Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa questions double standards by those who defend Zakir Naik’s freedom of speech but oppose the right of Muslims to practise their preferred school of thought.
PETALING JAYA: Prominent Muslim activist Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa said he was not surprised by the storm of protests that greeted the appointment of Maszlee Malik as the Education Minister, but said a bigger worry was whether the Perlis fatwa committee member has the courage to press ahead with the concept of Bangsa Malaysia and resist pressures from extremists on Malaysia’s schooling system.
“The main issue here is whether he has the same courage as Dr Mahathir in facing the two extreme camps in this country, the Chinese educationist extremist and the conservative Malay educationist groups,” Farouk, who heads the outspoken Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), told FMT.
A debate has been raging over Maszlee’s suitability for the post since he was named by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Friday. Critics point to Maszlee’s defence of controversial preacher Dr Zakir Naik, who is wanted in India over allegations of extremism and money laundering.
They are also concerned with Maszlee’s leaning towards Salafist Islam, and his close association with Perlis Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, who was recently summoned to a panel hearing on missing activist Amri Che Mat, who Asri had slammed for practising Shia Islam, which local Muslim bureaucrats label as “deviant”.
Dr. Maszlee Malik–Minister of Education
Maszlee’s supporters have alluded to his academic background and social activities, with others saying his defence of Naik was based on his belief in free speech.
Farouk said the criticism was expected, and questioned Maszlee’s openness as claimed by his supporters.
“If one were to argue that his defense of Zakir Naik was based on freedom of expression, then this freedom also requires him to grant the same to the Shias,” said Farouk, adding that it was only natural to link Maszlee’s opposition to the second largest Muslim denomination to his “Salafist” leaning.
“There cannot be a double standard in preaching for freedom of expression.”
Salafist Islam refers to a movement within Sunni Islam, with roots going back to Wahhabism, the supposedly puritan form of Islam that is officially adopted in Saudi Arabia.
Opposition to PPSMI
Farouk, a medical lecturer at Monash University Malaysia, who was once active with the Muslim Professionals Forum that Maszlee is also part of, said the calls for Mahathir to hold the education portfolio was based on the public’s confidence that he could initiate radical reforms in the sector.
This, he said, included the call by the Chinese education group Dong Zong to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate, and the pressure from Malay groups seeking to abolish the study of Science and Mathematics in English.
“Only he (Mahathir) has the strength and determination in facing this highly debatable issue,” said Farouk, who has supported past government initiatives under Mahathir to emphasise the use of English in schools.
“How do we compete at the International arena when we forego the most important language of science and technology in the 21st century?” he asked.
A policy championed by Mahathir, the Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English, or PPSMI, was aborted in 2011 by then education minister Muhyiddin Yassin, following protests from Malay groups.
The move was welcomed by Ikram, an umbrella organisation of Muslim groups, of which Maszlee is a committee member.
“We oppose any attempts to revive PPSMI because we are convinced that the decision by the education ministry is based on its internal findings,” the group had then said in a statement.
Maszlee, 44, who joined PPBM last March, won the Simpang Renggam parliamentary seat in Johor in the May 9 polls.
The former lecturer who taught subjects related to Islamic Jurisprudence at the International Islamic University was named as education minister after Mahathir changed his mind about holding the post himself.
Mahathir said he would abide by a Pakatan Harapan promise that the Prime Minister would not hold any other portfolio.
But within 24 hours of the announcement, over 60,000 signed an online petition urging Mahathir to return to the post, saying he “will bring much needed reforms to the education system in this country”.
RedHero: Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian seems to still have a lot of Umno DNA in him. Unless he changes drastically in the next 100 days with the right decisions and statements, or is kept in line by others in Pakatan Harapan, he should be replaced by someone of much higher calibre.
Remember, the rakyat is watching.
Anonymous 2319461440035118: The issue of denying opposition lawmakers allocations should not have been mentioned in the first place. Why is it that it is not final? Does he mean that it is still on his mind, and that he is still thinking about it?
