTC in 2011.

Contrary voices were either cowed into silenced or demonised. More demagogues were organised to whip up Malay sentiment against any attempts to discuss concerns arising from the makeover of the Constitutional idea of “the special position of the Malays” into Malay supremacy.

The idea of Ketuanan Melayu sits uncomfortably among many Malaysians, be they Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Kadazan-Dusun, Bajaus, Orang Asal, Eurasians…. It is a racial supremacist idea, a far cry from the simple reality that Malays as the majority population of this country will naturally be the politically dominant group. And a far cry from the constitutional notion of the “special position of the Malays” which legitimised affirmative action as a temporary special measure to enable a historically disadvantaged group to catch up.

Obviously, Malaysia had entered into another “regime crisis”. The NEP-era political phase and governing mechanism exhaled its last breath on March 8, 2008.The Opposition had still not coalesced into a viable trusted alternative with a common political vision of Malaysia. The Barisan Nasional government showed no resolve to deal with the concerns and contestations over matters of race and religion, and human rights and fundamental liberties. This pessimism about the future of Malaysia continued to corrode the body politic and the public sense of well-being.

By mid-2010, I pronounced in this column that UMNO was beyond redemption. It had regressed into a dinosaur, too huge, too old, too fossilised in its ways to be able to adapt to new conditions. The sense of privilege and entitlement was too entrenched for UMNO members to ever want to change.

While UMNO politicians and Perkasa pointed fingers at other races as a threat to Malay political survival, the Malays themselves saw something else. A Merdeka Centre survey revealed that 70% of Malays felt that the main threat to the Malay political position in the country was corruption among Malay leaders. Only 22% believed it was due to demands made by other races in the country. This national survey reinforced the Kuala Terengganu findings of January 2009.

The changing values and changing mood were clear. A significant 40% of the Malay respondents believed that citizens should be treated and accorded the same rights in Malaysia, regardless of race and religion. Forty-five per cent believed that government assistance programmes only benefited the rich and politically connected. The two top issues all respondents identified as being the most important in need of change were: “making the country more democratic” and “making our education system world class”. But 66% of the public felt a sense of powerlessness that they could influence government policy.

And yet UMNO continued to play its dangerous game for the future of Malaysia. And it did not care that continuing to abuse race and religion unabated spelt the death knell to its Barisan partners who could never hope to deliver the minority votes necessary for the ruling coalition to maintain power.

No political will

The then Prime Minister (Najib Razak) made attempts to bring UMNO back to the centre by calling for the voice of moderation to prevail in Malaysia, reminding UMNO members at the 2010 General Assembly that it was the Malay trait of moderation that had enabled the community to be accepted as leaders in a multicultural society.

But wasatiyyah required political courage and grit. No one in UMNO had the political will to follow words with deeds. Its hypocrisy continued to stench. Sisters in Islam was called in twice by the Police for questioning under the Penal Code and the Sedition Act for standing up for Kartika. For the first time too, a state religious authority issued an official Friday sermon attacking Sisters in Islam and urged the congregation to take action against us.

In frustration, I wrote a column in 2011 on whose voice should prevail in this country. Those who perpetually saw race and religion under threat and demanded that every person who believed, thought, behaved, dressed, acted, opined differently should be “fixed” through many state sanctioned operations – boot camps, rehabilitation camps, punished under the Internal Security Act, the Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Syariah Criminal Offences Act, or just denounced and demonised as enemies and traitors of race, religion and country?

Or those who envision a democratic and just future, where rights are recognised on the basis of citizenship rather than just race, religion, or sex.

The choice was obvious to most of us, the good citizens of Malaysia who loved this country, and who were determined to be resilient, resourceful, and open minded to face the challenges and realities of the 21st century.

The same old script

I was totally frustrated by the endless manufacturing of many more new threats. From the innocuous fun of poco-poco to the relativism of post-modernism, from calling Muslims opposed to UMNO and PAS unification as “pengkhianat Islam” (traitors of Islam) to accusing Christians of plotting to turn Malaysia into a Christian state! All these of course adding to the existing long list of threats that included pluralism, liberalism, feminism, secularism, kongsi raya, open house, tomboys, yoga…

It was hard to understand why these same actors were trotting out the same old script that cost the Barisan Nasional government so dearly in 2008. It’s like as if nobody had learnt any lessons from that political tsunami. Since attacking liberal Muslims and ungrateful Chinese did not work in 2008, they amended the script to add Christians and even the passé Communists. Why would an unpopular political party create more enemies, instead of making friends?

And to be sure they added the promise of the Hudud law and its grim serving of chopped off Muslim hands and feet, stoning to death, crucifixion! What kind of future is that? “It’s ok to implement the Hudud law because it doesn’t affect non-Muslims.” So it’s ok for Muslims to be brutalised? “Non-Muslims should shut up because it doesn’t affect them.” But they are Malaysian citizens who have every right to speak up on laws that allow for brutal and inhumane punishments against their fellow citizens, the majority population to boot. “Muslims who are not experts on Islam should shut up”. Then please take religion out of the public sphere and make it private between us and God.

By 2012, a desperate UMNO, which for two decades under Mahathir’s rule had been consistently opposed to the Hudud law, embraced it as its own. One state assemblyman in Johor proudly proclaimed that the UMNO Hudud would be superior to the PAS Hudud as it would apply to all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims! And other UMNO leaders and entities in quick succession echoed the call, lest their piety be questioned. And they stoked the debate further by trying to portray the upcoming general elections as a choice between those who wanted the Hudud and the Islamic state and those against.

I wrote then that the choice before us was not between Islam and secularism, not between Hudud law and civil law, not between tradition and modernity. Those were false dichotomies created to divide us. The choice before us was between democracy and despotism, between good governance and corruption, between equality and discrimination, between social justice and inequity.

The UMNO/Perkasa/Utusan Malaysia nexus and its orchestrated battle cry of “Malays and Islam under threat” stoked Malay anxiety – enough to win Umno support and make a nine seat gain in the 2013 general elections. Malays, who saw UMNO as its protector, bought into the emotive appeal that their special rights would be eroded by a Pakatan coalition that stood for affirmative action based on need, rather than race, and Ketuanan Rakyat rather than Ketuanan Melayu.

But the very political strategy that won UMNO support in the rural areas and among some segments of the Malay community, cost Barisan support among the Chinese, Indians and Malays in urban and semi-urban areas. For the first time, Barisan won the national elections with less than 50% of the popular vote.

Image result for Anwar Ibrahim

The demands for reformasi that began in 1999 with the sacking and incarceration  of Anwar Ibrahim was steaming ahead. Barisan popular votes went down by 10% then and UMNO and Barisan were saved by support from the Chinese, many of whom were spooked by reformasi in Indonesia. 2004 was just a blip in the downward slide with excitement over promises of change by a new Prime Minister. Performing from bad to worse in two successive general elections was unprecedented.

There were yet more calls for change. This time the then Deputy Prime Minister warned UMNO members to “change or be dead”. But no one was listening. Some UMNO leaders continued to blame others for their failures and shortcomings. And this time they told those who disagreed with them to leave the country. In the past, the retort used to be vote us out if you don’t agree, but by 2013 that was too painfully close to the truth to even utter.

At the UMNO general assembly that year, the debate, in content and tone, did not provide voters with any indication or hope that UMNO was capable of change to win back the support it had lost in two successive elections.

The de rigueur threats were made yet again – from “liberalism, pluralism and secularism”, to threats from people who supposedly attacked “Islam, the Sultans, the national language, the NEP” all rolled in one breath, and threats from oh, those forever ungrateful Chinese. And then, of course, the same old demands for more handouts and economic assistance for the Malays. And nary a curious squeak as to why a Malay dominated government that has implemented affirmative action policies for over 40 years, with billions spent on bumiputra empowerment and economic advancement plus dozens of accompanying policy instruments, have still failed to address the needs of those left behind and build the resilient commercial and industrial community as envisaged.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, UMNO  Deputy President, gave a dire warning in his closing speech – that just a 2% swing in votes will cost Barisan to lose power.

Forty-four of the 133 Parliamentary seats Barisan held were regarded as “grey” seats where the party had won by a mere majority of between 0.1 and 5.9%. Without new initiatives to appeal to the electorate, Barisan would be in a “precarious position”, he warned.

I met a few UMNO leaders who were at that general assembly who said they cringed listening to the speeches and the non-debates. They felt they were in a sinking ship.

Then why didn’t you and people like you in UMNO speak out, I asked.One said, “Are you kidding me. I speak out, I turn my back, no one is behind me.” Another said, “I speak out, they will send the income tax guys knocking on my door at 3am.”

The dinosaur was truly paralysed and rotten to the core. Malaysia has changed, more and more Malays were changing, but UMNO remained trapped in a dance hall, partying to its own music, oblivious that extinction was near.

In July 2015, I wrote a column, feeling choked and suffocated that this country and its rakyat were being crushed and pummelled by wrecking balls. The wrecking ball of race and religion, of insatiable greed, of desperation to stay in power, of never-ending sense of entitlements, of unpunished crimes and abuses, of ideology over rational thinking, justice, and fair play. These concerns were nothing new. What was new was the breathtaking scale, the endlessness of it all, and the shamelessness with which the perpetrators displayed their unscrupulous, destructive and criminal behaviour, in words and deeds.

The 1MDB scandal had broken. We began to live in an Orwellian world where bad was good and good was bad, where those who revealed abuses and scandals were detained, questioned, prevented from travelling, charged in court, sacked from their positions, while those accused proclaimed their innocence and carried on unimpeached, and buttressed to remain in power.

By this time, I felt UMNO was committing hara-kiri. It added yet more mind-boggling threats – “national security” and “parliamentary democracy” it seemed were now under threat as more and more damning evidence of kleptomaniac behaviour at the very top was revealed. To continue to talk about it posed a threat to the stability of the ruling party and therefore a threat to democracy and national security! What a mind leap we were supposed to exercise to believe in this Orwellian construction of truth.

I never understood why UMNO leaders or all the Barisan MPs still could not see that their rule was over. If the Prime Minister continued to lead the party, they would lose GE-14. Didn’t they consider working together to put pressure on him to step down in order to save the party and the country? Didn’t they consider working together with the Opposition MPs to mount a no-confidence motion in Parliament? It was staggering that a Prime Minister could ever accept RM2.6 billion dollars into his personal account – and still remain in office. It was as simple as that.

But too many on the UMNO bandwagon remained dazzled by the millions that had been dispensed to them and the many more millions that they could still make in power. So right up to May 9, they believed they would still obtain a handsome victory at the polls. The unthinkable, they thought, could not happen with the money spent, the gerrymandering and malapportionment, the mid-week polling day, the mainstream media on their side, the threat of arrests under the fake news law, the threat of an emergency under the new national security act.

Image result for mahathir mohamad wins malaysia's ge-14

But we Malaysians have had enough. The promise of change and the reality that it could happen was electrifying as a 92-year-old indefatigable former Prime Minister stomped the country to convince enough of those who were scared of change that they would be in good hands with him at the helm. My friends and I knew this was the best chance to overthrow a party that had been in power since independence day. For the first time ever, we collected money to donate to candidates of our choice.

Many of us in the women’s movement volunteered for Maria Chin, raised funds, managed her Bilik Gerakan, helped with her communications, outreach, worked as PACAs, pounded the streets at markets and neighbourhoods, and trudged up and down low-cost flats, to reach out to the voters in Petaling Jaya.  We headed to as many ceramahs as possible in the Klang Valley. The idealistic fresh faces standing on stage promising a new democratic, inclusive, and clean government gave us hope.

While so many friends were still too scared to predict the outcome for certain, I just felt it in my old bones that Pakatan Harapan would sweep into power.

UMNO has no one else to blame but itself that Malays no longer see it as the protector of the race and religion. In swinging to the far right and representing the interest of only one segment of the Malay community, it lost the faith of many others that it was able to steer a moderate path to maintain Malaysia’s political stability and prosperity in collaborative partnership with others.

Today, the sun is shining again and I am so, so proud to be Malaysian. We bucked the global trend of elections bringing into power conservative and right wing parties. My friends abroad were thrilled that we Malaysians did it! – Through peaceful elections and a relatively smooth democratic transition to a new ruling coalition that stands for reform. If in the recent past they had asked me in despair what went wrong with Malaysia as it became known for the biggest kleptocracy scandal ever, this time with envy, they asked, “How did you do it?”

The Malaysian electorate has for decades wanted to see change in the way this country is governed, how law is applied, how politics is conducted and how business is run. The long standing public demand for greater transparency and accountability, independence of the judiciary, a free and responsible press, free and fair elections, a more just and open political system, an end to police abuse and misuse of power, and an end to the intricate web of business and politics that bred cronyism and corruption, that for decades remained unmet, now seem possible.

For Pakatan Harapan, winning was the easy job. The hard work now begins. And I have no doubt that the rakyat will throw them out if they fail to deliver on their promises. For this election victory is as much ours as it is theirs. It was us who led the demand for change for decades, and we never gave up. We delivered the victory to Pakatan. We all feel very precious about what we have achieved and we will remain vigilant. And we will not be cowed into silence.

Today, we live in hope and optimism that all good things are possible in this new Malaysia. Salam Malaysia Baru, my beloved.