Quigonbond: What a joker, can’t even say he made a mistake. His party President Muhyiddin Yassin just asked him to correct the gaffe. So just say it out loud instead of trying to keep his pride intact. This is a totally bad start.
It’s not so much of what he said. It’s his attitude. It’s one of inequity, when the first instinct is to punish instead of being fair – just like UMNO.
Anonymous Malaysia 2018: In a true democracy, the opposition leader should be accorded recognition. He or she should be given an office, staff, car and other facilities befitting an opposition leader.
Another important point is that all state assembly persons should be equally funded for their work on the ground. To deprive them of funds is morally wrong. So it matters not whether that person is from Harapan or BN or PAS or even independent. Be fair to all! Work with that spirit in mind.
This should apply to all states, without exception. We should never punish the opposition. They are elected by the people; they are the voices of the people. Why don’t you try being a gentleman instead?
Anak Kampung: It is true that many Malaysians voted to get BN out, rather than to get Harapan in. It is true that the unholy alliance was always going to be fraught with danger, with Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the helm, and a race-based party like Bersatu in the mix – especially now that they are taking in so many ‘jumpers’ who were kicked off the gravy train.
It is true that this is just the first step, that should have been taken decades ago, and true democracy will only come in the future. And yet, knowing all of this, why does Harapan make it so easy for us to be disappointed in them?
Apa Ini: Let’s give him and other Harapan candidates a hundred days at least.
Mano: This MB says “Five years ago, I was not in the Dewan to hear the proceedings, so I have to gather feedback from previous assembly persons, then I will bring the matter up in the exco meeting.”
Well, we were not in the assemblies of Selangor or Penang either, and yet we still read of how fair the state governments were. Stop spewing, just say you are sorry. Or is that too much to ask, as it is for BN representatives?
Anonymous_20f13320: The PR task ahead of him was simple. Just announce allocations for all assembly persons, regardless of party.
What a bad start. The first day on the job, and he’s already talking about salary, insufficient funds, and denying allocations. This is bad governance, plain and simple.
Dr Suresh Kumar: Looking at Osman, I think Johor will be given away on a silver platter to UMNO in the next general election. Bersatu, don’t you have any better candidates?
AnonYmOUs: Allocations aside, what about the statement he made about his management of finance and land matters? Could be another ousted former Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak in the making.
Clever Voter: The new Johor Menteri Besar is now being seen as leftover from the previous BN administration. He should not repeat the same mistake of ignoring the opposition.
Indeed, the Harapan administration should walk the talk by encouraging an effective opposition as a check-and-balance. Muhyiddin is right to advise his people to do what is right, as a new beginning not a hangover from yesterday.
Anonymous_1420346063: The choice ahead of Harapan after May 9 was so simple – Johor Harapan Vice-President Salahuddin Ayub for Menteri Besar. We struggled and saved from BN, and Harapan seems to be throwing it back to BN. Totally disappointing.
Simple Truth: The selection was a poor choice. A big job for an established state like Johor should not be entrusted to a rookie. What were you guys thinking? Why give three names for the sultan to choose from? He hardly knows their credentials?
The choice should have been for a mature politician, with integrity, wisdom and righteousness. This can be seen in their past performance. Disappointing!
Anonymous_e6188eda: Osman cannot hold two portfolios because he is in breach of the mandate the people of Johor have handed to him. Harapan landed the victory partly also because of the pledge to the people, to forbid one person from holding so much power in two ministerial portfolios.
This will set precedent for all the other Harapan ministers to justify going down the same path. The people don’t want this to continue in the new administration.
MahuSeeLui: This old BN mentality must be confined to the rubbish bin. If the new Harapan politicians cannot adopt a policy of respect for the rakyat, then they are doomed to fail, and the tsunami would have been in vain. So govern for all Malaysians regardless of who they voted for.
Anonymous 1802761448130592: Thank you Muhyiddin for voicing out our concerns. The new Harapan government should in no way, hopefully, accommodate and adopt the toxic politics of the previous regime which all Malaysians fought so hard to get rid of.
In the same line of thought, may I caution Harapan, especially Bersatu, to be very, very careful when accepting crossovers from BN.