My Face to Face Interview a Decade ago on RPK’s Malaysia-Today


June 14, 2018

My Face to Face Interview a Decade ago on RPK’s  Malaysia-Today

http://www.malaysia-today.net/2008/05/14/face-to-face-din-merican/

I would like to see us adopt the debating style of the British  Parliament where MPs do not shout at each other as if they are in a fish market and the level of discourse reflects their knowledge of the issues before them and their preparedness. In my view, British MPs know how to disagree on substantive issues agreeably. They do it in style and it is such a delight to watch their deliberations on television.

Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob is a trained lawyer and Malaysian political commentator. He writes for numerous international newspapers and online journals as well as hosts Face to Face, an interview segment of Malaysian/regional issues and personalities hosted on Malaysia Today. He also serves as Foreign Correspondent for foreign news organisations.

Din Merican, the Reluctant Blogger, a former civil service officer with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a central banker at Bank Negara, he was also with the private sector (Sime Darby). He is currently Program Director for Parti Keadilan Rakyat in the office of Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim. He gives us a straight-from-the-shoulder response in another hard-hitting Face to Face interview.

Image result for Din MericanDin Merican, the Reluctant Blogger a Decade Ago (2008)
 

1. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: What’s your foremost specific concern with regard to Malaysian politics at present?

Din Merican: That it has fallen into a racial, nepotistic and plutocratic mould. The entire body politic cries out for liberation from this self-made dungeon. The results of the 12th General Election have cracked the mould. The course being steered by Pakatan Rakyat (Parti KeADILan Rakyat, Democratic Action Party and Parti Islam Sa.Malaysia[PAS]) points the way towards the country’s liberation from this stultifying cage. Malaysian voters have become increasingly sophisticated and discriminating in the way they exercise their democratic rights.  That is our ray of hope for a more democratic and open society. So the recent winds of change, and some people would call it “political tsunami”, give me room for cautious optimism.

2. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: What’s your observation of the ongoing Parliamentary sessions? Has it met with your expectations?

Din Merican: It is an improvement over the previous era when the opposition was minuscule and the government was untrammelled in getting its way. That was a negation of democracy. The current session, with a one-third plus opposition presence, resuscitates the drooping flower of democracy. But to say that the level of debate, discourse and decorum is of the standard that projects Malaysia as a healthy polity is to overstate the reality. We are some way off that standard but we can get there if current trends are sustained.

I would like to see us adopt the debating style of the British  Parliament where MPs do not shout at each other as if they are in a fish market and the level of discourse reflects their knowledge of the issues before them and their preparedness. In my view, British MPs know how to disagree on substantive issues agreeably. They do it in style and it is such a delight to watch their deliberations on television.

3. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: What three issues would you like to see debated? Why?

Din Merican: I would say that there are four issues that are in dire need of debate and resolution, These are the restoration of the judiciary to its pre-1988 standard, the combating of corruption with the creation of a truly independent and professional Anti-Corruption Agency, the inauguration of a programme to tackle poverty on the basis of need rather than race, and the unshackling of the media. The panoply of measures required on all four fronts would check the country’s irreversible slide into a mediocrity that is an affront to the talent and potential of the Malaysian people.

4. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: I believe it’s fair to say that you do speak for Anwar Ibrahim on a number of issues. Are we really to expect a change of government by way of duly elected Member of Parliaments changing shirts? Even Pakatan Rakyat leaders have stated the ethical dilemma of such a move. Please clarify.

Din Merican: It’s not right to say that I speak for Anwar Ibrahim. He has a mind of his own and firm convictions I find admirable. Anwar wants a more egalitarian, inclusive and meritocratic Malaysia. I share his agenda for change. I’m elated to be part of the effort to bring about that change.  I feel that though the UMNO-led and controlled Barisan Nasional won the 12th General election, it has lost the moral and intellectual legitimacy to govern. Why do I say that?

Look at the evidence. Every fortnight or so, the media, both mainstream and alternative, unearths a new scandal. The cumulative effect of these disclosures will erode Barisan Nasional’s moral legitimacy to govern.

How long before the people who voted for them begin to realise that their compatriots who voted Pakatan Rakyat were on to something they were not?

In politics, the rhythms of this consciousness do not obey formal categories of time, convention and place. They are by their nature disorderly. But wise are the politicians who are to the fore of these rhythms than in its rear.

Anwar and his colleagues in Pakatan Rakyat are  contrarians. They saw the emergence of a “Black Swan”—a rare event of momentous change.

Image result for Nassim Nicholas Taleb's “The Black Swan

Pardon me, but I have just completed reading philosopher and stockbroker Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable”. It’s a riveting read. I recommend it wholeheartedly to you, Imran, as I have reason to believe you are a curious and discerning reader of books.

Taleb says, “I do not particularly care about the usual…Indeed, the normal is often irrelevant.” He adds that we should be wary of “platonicity” (named after Greek philosopher Plato), that is “our tendency to mistake the map for the territory, to focus on pure and well defined forms…Platonicity is what makes us think that we understand more than we actually do.”

Taleb tells us of the existence of platonic fold, which is “the explosive boundary where the platonic mindset enters in contact with messy reality, where the gap between what you know and what you think you know becomes dangerously wide. It is here that the Black Swan is produced.”

UMNO, the dominant party in the ruling coalition, is caught in a warp of its own making. It is unable to free itself from its conventional wisdom. That is because it never had an ideology. It was set up on a sentiment which was the defence of the Malay race—and, in truth, they rarely if ever defended the Malays; only an elite’s vested interests, their families, cronies and proxies — and now that sentiment has run its course and the party is out of gas. So, at the risk of repetition, UMNO lacks the intellectual legitimacy to govern.

Absent moral and intellectual legitimacy, the Barisan Nasional government is on its last legs. In that situation, members of some substance and fellow travellers would want to defect. Debating the morality of defections in that kind of situation is like questioning the jauntiness of the orchestra on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg!

5.Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Assuming that Pakatan Rakyat does form the next government as mentioned above, can it really hold up? The alliance between PAS and DAP, for example, seems an untenable position. Comment?

Din Merican: You have heard that politics is the art of the possible. And finality is not its language. When Pakatan Rakyat was formed, PKR, DAP and PAS all agreed to abide by the Merdeka Constitution of 1957 whose essential thrust has been maimed by the authoritarian drift of the Barisan Nasional over the half century of its hold on power.

Now, in each of its three components, Pakatan Rakyat may  encounter elements resisting or deviating from its promise to deliver to the Malaysian polity the dispensation vouchsafed it by the Merdeka Proclamation of 1957 and the Merdeka Constitution. These elements will find that they are in a minority and that the majority want adherence to this agenda rather than digression from it. As in any healthy democracy, the majority will win and the minority will either modulate its positions to fit or seek another platform to espouse their cause.