Some of them, I believe, are incorrigibly corrupt, and it will be disastrous if they are allowed, surreptitiously, to plant their cancer in Harapan. Worse still, that cancer can mutate and can be even more deadly than before.
Che Guevara: True, the rakyat have made their decision. But it’s you, Muhyiddin, and Bersatu who proposed Osman for Menteri Besar. A verbal running down wouldn’t work. That’s UMNO culture too. Remove him before the situation worsens – that should be the Harapan way.
N1: The newly elected government will need to work with existing establishments and some of the foreign agreements already undertaken by the previous government.
Any review done on mega projects must be carried out with care without creating uncertainty to the market.
It is also important for the state government to show the supporters that there is a fair allocation of portfolios among the component parties. Checks and balances must be established to prevent corrupt practices.
Anonymous_e6188eda: To all Harapan leaders, whatever you think, say, do, plan, you execute and implement, at any given time, must be congruent with your written pledges and manifesto to the people.
This universal guideline is straightforward, simple, no excuse for not adhering to it. There were also scores of people who have voted for Harapan in the constituencies where BN won. Regardless of ethnic origin and past political leanings.
Demi Rakyat: Osman will make even former Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin seem like a better choice. How unfortunate.
Rakyat2 : I do not know who is this Osman Sapian. My advice for him is “adei, if you have made a mistake, be humble enough to apologise and make sure that you will be more responsible the next time”.
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If there was any doubt what the draconian “fake news” bill passed by Malaysia’s Parliament was about, it has been pretty much put to rest by a statement by Mazlan Ismail, the Chief Operating Officer of the country’s Communications and Multimedia Commission that 1,500 news stories are being investigated by the authorities.
On April 4, the Parliament passed the controversial law over objections from civil society groups and international rights bodies including Amnesty International, which called it an “assault on freedom of expression.” The measure mandates up to six years in prison and a maximum fine of RM500,000 (US$129,300) and is aimed at not only domestic critics but international ones as well such as Asia Sentinel and the Sarawak Report, both of which have been banned from internet circulation in the country.
Critics complain that there are no criteria for determining what constitutes “fake news” other than what the government deems to be fake news.
Although the bill was passed to “promote national security,” according to government officials, opponents said its real purpose is to protect the government in advance of the 14th general election, which is scheduled to be held May 9. The government is struggling to protect itself from criticism over allegations of the misuse of at least US$4.5 billion from the state-backed 1 Malaysia Development Bhd. The US Justice Department has sequestered an estimated US$1.2 billion of assets owned by members of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s family and close friends.
The government faces an insurrection led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is leading a seemingly energized opposition in the effort to bring down Najib and UMNO. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, called prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, functions as a conspicuous martyr due to be freed from more than three years in prison in early June.
Virtually all criticism has been stilled, with the mainstream media in the hands of political parties aligned with the government. However, Malaysia has one of the most energetic social media in Southeast Asia, with dozens of websites criticizing the government and alluding to a long list of scandals perpetrated by the Barisan Nasional and its leading political party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO).
The communications ministry’s Mazlan Ismail said 99 per cent of the false news originated from locals staying in Malaysia.
“The remaining one per cent are from Malaysians who have migrated in countries such as Sweden and Australia,” he told reporters at the launch of MCMC’s Malaysian ICT Volunteer with Institutes of Higher Education. He charged that critics ae using “fake social media accounts” to spread criticism, according to an April 18 story in the Straits Times, which is owned by the UMNO.
“A majority of these false news came from fake accounts or anonymous accounts,” he said. “Once the false news has become viral shared through various platforms like Facebook, they will immediately shut down the accounts. It is like a guerilla warfare. At least 30 percent of the fake news is being disseminated in such manner.”
The Communications Ministry on April 17 accused “certain movements” of using the social media or Internet, “to actively spread propaganda of contempt against the government,” saying the certain movements were “like `factories’ churning false news with its primary aim to dispute the integrity and efficiency of the government, as well as targeting the Malays and Islam.”