There will be squalls and ruptures arising from this struggle, but it will not fracture the movement because, unlike UMNO and the Barisan Nasional, Pakatan has an ideology, embedded in and reflected by the ideals of the Merdeka Proclamation and Constitution, to which Umno and BN pay mere lip service while deforming its essence. Pakatan will resurrect these ideals and in doing so unite the Malaysian people and nation.

In a democracy you govern by consent of the governed, not by  imposition by the few. I assure you that in Pakatan Rakyat, the threats of ethnocentrism and theocracy would not menace the  broad and sustainable impetus towards democracy,  transparency and good governance based on the principles  envisaged by the Merdeka Proclamation and Constitution.

6. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Let’s talk about the NEP. Could you please clarify whether this controversial affirmative action policy will be made absolutely redundant in whole? Critics think that an alternative but similar policy to the NEP will instead be implemented by Pakatan Rakyat to appease the Muslim-Malay majority. Care to elaborate?

Din Merican: The NEP (National Economic Policy), better known emotively by DEB (Dasar Ekonomi Baru), will be replaced with the Malaysian Economic Agenda (MEA). Whereas the DEB was implemented on the basis of race, the MEA will be implemented on the basis of need.

The Malays and the bumiputras of Sabah and Sarawak constitute the poorest people in the country. The MEA will address their needs. This is not to say the poor among the Chinese and Indians will not be similarly assisted. The Malays and all who are indeed poor will receive government help to escape the trap of poverty.

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The DEB has become an instrument of exploitation to enrich the few at the expense of the many. It was intended as an aid to empower the poor, and not as a crutch. It was never intended to build a class of appropriators of great wealth who use power to amass fortunes. The time has come to jettison a discredited policy and substitute it with a new one that will deal aggressively with poverty and not supplant it with dependency; and that will unify our country and not divide it into separate cantonments of privilege and wealth while breeding ghettoes of misery and ignorance in its backwash.

7. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: The country seems to be at an even standstill. Opposition MPs are almost that of the BN MPs. UMNO seems split on its choice of leadership whereas MCA/MIC is apparently lashing out at UMNO. There appears to be deep divisions across the Malaysian socio-political strata. In what manner could Pakatan Rakyat unify these factions of competing interests to restore stability?

Din Merican: By addressing problems from a unified Malaysian perspective, by attempting to solve problems from the angle of building a united nation, Pakatan Rakyat would go a long way to demonstrate that that which unites us as Malaysians is greater than that which divides us into separate ethnic and divisible entities. There is a Malaysian identity out there whose dynamics are subtle and creative enough to subsume the cultural variety of its population.

The Indonesians have “Bhinekka Tunggal Ika”, which is Javanese for Unity in Diversity. We too will evolve a similar paradigm. In a new era of good governance by Pakatan Rakyat, the creative flows of the polity will engender this Malaysian identity. When people accept that justice is the common coin of the realm, they know that everyone with talent and capacity for diligent work can flourish.

8. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: A substantial segment of the Muslim-Malay community in particular UMNO brand Anwar Ibrahim as a traitor. What are your views on this?

Din Merican: We are in Samuel Johnson’s debt for reminding us that “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.” People who are void of ideas and principles will resort to branding others who are not similarly bereft, as traitors to this and that.

Anwar Ibrahim stood up to authoritarianism and injustice in this country. He, like several others espousing different platforms at different times in Malaysian history, bore the brunt of the backlash. The tree of liberty is watered from time to time by the suffering and blood of patriots. Fortunately, Anwar possessed the resilience and the indomitable spirit to come back fighting and now the electorate is harkening to his message of change. Anwar is no traitor; he is a fighter in the best humanistic traditions.

I believe that all good leaders must possess an alchemy of great vision. To me, Anwar is the foretaste of a statesmanship South East Asia has yet to see since the great Filipino nationalist Jose Rizal. As a Malay Muslim leader, he has to transmute the dreams of his people for economic uplift and political transformation into the reality of a progressive united Malaysian nation that includes the yearnings of its minorities for justice and self-fulfilment.

Anwar’s is an inclusive vision that will project Islam’s Universalist ideals of justice, compassion, and the pursuit of knowledge to grand effect. He will tie the rich tapestry of our diverse nation into a single garment of noble destiny.

9. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Would you like to share with our readers some of the interesting programs that you are working on?

Din Merican: I am doing what needs to be done for my country, Parti KeADILan and my leader. For me, this time has more than arrived to give back to the society that nurtured me what I owe it. I have to go at this opportunity full tilt. To whom much is given much is required.

I am now working on corporate and international relationships. I want corporates and leaders around the world to know who we are and what we want for Malaysia. I’m also glad that with the Internet, I can keep in touch with Malaysians and friends around the world via my blog http://www.dinmerican.wordpress.com.

10. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Should Abdullah Badawi resign as PM? Do you think he will be able to cling on to power much longer?

Din Merican:  Abdullah Badawi is a symptom of a deeper malaise in UMNO and the Barisan Nasional. People are wondering how a leader who started with such promise could come so quickly a cropper. The reason is now self-evident. He was actually a bland and inane figure who under a gentlemanly veneer hid his lack of substance. Now UMNO’s lack of ideology is reflected in its leader’s void of substance. Ditto Barisan Nasional. Both UMNO and BN cannot reform, cannot change. They are stuck in a deep rut. Every step they take forward is rescinded by two they inevitably take backward. Retrogression is built into their marrow.

Thus questions of how long Abdullah will last or whether he will  cling on to power are notable for their irrelevance. When you have lost the moral and intellectual legitimacy to govern and if it seems that you can still go on, then it must be that the momentum of the preceding 50 years gives you the ballast to float. But for how long!

 A more relevant question is whether anyone in UMNO and Barisan can fill the void of its moral and intellectual bankruptcy. I’m afraid I see nobody who can do that. It’s a decline that’s terminal. It only awaits the day of its eventual internment.

11. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Published reports point to the fact that business confidence and the investment climate is lusterless due to the external sluggish global economy and uncertainty in Malaysian politics. Consumer confidence is also expected to slowdown. What’s your assessment for the Rakyat in terms of the cost of living and purchasing power spilling into 2009? What’s Pakatan Rakyat’s solution in general to deal with the economic lag?

Din Merican: The facts are staring in our face, but we seem to lack the political will to deal with the effects of economic, social and political pathology. Please read our Malaysian Economic Agenda. Some of our ideas have been hijacked by the Barisan Nasional. Well, they say imitation is the highest form of flattery.

12. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob : If you met Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak, what would you say to them.

Din Merican: A spell in the opposition would be good for you. Try it. It may engender the realism from whose flight the present paralysis in UMNO and the country was spawned.