Mazlan told reporters it is difficult to identify the “mastermind to the offence since false news could be disseminated by anyone with internet access. In the past, such `factories’ will have offices. Now, these factories can be in someone’s bedroom or at any place.”
One blogger, in an email to Asia Sentinel, suggested that the Communications Ministry investigate Najib himself since he has delivered several demonstrably false statements including threatening to sue the Wall Street Journal in 2015, said the US$681 million that appeared in his personal bank account came from Saudi Royalty, and many others.
Action has been taken against more than 40 people for improper use of network facilities or network service and 10 have been charged in court, according to the Communications Ministry.
“We are in the process to remove 4,618 fake social media accounts which spread false news, based on the respective social media platform’s terms and conditions.,” a ministry official told the Straits Times. “A small number of false news, however, were originally spread in foreign countries, but have been translated and adapted to Malaysian context by irresponsible parties.”
“Another fact that allowed fascism to gain power over men was their blindness. A man cannot believe that he is about to be destroyed. The optimism of people standing on the edge of the grave is astounding.”― Vasily Grossman, ‘Life and Fate’
COMMENT | The game is on, I guess. What is touted as the mother of all elections is upon us. With the dissolution of Parliament, Prime Minister Najib Razak has finally rolled the loaded dice. He has stacked the deck in his favour and his minions are overseeing the rigged game. But does Najib really fear a Malay tsunami?
Members of Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes
The UMNO Grand Poobah claimed that he did not believe that there would be a Malay tsunami because this would mean a rejection of UMNO. This is a strange thing to say because it essentially also means that the UMNO President believes that if more Malays voted, they would reject UMNO.
This, of course, is conventional politics. Political hegemons the world over understand that large voter turnouts usually mean that the established order is under threat. It is a little different here in Malaysia because the established order is not under threat, merely a political operative struggling under the weight of numerous corruption scandals.
Why would more Malay voters reject UMNO? More importantly, what is the opposition offering the Malay community which is radically different from what UMNO is offering? Besides the usual pabulum that both sides make about race and religious relations in this country, about the only issue that the Malay opposition keeps harping about is that the UMNO Grand Poobah is a kleptocrat.
In other words, it is not about a rejection of UMNO but rather it is a rejection of Najib. After all, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Pakatan Harapan PM-designate only hooked up with the opposition after he failed to get the current UMNO Grand Poobah to step down.
UMNO says it is a champion of Malay rights, while Bersatu claims that UMNO has betrayed Malay rights through the corruption of the UMNO Grand Poobah. I have made this argument before, that if UMNO was not a centre-right party and if most Malays did not want what Umno was offering, PAS would have made great inroads into the political mainstream of this country.
The fact that most Malays rejected the Islamism that PAS offered and were content with the control of the UMNO state, should say something about the Weltanschauung of the Malay voting demographic. The fact that PAS became mainstream was not anything that UMNO did but because of the opposition. Whether they remain mainstream remains to be seen.
UMNO Grand Poobah and his followers in doa (prayers)
While some would argue that this was more of a legacy issue than a corruption issue, the reality is that the corruption scandals of the current UMNO Grand Poobah have become the major issue at this upcoming election. An UMNO insider recently hissed that it was difficult to mount a successful defence for their great Bugis warrior because Najib was the face of the 1MDB scandal and even if people really did not understand the minutiae of it, they had an easy reference for the scandal in the form of the UMNO Grand Poobah.
This is why the UMNO state which usually could get away with most anything in the Malay community had to resort to such measures as creating an anti-fake news law – which essentially meant that you could not talk about the 1MDB issue – and extreme gerrymandering – which essentially meant that even if you did not choose UMNO, UMNO chose you.
This also means erecting barriers on the validity of Bersatu through bureaucratic legalese. The temporary dissolution of by Registrar of Societies (ROS), while most probably legal, goes against the spirit of democracy, but it is also important to note that Bersatu, knowing the kind of tricks the ROS would play, should have been scrupulous in conforming to all the necessary “paperwork” and hoop jumping that they knew would come their way.