13.Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: What’s your estimation on the big events at the forthcoming UMNO elections? Of white knights and dark horses.

Din Merican: I doubt that half of the UMNO divisions will meet to demand that an EGM be held to amend the party constitution to abolish the quota system governing contests for top party  posts. This will mean that Badawi, a captive of indecision, will  wind up unchallenged as UMNO President in December, 2008.  It would be a travesty if that happens. But UMNO is not only in need of a change in leadership, it is also in dire need of  ideological rudder to steer the party out of the rut it has fallen into. They have nobody who can supply that. The party, like the coalition it leads, has to expire before it can regenerate.

May 13, 2008

Face to Face interviews are conducted by way of e-mail unless otherwise stated.

Looking Back in Time: Malaysia’s Hibiscus Revolution


June 11, 2018

Looking Back in Time: Malaysia’s Hibiscus Revolution that brought Najib’s Political Demise

by Joseph Chinyong Liow ()

https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/power-plays-and-political-crisis-in-malaysia/

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Malaysia’s  Hibiscus Revolution started in  November, 2007

Read : http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/malaysias-hibiscus-revolution/article2227370.ece

Dark clouds have gathered over Malaysia as a crisis deepens. Two weeks ago, the country witnessed a massive street protest – dubbed Bersih (lit: “clean”) – organized by a network of civil society groups agitating for electoral reform. This was in fact the fourth iteration of the Bersih protests (Bersih also mobilized in 2007, 2011, and 2012), and managed to draw tens of thousands of participants (the exact number varies depending on who you ask). On this occasion, the protest was a culmination of widespread popular indignation at a scandal involving 1MDB, a government-owned strategic investment firm that accrued losses amounting to approximately USD10 billion over a short period of time, and the controversial “donation” of USD700 million funneled to the ruling party through the personal bank accounts of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.

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All this is taking place against an inauspicious backdrop of sluggish economic growth, the depreciation of the Malaysian currency, and several exposes on the extravagant lifestyle of Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor.

How consequential was Bersih?

Image result for Nik Nazmi and Din Merican at Bersih 1.0

Read: https://dinmerican.wordpress.com/category/ge13/page/9/

When Bersih first mobilized in 2007, it managed to harness a flood of dissatisfaction in opposition to the government of Abdullah Badawi, and contributed to major opposition political gains at the general election of 2008.

The second and third protests have also been credited as contributing factors to further opposition inroads at the 2013 polls. Assessments of the latest iteration of Bersih however, have been more equivocal. On the one hand, Bersih 4.0 indicated that the movement can still draw huge crowds and give voice to popular discontent, which continues to grow. On the other hand, analysts have called attention in particular to the comparatively weak turnout of ethnic Malays at Bersih 4.0 compared to the previous protests. This is a crucial consideration that merits elaboration if Bersih is to be assessed as an instrument for change.

Given how Malaysian politics continues to set great store by ethnic identity, the support of the Malay majority demographic is integral for any social and political change to take place. By virtue of affirmative action, ethnic Malays are privileged recipients of scholarships and public sector jobs. Therein lies the problem for any social movement agitating for change. Years of conditioning through policy and propaganda have created a heavy reliance on the state, which in essence means UMNO (United Malays National Organisation), the dominant party in the ruling coalition which Prime Minister Najib helms as party president. While it is difficult to say conclusively that this explains the tepid reaction of ethnic Malays during the Bersih protests, it is not far-fetched to hypothesize that at least a contributing factor was the fear among recipients of scholarships and public sector employees that their benefits might be jeopardized (For example, I know that scholarship holders were sent letters “dissuading” them from participating in “political activities.”).

Ultimately though, the most telling feature of the event may not have been the dearth of ethnic Malays but the presence of one particular Malay leader – Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s nonagenarian former Prime Minister and unlikely Bersih participant.

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Dr Mahathir Mohamad–Malaysia’s Uber-Politician

Hitherto a supporter of Prime Minister Najib, Mahathir has grown increasingly unhappy with the Prime Minister’s policies. According to Mahathir himself, attempts had been made to share his reservations with Najib in private, but they were rebuffed. Going by this account, it is not surprising that Najib’s alleged snub prompted private reservations to crescendo into harsh public criticism.

By the middle of 2014, Mahathir had assumed the role of Malaysia’s conscience to become one of the loudest critics of Najib. Asked to explain his criticisms, Mahathir reportedly responded: “I have no choice but to withdraw my support. This (referring to the act of privately reaching out to Najib) has not been effective so I have to criticize. Many policies, approaches, and actions taken by the government under Najib have destroyed interracial ties, the economy, and the country’s finances.”[1]

Today, it is Mahathir, Malaysia’s longest serving Prime Minister who was in office from 1981 to 2003, who is leading the charge to discredit Najib and have him removed from office for malfeasance. What explains Mahathir’s singleness of purpose to have Najib removed from power? Part of the answer may lie in Mahathir’s own record of political quarrels.

What lies beneath Mahathir’s attacks?

Mahathir is no stranger to bitter and bloody personal political battles. His interventions in Malaysian politics throughout his career in office are legion (and many Malaysians might also say, legendary). Longtime Malaysia watchers and critics have assailed Mahathir for his autocratic streak evident, for example, in how he emaciated the Judiciary by contriving to have supreme court judges (and on one occasion, the Lord President himself) removed from office, incapacitated the institution of the monarchy by pushing legislation that further curtailed the already-limited powers of the constitutional monarch, and suppressed opposition parties and civil society by using internal security legislation (and on one occasion, the Lord President himself) removed from office, incapacitated the institution of the monarchy by pushing legislation that further curtailed the already-limited powers of the constitutional monarch, and suppressed opposition parties and civil society by using internal security legislation against them.

Mahathir was no less ruthless within UMNO, where he brooked no opposition. The history of political contests in UMNO has his fingerprints all over it. In 1969, it was his provocations as a contumacious back bencher that precipitated the resignation of the respected founding prime minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman. In 1987, Mahathir weathered a challenge to his leadership of UMNO mounted by political rivals (the then Deputy Prime Minister, Musa Hitam, and Minister for International Trade, Razaleigh Hamzah), turned the tables on them, and had them exiled into political wilderness.

In 1998, Mahathir successfully fended off the ambitious Anwar Ibrahim by sacking him, and later having him arrested, charged, and eventually convicted for corruption and sodomy. Even when not directly involved, he was never content to be a bystander, choosing instead to either instigate or leverage power plays. In 1978, he played no small part in nudging Sulaiman Palestin to challenge then incumbent Hussein Onn for party presidency (a move that many Malaysian analysts agree signaled the beginning of the end for Hussein’s political career even though he managed to fend off Sulaiman’s challenge). In 1993, Mahathir did little to prop his then deputy, Ghafar Baba, who was crumbling under the challenge of a charismatic Malay nationalist and rising star by the name of Anwar Ibrahim. It was Mahathir’s machinations in 2008 that forced Abdullah Badawi, his handpicked successor no less, to resign a year later.