The fact that they did not do this say more about their sense of entitlement – or perhaps a deeper strategy; that would be reckless but impressive – than it does about the mendacity of the UMNO state.
But really, all this goes beyond the fear of a Malay tsunami. If UMNO was really sure of its traditional bases then why is it that UMNO is going all out to court the rural vote and placate the civil service. Needless to say, the civil service was always a reliable vote bank because they understood that UMNO was always a reliable paymaster.
Except these days, with the propaganda of the GST (I say propaganda because I am for it and this issue has been propagandised by the opposition) and the numerous “reports” of financial scandals, the sentiment is that UMNO cannot fulfil its entitlements programmes for the civil service. Whether this is true is beside the point. UMNO understands that this is the perception, and the civil service has always been the main vehicle of social mobility for the UMNOputra class.
Nobody cares, certainly not the civil service class, as to why prices rise but what they understand is that the government is somehow involved. Nobody cares about China’s investments only that they fear that the Chinese could take over because Najib is weak. Encouraging “yellow fever” is what the Malay establishment does when it wants to galvanise the Malay vote. In other words, this really isn’t about UMNO the kleptocracy. It is about UMNO the kleptocracy under Najib.
Claiming that if the Chinese community wanted representation in the government they should vote BN is a played-out strategy. The reality is that the Chinese who vote opposition think they get better presentation in the opposition even though they are not in power and would get better representation if they get into power with Bersatu.
And let’s face facts. There are many in UMNO who are annoyed that there should even be Chinese representation in BN, especially now that the Chinese community has abandoned UMNO. Right-wing Malay thinking revolves around, why bother with the fig leaf of representation when all that is needed is the majority Malay/bumiputera base?
This is why the great fear of UMNO has always been the idea of a “split” in the Malay community. This idea, of course, is the strategy of the opposition. The Malay base, which is made up of various voting blocks, is what is really of concern for UMNO. A Malay tsunami would be dangerous but the reality is that UMNO fears that the base is unstable.
There is a viral video featuring the Harapan PM-designate in which he prophesies UMNO’s demise by the year 2020 (but the decline would start earlier) because he claimed that the Malays would be bored of the money politics of Umno and that the UMNO leadership would be squabbling amongst themselves for prestige and power instead of ‘bangsa’ and ‘agama’.
If this worries UMNO, they should take heart because he also claims that the Malays would not support any other Malay-based party, which should worry the opposition.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
PUTRAJAYA: Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) can no longer hold activities and use its name and logo after the Registrar of Societies (RoS) issued a provisional dissolution order against the party.
RoS director-general Surayati Ibrahim announced this today after the party failed to submit documents and information required of it.
“A notice was issued at 12.30pm, addressed to the party’s secretary-general,” she told reporters at her office.
The decision was made under Section 14(5) of the Societies Act, which empowers the registrar to make a provisional order for the dissolution of any society which had failed to comply with Section 14(2) of the same act.
PPBM had been required by RoS under Section 14(2) to submit the minutes of its annual general meeting and that of its divisions and branches, as well as its financial statement, following numerous complaints lodged by its members and former members that it had breached its own constitution. PPBM’s failure to comply with the order led to the provisional dissolution.
Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is caught in the game he would have played if he was still in power.
Surayati said PPBM had 30 days to appeal the provisional dissolution and submit all the documents and information earlier required under Section 14(2).
“Under Section 14(6) of the Societies Act 1966, if PPBM manages to hand over all the required documents and information within the said period, the RoS can cancel the provisional dissolution order.”
Otherwise, said Surayati, under Section 14(7) of act, PPBM’s registration would be cancelled.
Asked what would happen if the party continued to hold activities or use its logo and name, she said the party would have been deemed to have violated the law, but declined to elaborate on what action could be taken against it.
“You just have to wait and see,” she replied.
Surayati said the RoS had received 428 complaints related to PPBM, adding that the majority of them involved management issues. Among these complaints were several instances of how PPBM conducted its meetings and cases of members complaining that the term “Armada” was used to describe its youth wing when it did not exist in the party’s constitution.
Surayati stressed that RoS’s decisions and actions were based on facts and the law, without taking into account personal interpretations of things, including the interpretation of PPBM’s constitution.
When asked if the decision was politically influenced, she said RoS acted based on the grouses it had received from party members.
Registration of Pakatan Harapan cannot not proceed due to the PPBM issues. Najib Razak delivers a double whammy on Tun Dr. Mahathir and partners.
“Is any one of you a member of an association? What if things are not explained appropriately? Members do not want this (discrepancies) to continue,” she added.
On the status of registration of Pakatan Harapan, Surayati said it could not proceed due to the PPBM issues.
At a night market on the rural fringe of Selangor — Malaysia’s richest and most populous state — a spring roll seller named Zubidi sums up the prevailing voter sentiment as the country heads towards a bitter and controversial election. “Right now in Malaysia, when the thief enters your house it is the house owner that is charged,” he tells Inquirer.
Theft is a word you hear frequently in Malaysia these days, and most often directed at Prime Minister Najib Razak and his government, which appears to have weathered a corruption scandal the US Attorney-General recently described as the worst case of kleptocracy his investigators had seen. The alleged misappropriation of more than $US4.5 billion from the 1MDB state development fund under Najib’s chairmanship has made Malaysia a discussion topic among regulators in countries that might otherwise struggle to locate it on a map. Najib has denied any wrongdoing.
Malaysia’s Notorious Couple –Najib Razak and greedy Confidant Rosmah Mansor
But Malaysia’s 14.8 million registered voters and opposition parties are bracing for what some say will be an even greater larceny after the tabling in parliament on Thursday of a final report into the proposed redrawing of electoral boundaries. These will almost certainly secure the hold on power of the ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation, unbroken since independence in 1957.
Almost certainly because the Speaker embargoed the final report until next Wednesday, in what appears to be a bid to prevent dozens of plaintiffs now challenging the draft proposals from accessing them before court dates. So, on Wednesday it will be debated and rubber-stamped into law.
In Malaysia, such behaviour is often shrugged off by a population conditioned by decades of cronyism and political bastardry as another example of “Bolehland” — a country where anything is possible. But with stakes so high ahead of a likely May election, the move has tempers flaring.
“It’s one thing to lose in an honourable contest but to lose against a government doing this is just unacceptable,” fumed Nurul Izzah Anwar, the daughter of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and an MP in his opposition People’s Justice Party (PKR), hours after the controversial tabling.
“I can’t even begin to describe how problematic this is, no matter how much support we have. There are many other issues in Malaysia but it all comes down to gerrymandering. Because if we don’t have free and fair elections, if we allow manipulations and theft, we are going to have the elections stolen from us. That’s the story of Malaysia. Not only has he stolen from our coffers. He’s going to steal the election. We can’t just sit down and complain. We have to do something about it.”
The electoral redraw started in late 2016, around the time the 1MDB scandal was threatening to up-end the Najib administration, and has already gone through one public consultation and a second draft. There are indications the final version is an even more dramatic realignment — not only securing victory for the ruling party but deepening existing ethnic and religious divides.
“What they’re doing is Balkanising the electoral landscape to put all Chinese in one area and all Malay in another area, so you create a divided electoral system where legislators need only address the one ethnic group,” says PKR Vice-President Tian Chua. “What will happen in the long run is we will have a parliament that’s very divisive. On principle we oppose that, not because we will lose but because it’s bad for the country.”
In the Selangor market, an ethnic Chinese stallholder checks no one is listening before saying that “whoever is in charge, it will be the same”. “In Malaysia the government has to find funds to support the Malays. If they don’t get help things aren’t stable. I am scared if BN (the UMNO-led ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional) lose they will do something like what happened in Indonesia (when ethnic Chinese were targeted in 1998 riots).” Others raise similar fears.