All said, Mahathir had accomplished the signal feat of being involved in some way or other in almost every political crisis that has beset UMNO since 1969. Several observations can be drawn from this record to explain Mahathir’s present behavior. First, Mahathir has long been possessed of a drive to be at the center of power in UMNO and Malaysian politics. Second, he is also in possession of an acute survival instinct that has enabled the über-politician to see off a string of challengers and ensured his political survival at the helm for 22 years. Finally, one can also plausibly surmise that at the core of his recent interventions is the desire – not unlike others who have held any high office for 22 years – to protect his legacy. Therein lie the rub, for it is not difficult to imagine that Mahathir might have deemed his legacy challenged by Anwar in 1998, ignored by Abdullah Badawi in 2008, and now, disregarded by Najib.

Will Najib survive?

A crucial factor that plays in this unfolding drama between two of Malaysia’s political heaveyweights – and which cannot be over-emphasized – is the fact that power in Malaysia ultimately lies in UMNO itself, sclerotic though the party may have become. It is on this score that Najib remains formidable, even for the likes of Mahathir.

Unlike Anwar, who was only a Deputy President when he launched his abortive attempt to challenge Mahathir in 1998 (for which he paid a heavy political and personal price), Najib enjoys the advantage of incumbency. Unlike Abdullah Badawi, who chose to remain quiescent when stridently attacked latterly by Mahathir, Najib has used the powers of incumbency adroitly to head off any potential challenge and tighten his grip on the party. He has done so by out-maneuvering pretenders (he removed his Deputy Prime Minister), sidelining opponents, and co-opting potential dissenters into his Cabinet. These divide-and-rule measures closely approximate what Mahathir himself had used to devastating effect when he was in power. For good measure, Najib has lifted a few additional moves from Mahathir’s own playbook: he has neutralized legal institutions, hunted down whistle blowers, brought security agencies to heel, and shut down newspapers and periodicals that have criticized him. Najib’s consolidation of power has been aided by the fact that there is at present no alternative leader within UMNO around whom a sufficiently extensive patronage network has been created. It bears repeating that the arid reality of Malaysian politics is that power still lies within UMNO, so he who controls the party controls Malaysia. On that score, even if Najib’s credibility is eroding in the eyes of the Malaysian populace, within UMNO his position does not appear to have weakened, nor does he seem to be buckling under pressure.

There are no signs that the enmity between the current and former Prime Ministers of Malaysia will abate anytime soon. Given the stakes, the depths to which ill-will between both parties now run, and how far the boundaries have already been pushed, the rancor is likely to intensify. Mahathir still commands a following especially online where his studied blog musings on www.chedet.cc, a key vehicle for his unrelenting assaults on Najib’s credibility, remain popular grist for the ever-churning Malaysian rumor mill. In response, Najib has defiantly circled the wagons and tightened his grip on levers of power. While Mahathir is unlikely to relent, the reality is that the avenues available to him to ramp up pressure on Najib are disappearing fast. A recent UMNO Supreme Council meeting that was expected to witness a further culling of Najib’s detractors and Mahathir’s sympathizers turned out to be a non-event and an endorsement of the status quo. In the final analysis then, it is difficult to see Mahathir ultimately prevailing over Najib, let alone bend the sitting prime minister and party president to his will.

Joseph Chinyong Liow

Joseph Chinyong Liow

Former Brookings Expert.Dean and Professor of Comparative and International Politics – S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies


[1] “Dr. Mahathir Withdraws Support for Najib Government,” The Malaysian Insider, August 18, 2014. http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/dr-mahathir-withdraws-support-for-najib-government.

 

GE-14: The Morning After–New Hope for Malaysia


May 10, 2018

GE-14: The Morning After–New Hope for Malaysia

Politics & Policy

Malaysia’s Political Earthquake Is Deeply Ironic

The opposition just won, led by a former head of the establishment. How much will change?

 
 
Image result for mahathir mohamad wins Malaysia's GE-14

Dr. Mahathir announces coalition won significant majority of seats and will seek to restore rule of law in Malaysia.

After six decades of uninterrupted rule by one political bloc, Malaysia’s democracy showed it can work — ousting that bloc and the nation’s incumbent leader in a seismic shift. The irony is that it took a onetime scourge of democracy to come back from retirement to topple the party that ruled since independence from Great Britain in 1957 — the same party he led as prime minister for 22 years.

That man, Mahathir Mohamad, declared in his 90s that his new mission in life was to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak and the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. They had become corrupt and too addicted to power, he claimed. Never mind that as Prime inister Mahathir did much to centralize power. Never mind that Najib’s career was nurtured by none other than Mahathir.

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Najib claimed the opposition, now on the cusp of taking control of government, is a motley collection of parties. True enough. That’s how Parliaments work.

How would the opposition rule? Like Mahathir last time around or more freewheeling? How would leadership issues within the opposition resolve themselves, chiefly the relationship between Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim, now languishing in prison? (Put there the first time by Mahathir.) What will be the administrative priorities of an opposition that probably doubted it could ever win?

It almost doesn’t matter for now, because first the nation and the world can savor that this system, constructed on theoretical possibilities, has been shown to work. Gerrymandering and crackdowns on the press can’t suppress political and economic tides indefinitely. Ironies abound. Nobody in the media in the 1990s, when I worked in Malaysia, would have considered Mahathir a friend of a free and vibrant press.

Barisan Nasional had struggled in recent years and, as a result, had become more dictatorial and more dependent on xenophobic appeals to rural Malays and political Islam. How the opposition functions in government and what the role of smaller parties looks like is anyone’s guess. And all this assumes, of course, that the government allows the opposition to take office. There’s never been a change of power in Malaysia, since independence. The party was the government and the government was the party.

Not to get completely swept up in the moment: Over the longer run, Malaysia’s economic and political direction will be governed by interest rates and fiscal and regulatory policy, just like most countries. Mahathir himself isn’t exactly a political novice. And there are broader macroeconomic forces also at work, including China’s relative economic strength, what happens with global trade and developments in technology.

The economic and social distortions caused by the existing regime’s preferences for powerful Malays, members of the majority ethnic group, may not go away soon. They were cemented during Mahathir’s previous tour of duty.