Election Commission Chairman Hashim bin Abdullah this month denied the boundaries are being manipulated to ensure a government victory, in a five-page statement that notes the courts have “sided with the EC” and struck down all legal challenges. “The re-delineation of constituent divisions is undertaken in the interest and comfort of voters” to help representatives deliver services, and “ensure the smooth running of elections. The EC does not take into consideration the political interests of any political party.”
The electoral redrawing will mean different things in different seats. In Selangor, a state governed by the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) opposition coalition, it will magnify inequities in seat sizes that already range from 146,000 voters in a safe PH seat to the smallest, just 37,000 in an UMNO-held electorate.
Dr. Wong Chin Huat, a political scientist with the Penang Institute think tank, says the average size of a Pakatan Harapan seat is 77,655 voters compared with an average BN seat of 46,510. That is how government was able to secure 60 per cent of the seats in 2013 with just 47 per cent of the vote, while the opposition coalition won the popular vote (51 per cent) but only 40 per cent of the seats.
Wong says the only hope for the opposition is to stir up the kind of enthusiasm for change that led to an unprecedented 85 per cent voter turnout in the 2013 election. “The best thing for the government is if this election becomes a non-event. If the turnout drops to 70 per cent, the government could win a two-thirds majority with just 40 per cent of the vote.”
Member of Parliament Nurul Izzah Anwar
For Nurul Izzah, the redrawn boundary of her Kuala Lumpur seat, Lembah Pantai, is a particularly bitter pill given it will now include the National Police Headquarters, Bukit Aman. “Bukit Aman has such a special place in my heart because that’s where my father was beaten by the former Inspector General of Police back in 1998,” she says sarcastically, referring to the former Deputy Prime minister’s arrest and brutalisation under then PM Mahathir Mohamad on politically motivated corruption and sodomy charges.
“He was taken away and we didn’t know where,” she says. “I went to Bukit Aman desperately trying to find him. So can you imagine? I now find myself as an MP representing Bukit Aman.”
Nurul Izzah won the seat for a second time in 2013 with a reduced majority of 1800 votes, after 2000 Police votes — mandated postal voters who traditionally vote with the government — were transferred to the electorate. The redraw will add an extra 6000 police votes. The government’s critics say it is using every trick in its arsenal.
Earlier this year the election commission announced it was expanding the categories of workers mandated as postal voters from police and military to include hospital and health department workers and the volunteer corps.
Wong says that will increase the number of postal voters from 272,000 to 600,000. In 2013, the opposition coalition captured just 3 per cent of postal votes.
In southern Johor, 1000 soldiers have been registered as voters at an empty site where army barracks are under construction. The area happens to fall in a government seat held by just 800 votes. Various analyses of the Malaysian electoral roll also show voters registered in the middle of oil plantations, toilet blocks, cafes and bank branches. In Selangor, there are 136,000 voters with no addresses.
“What’s going to happen is he (Najib) will cheat all the way through,” Mahathir told Inquirer this week at his Putrajaya office. “He’s going to use huge sums of money to bribe people. They hold expos where they draw lucky numbers and give away money, kitchen appliances, motorbikes … even houses and land.”
All you need to be eligible is UMNO party membership and registration on the electoral roll.
Worst of all, his new Bersatu party could be deregistered on a technicality, and the opposition coalition denied the right to contest under a collective logo — a move he says will confuse voters.
The government hit back at Mahathir’s allegations of cheating in a statement: “The only cheating taking place ahead of the election is in the opposition’s manifesto, which makes irresponsible populist promises (such as scrapping the GST) they can never deliver on without bankrupting Malaysia.”
Mahathir, UMNO’s longest serving Prime Minister, quit the party in 2016 over the alleged corruption in the Najib government and established the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia). The move was stunning enough but in January the 92-year-old was formally nominated as the prime ministerial candidate for the Anwar Ibrahim-led Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition.
Should he win he will be the world’s oldest leader. On Thursday he showed up at a public debate on whether he was too old to govern. “I can stand on stage and speak for an hour to explain things,” he tells Inquirer. “I am not senile yet. I will be one day, that’s OK. But if I can contribute to the opposition winning this election, I don’t think I should consider my age.”