Malaysia faces its share of challenges in this new era. And with a former Prime Minister returning to power, it’s fair to wonder how much will really change. There’s also no getting away from the fact that the once-unstoppable Barisan Nasional has lost the election. That’s already a huge change.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Daniel Moss at dmoss@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net

Malaysia: GE-14 Four Possible Scenarios


May 9, 2018

Malaysia: GE-14 Four Possible Scenarios

Few observers of Malaysian politics have made hard and fast predictions about the outcome of elections and not lived to regret it.

Nevertheless, it’s customary to wrap up a New Mandala pre-election series with a few guesses as to what the results might be. So, we’d like to offer up four scenarios for today’s election, based on our observations of the campaign and conversations with Malaysian and international experts clued in on the electoral dynamics in the country.

We’ll find out how right or wrong we are tonight, when New Mandala will be hosting a live blog from the Australian National University campus in Canberra, with guest bloggers contributing analysis and observations from the ground in Malaysia. You can keep up with our contributors’ commentary at the Live Blog page from 5:00pm KL time/7:00pm Australian Eastern Standard Time.

Until then, here are what we think are some possible outcomes of today’s vote, ordered from most probable to least probable:

1: BN wins the election, but loses the popular vote and wins with fewer seats than in GE13 (133 seats).

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How? BN does well in Sabah and Sarawak and holds a significant number of Malay-majority seats in Peninsula, in part as a result of malapportionment and the role of PAS in splitting the non-UMNO Malay vote (i.e. what Malaysian politicos are calling the “three-cornered fight” phenomenon). BN wins somewhere between 112-130 seats.

The popular vote can be used to try to claim a moral victory. The Anwar Ibrahim-led Pakatan Rakyat coalition won 51% of votes in at GE13 in 2013. If the latest opinion polling from the Merdeka Center is accurate, then BN neither the two main coalitions will win a popular vote majority, with PAS taking up the remainder.

What would this mean? Barisan’s declining popular vote contributes to the erosion of Najib’s legitimacy in the eyes of both the Malaysian public and the international community. If UMNO loses significant ground in the seat count, disgruntled UMNO members have further reason for finding another prime minister when (or if) they hold party elections. Najib had previously delayed these party elections, saying he wanted his party to focus on GE14. If the result is bad, the knives will be out. Najib has shown himself to be a smart political operator, but will need to continue to harden his rule to do so. This means more crackdowns on political opponents, on media freedom (online and offline) and civil liberties more broadly. And expect more pro-Malay, Islam policies to shore up popular support.

2: Hung parliament. PAS supports BN which enables it to retain power.

How? BN wins less than 112 seats but more than or similar number to the opposition. Together with seats from PAS (presuming PAS gets enough to get BN over the line) BN are able to form a minority government.

3: BN wins the election with more seats than in GE13.

How? Mahathir’s party flops, due in large part to poor local candidates and lack of party machinery in rural areas. Or, BN benefits significantly from the “three-way fights” as PAS splits the non-UMNO Malay vote, leaving BN winning seats on plurality thanks to the first-past-the-post system. BN does well in Johor in particular, which would be a big disappointment for the opposition.

What would this mean? That Najib has significant legitimacy in the eyes of his party, UMNO, given that the result was better than the previous election. He is wholeheartedly reinstated as UMNO leader in party elections next year. His immediate subordinates presumably win their seats, and remain happy with a Najib-led government. If the BN wins the crucial two-thirds parliamentary majority, that would mean they have the power to change the constitution.

4: The opposition wins the election. Mahathir becomes Prime Minister.

How? The “Malay tsunami” happens, and the opposition wins around 100 seats in Peninsular Malaysia. PAS voters switch to opposition parties PKR and Amanah. Or, Sabah’s Heritage Party (Warisan) is successful enough to help get PH over the line.

Image result for If Mahathir wins GE-14

What would this mean? Mahathir would declare an undisputed victory, but the immediate question would be whether Najib accepts defeat. The recent comment by the armed forces chief and the police that they don’t support any political party is significant, suggesting that the potential for regime change is at least being discussed. But would the BN really give up power? The 2016 National Security Council Bill gives virtually unlimited powers of the Prime Minister to call a state of emergency in a particular state or indeed nation-wide.

GE-14: A Political Storm Ahead


May 9, 2018

GE-14: A Political Storm Ahead

by Dr. Bridget Welsh@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | In this quiet morning in Kuala Lumpur – after more than two weeks traveling across Malaysia learning from the graciousness of ordinary citizens in the campaign – it is apparent a political storm is ahead.

Roads were packed with voters going home, resolute and purposeful. Conversations in rest areas spoke of undaunted commitments to change and a deep love of Malaysia. Even traditional BN supporters en route recognise that there are dark clouds on their horizon, although many continue to believe that their advantage of money, machinery and manipulations will pull them through the election. Some think it will be a comfortable margin.

My estimate is that we are looking at a difference of 30 too-close-to-call seats that can swing in favour of either side at the national level. There will be many surprises. BN still holds the lead, but it has been on a direction of diminishing returns in the course of the campaign.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak did not control the narrative. Pakatan Harapan chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad has given Malaysians the strongest chance to unseat the BN since independence.

The structural advantages of malapportionment, gerrymandering and voter exclusion for the BN should not be discounted, as they conservatively affect at least 20 seats. Also important is the reality that the Najib administration has significant vested interests in staying in power.

At the state level – Selangor, Kelantan, Terengganu, Johor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan, Sabah, and even Malacca are in play. The last five have a reasonable BN advantage. Penang should be retained by Harapan.

An emotional election

Sentiments across the country are strong, as this election has evoked a combination of emotions. There are many who are fearful, worried about the risks and the consequences of the election.

I find this particularly expressed among women, and among many Chinese Malaysians who are uncertain of whether change is possible. Some Malays in rural areas expressed concerns about Chinese power and the DAP in particular. Decades of racial politics have left an imprint, as insecurity has been an important tool for political power.

Others are angry. Not just about economic issues and the GST, but the fact that the BN leadership has damaged the country’s reputation. Malaysians understandably have deep pride in their country and have been affected by the charges of kleptocracy.

There is also anger at the unfairness in the election process, such as the blatant measures of disqualifications and the early taking down of banners. Perceived cheating will not be acceptable to many.

Many BN supporters are also angry – at Mahathir – and the uncertainty this election has brought home for them. This is about their families and livelihoods and such feelings are understandable, even if they are resented by others.

There are concerns with betrayal. This is on two fronts – among UMNO grassroots directed at Mahathir and among ordinary citizens directed at Najib. I have listened to many voters who have been in turmoil over their vote this time, with the level of voters leaving BN and UMNO behind and embracing a new alternative unprecedented.

Another key issue will be whether the PAS leadership betrays its party faithful in favour of cooperation with a potentially weaker Najib. An UMNO-PAS cooperation is more likely than ever before, as there are calls for a Muslim-only government in some quarters.

This sense of betrayal and anger is tied to revenge. Be assured that if Najib wins comfortably, those who have been seen to have changed sides will be potentially targeted. Many in PAS have also tied their contestation of over 100 seats to being a spoiler against its personal ‘enemies’ – Amanah, PKR and DAP.

Amidst all of this negativity, there is hope, as Malaysians tap into their sense of confidence in themselves and their fellow citizens. Even more than in 2008, the multi-ethnicity of crowds and campaigns speak to bridges across races. While Malays have been seen as those moving allegiance, the storm that could happen is a Malaysian one.

Perak: Malaysia’s political bellwether

Perak is an important place to see how heavy the rain will be. From the breathtaking lakes in Gerik to the industrious Kinta Valley, Perak has traditionally been an indicator of political fortunes in Malaysia.

This is true from the anti-colonial resistance to the historic 2008 election. Not only is the state representative of the demographic composition of Peninsular Malaysia and captures the combination of urban intensity with rural remoteness, those from Perak are geographically at the crossroads the country, feeling the pulse from Malaysia’s many diverse regions.

Both BN and Harapan believe they will win the state, while PAS is claiming to maintain its base, especially in the north near the Kerian River, and its traditional stronghold areas such as Bukit Gantang. With split voting this means that they will shape the results, and in some cases even win.

In the GE-14 campaign, Perak was largely ignored, in fact taken for granted. The BN assumed it had done its groundwork before election day to maintain power, while Harapan has assumed Perak will follow what they expect to be the national trend.

With Perak’s mixed ethnic composition it is assumed that the state will move back into opposition’s hands. These assumptions may be misplaced, as the lack of adequate attention to Perak has had an impact.

On the ground the campaigns were largely less dynamic than in the past, and there was disgruntlement that Mahathir did not opt to visit the state during the campaign itself. His only visit before the campaign was to Kamunting, and this was relatively disorganised and gave the opposition less traction than in other locations.

There was considerable infighting within the opposition, including over the chief minister position, and grumblings of weak candidates. As such, the BN goes into election day with an advantage in a state that was seen as winnable for the opposition.

Perak also has the most systematic and comprehensive changes related to the delineation at the state level, arguably more than Selangor. Seats have been especially carved out for UMNO, strengthened for other BN component parties, namely MCA, and weakened for the opposition as a whole, especially in areas where PKR and Bersatu candidates are contesting.

This said, the evidence of momentum for the opposition was evident on the ground – in Telok Intan and, interestingly in Tanjong Malim, a seat the MCA has not lost since independence.

In Parit, a historic constituency, voters harped on concerns with cost of living, echoing the message from this area decades earlier in the 1960s over the price of coconut oil. The level of disgruntlement was quite different than either that in either the 2013 or 2008 polls.

What will be critical in the final count in Perak is returning voters, those on the crowded trunk roads and hectic North-South highway. As in Malaysia as a whole, it will come down to a few too-close-to-call seats.

Scenarios of change

This morning, my messages have been flooded with requests for predictions. As an analyst, I am looking at turnout levels today – a high turnout this time round speaks to greater losses for BN. I still hold onto the importance of the changes in the electoral boundaries and three-corner fights as weakening Harapan.

Right now, this early morning, I see three scenarios – a BN victory less than that of GE-13, and a hung Parliament tied to the kingmakers of PAS and Parti Warisan Sabah, and an outright Harapan win, if slim. I weigh heavily on the first option.

I note that some others continue to see a strong BN victory – even a two-thirds victory. My own view is that this would be tied to potential questionable machinations in the system. Concerns about the Election Commission failing to stamp of voter ballots in KL and elsewhere raise these sorts of issues, as is the questionable ferrying of voters.

Where my analysis differs with others is the potential fortune of PAS. I see it stronger in its heartland states of Kelantan and Terengganu. In some places, it will be the recipient of anti-Umno sentiment, as in northern Perak in places such as Larut, and in Arau in Perlis compared to Harapan, in part due to weaker candidates.

On the road the PAS faithful driving home outnumbered Harapan flags, as the loyalties to the party run deep.

Studies such as Invoke’s ‘wipeout’ scenario only have served to strengthen PAS support and reduce potential split voting. It seems unrealistic in numbers predicted given sentiments in the rural areas. For many voters in places such as Bachok, PAS is the alternative they are most familiar with. It is seen as a ‘safe’ vote. Harapan machinery is very uneven outside of cities.

Those in the English media should not underestimate the dynamism of the discussions happening in the Malay media and strong Muslim sentiments among many voters.

PAS’ call for a ‘Muslim’ or ‘green tsunami’ is not only based on idealism alone. The fact that all the major contenders had strong Muslim currents in their campaign messages speaks to the reality of a core of deeply religiously aware voters. PAS does not need to win much of the Malay vote to advantage BN in close races, just 10 to 15 percent of the vote in some seats.

A different political landscape

Let’s take a moment to consider the implications of each scenario, as Malaysia tomorrow will be a different country whatever happens today.

The first scenario is a reduced Najib victory. He will be blamed. With the decline in support he will be seen as a loser, even if he holds a majority. The test is whether other leaders will step up the plate to challenge him.

Najib has strong control of the party and resources at his disposal. A reduced majority should not be equated with a Najib departure as yet – looking at Umno itself. The pressures inside the party for the party’s survival are percolating, but they do not want the party to split further.

Crucial to Najib’s future is whether he loses Malay-majority seats. This scenario is likely to be a long drawn out affair, with considerable resistance. Recent history has shown that Najib has been a political survivor within UMNO. Expect Najib to reach out to PAS and his friend Hadi to strengthen his numbers.

The second scenario is one of a hung Parliament. Hadi’s PAS has apparently shown its UMNO cooperation colours in GE-14 and in recent statements to support BN candidates in Selangor and Penang. Key will be how many of Hadi’s men win and whether he continues to secure enough seats for his own political leverage. A new form of political coalition will be necessary.

Warisan (Shafie Apdal-led party) is also important, although how many seats have survived the carpet bombing and ‘backdoor measures’ is yet unclear. East Malaysia will be extremely important in the final numbers of seats. If a hung Parliament arises, money and positions will be on the cards across the political divide.

The third scenario is dependent on voter turnout and seat numbers in East Malaysia, both Sabah and Sarawak. This will only happen if voters themselves take this election in their hands. It is a steep hill to climb, but Mahathir personified the concept of ‘Malaysia Boleh’ and he himself has shown that spirit in the GE-14 campaign given his age.

The storm is ahead. It is now warming up in KL as voters stream to the polls. It will rain this afternoon and perhaps this evening as well – and it is likely to be heavy. Expect a long and interesting post-election period as the clouds will remain even after the votes are counted.


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.