It is hard to understate the magnitude of the political reversal that again pairs Mahathir, architect of the country’s Malay Muslims-first policy, with his one-time Deputy Anwar — in jail on a second politically motivated morality conviction but due for release on June 11. The two men fell out after Anwar led protests over his government’s handling of the Asian financial crisis. His first sodomy conviction was seen as retribution for his rebellion. The second came after the 2013 elections in which Najib lost the popular vote.
The last time Mahathir and Anwar ran on the same ticket for UMNO, in 1995, they secured 65 per cent of the vote and 87 per cent of the seats, thanks to overwhelming Malay Muslim support.
We are calling it “the unfinished legacy”, laughs Nurul Izzah, though in reality the alliance has been another bitter pill. “It wasn’t easy,” she admits. “I’m glad (Mahathir) is losing his dictatorial ways and embracing reform because we want to make sure Najib is the last dictator in Malaysia. But I am not an apologist for Mahathir’s past.
“Malaysia has been polarised for so long; first under the British, now by race and religion. It’s time to come together. We have to walk the talk.”
If Malaysians see that Mahathir and Anwar can reconcile, perhaps they too can bridge the mutual resentments now dividing majority Malay Muslims and ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities (who make up 30 per cent of the population), she reasons.
The alliance is only one of several tectonic shifts in Malaysian politics since the 1MDB scandal shook the country. The splintering of the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) over whether to push for an extension of sharia law, followed by the PAS split from the opposition coalition, has also altered the landscape. Few are willing to predict the election impact of PAS’s decision to go it alone and create multi-cornered contests, splitting the key Malay Muslim vote between the government, the opposition bloc and PAS. The opposition is hoping Mahathir can lure dissatisfied Malay voters suffering under the GST and soaring living costs, but who might previously have viewed Pakatan Harapan as pro-ethnic Chinese.
“The question we’re struggling to answer is to what extent this Islamic party will be a spoiler,” says Ong Kian Ming, an MP with the opposition Democratic Action Party, part of the PH coalition with PKR, Bersatu and moderate Islamic splinter party Amanah. “I’m confident Malay support for Barisan Nasional will drop but I don’t know how much will go to PAS and how much to the opposition coalition.”
Every past re-delineation has secured UMNO a landslide election win. Ben Suffian, from the Merdeka Centre pollsters, says the electoral redraw might not be enough on its own to overcome voter antipathy and restore the government’s two-thirds majority. “But now that PAS is going to field 130 candidates, it’s going to make it harder for the opposition.” Suffian predicts splitting the Malay opposition vote will help the government, and potentially kill off PAS.
If, however, PAS wins more than 40 seats — as its President Hadi Awang assured Inquirer this week it could — the Islamist Party will be in the box seat to choose the next Malaysian government. In that case, says Mr Awang, PAS will throw its support behind whichever coalition most convincingly demonstrates its “attachment to the principles of Islam”. That includes a commitment to expand the power of Malaysia’s sharia courts, whose jurisdiction is currently limited largely to ruling on Muslim family law disputes.
A PAS kingmaker would also insist on hudud penalties, such as amputations for thieves and beheadings for murderers. Najib is said to have lured PAS from the opposition coalition by promising to consider those demands. Though polls consistently show high Malay Muslim support for sharia law, the idea fuels anxiety among minorities and progressive urban Malays. Hadi Awang says there is no need for concern. “In Islam there is a saying of the Prophet: ‘When you punish, punish in the best possible way.’ We have to … lessen the pain of whatever judgment is carried out. We would use anaesthesia (for amputations) so they would feel less pain.”
Asked what hudud punishment might befit those guilty of misappropriating billions of dollars in public money, he says: “It would have to be a very heavy punishment”, though one’s past good deeds must also be considered.
But even Hadi Awang concedes justice for the pillagers of 1MDB may not come in this lifetime. “The current system is in a mess because there is no separation of powers between the legislature and the judiciary. We have to rectify the system. Right now it’s not possible to get justice. We hope to change that, provided it’s a clean election,” he adds. “But in this country, anything is possible.”