Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Victory for Voters

A Victory for Voters
Tan Siok Choo

In the recently ended 12th general election, the biggest winner was the voters of Malaysia. Opposition parties’ concern about their inability to reach voters during the 13-day campaign period proved groundless. Sufficient numbers of Malaysians across the country heard the opposition parties’ call for change and voted decisively.

That voters in this country were able to cast their ballots freely and peacefully underscored the success of this country’s electoral process. And although the outcome in Penang, Kedah, Selangor and Perak was an unpleasant surprise for the Barisan Nasional (BN), the verdict of the people was accepted by the ruling coalition.

Several trends were notable in this general election. That the opposition parties collectively wrested control of Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor is unprecedented and reflects a major reversal in voter preference. In the past, voters tended to mark their ballots for BN at state level and for the opposition in parliamentary seats.

This time round, financial improprieties and abuses of power at local councils like Ampang, Petaling Jaya and Subang Jaya may have prompted voters to decide good governance should begin at municipalities because decisions at that level and in state houses have a far bigger impact on their everyday lives than those handed down in Putrajaya.

A case in point is BN candidate Roselinda Abd Jamil’s electoral failure. Perceived as a proxy for her father-in-law – the incumbent Port Klang state assemblyman, Datuk Zakaria Md Deros of "Istana Zakaria" fame – she was decisively rejected in favour of Keadilan’s Badrul Hisham Abdullah.

That Keadilan candidate Edward Lee succeeded in wresting PJ Selatan underscores the goodwill and name recognition he reaped by leading the campaign against the Gasing Hill development project as well as his attempts to ensure greater transparency in PJ.

Another notable feature was widespread disaffection among all ethnic groups with BN, particularly in Peninsular Malaysia’s west coast states. Although a detailed analysis has to be made to determine the reasons for the loss, a strong possibility is broad-based unhappiness over rising costs of living, an issue that impacted all ethnic groups. This suggests the growing primacy of bread and butter issues over insular ethnic drum-beating stuff.

Another possibility is public perception that the pace of stamping out corruption has slowed down. Admittedly, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has shortened significantly the time needed to obtain passports, ICs and driving licences, a development that should reduce opportunities for graft going forward.

To eradicate this misguided public perception, on-going high profile corruption cases and trials involving notable personalities must be prosecuted with greater vigour and legal competence. Instead of looking for scapegoats for electoral reverses, the BN should step up the pace of reform.

Furthermore, the BN may have been ill-served by the excessive self-censorship exercised by major print newspapers. If the watchdog is encouraged not to bark at intruders, how will a house owner know a thief has penetrated the coop and is on the brink of stealing his chickens?

Although the future seems promising, Keadilan, the DAP and PAS face several potential potholes. Despite their disparate political platforms, all three parties must demonstrate their ability to work together in governing Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor. Failure to do so will probably stymie their prospects of further electoral gains, particularly at state level.

Opposition parties should be mindful of past history. After the May 1969 general election, when BN’s predecessor, the Alliance, lost Penang and was stalemated in Selangor and Perak, the three-party ruling coalition was expanded to include the Sarawak Alliance and the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) and later Penang-based Gerakan and the Ipoh-based People’s Progressive Party (PPP).

Will a similar expansion take place this time round?

Another pointer for Opposition parties is the experience of Taiwan. In March 2000, President Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) succeeded in ending the then corruption-ridden Kuomintang’s political stranglehold on power in the island. With the DPP engulfed in corruption charges involving Chen’s wife and son-in-law, the Kuomintang looks set to regain power in presidential elections on March 22 this year.

What this suggests is the Keadilan, DAP and PAS have been given a golden opportunity to make inroads in BN’s political dominance. If they squander this opportunity and fail to live up to voter expectations, like Taiwan’s DPP, they are likely to be punished in the next general election.

Opinions in this article are the personal views of this writer and should not be attributed to any institution she is associated with. She can be contacted at schoo@noordinsopiee.com. Comments: feedback@thesundaily.com

Source: TheSun, Mon, 10 Mar 2008
How to Become Professional Blogger

SWOT Test for BN

SWOT Test for BN
Tan Siok Choo

ANALYSING Barisan Nasional’s (BN) strengths and weaknesses as well as identifying the opportunities and threats (the SWOT test) it could encounter after suffering significant reverses in the recent polls suggests going forward, this country’s political landscape may be defined by what the ruling coalition does or fails to do.

One of BN’s major strengths is its claim to be the only political party able to safeguard the interests of all ethnic groups. Until recently, BN was successful in positioning itself as a bulwark against Chinese chauvinists and against Muslims calling for the application of Shariah law for all Malaysians. It is this fear factor that enabled the ruling coalition to perpetuate its political dominance.

Unfortunately for BN, its claim was undermined by the success of Keadilan, PAS and DAP in persuading the electorate their collective offer of multi-ethnic protection was superior. For example, Keadilan’s proposed Malaysian Economic Agenda is based on need rather than ethnicity.

This non-racial approach appealed to many urban voters. As several analysts have noted, for the first time, large numbers of Chinese and Indian voters cast their ballots for PAS candidates while Malay voters returned the favour for those on the DAP slate.

Another of BN’s strengths is its track record of winning power at federal level, thus ensuring its ability to dispense federal largesse and facilitate development. Although this may have attracted voters in less affluent states, for those living in Penang, Perak, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, this "carrot" had passed its "sell by" date.

BN’s major weakness, however, is many of its members joined the coalition, not because of a commitment to common values but by the prospect of sharing power. But if BN’s political invincibility has been dented – whether temporarily or irrevocably remains to be seen – will its members stay together?

Prior to 1971, top leaders in Umno, MCA and MIC – members of the then Alliance – shared the same vision and a strong personal bond; a bond forged during tough negotiations in the months before Independence over special rights for the Malays as well as more liberal citizenship requirements for non-Malays.

In the 1969 elections, when the Alliance lost its two thirds-majority, ceded control of Penang and was stalemated in Perak and Selangor, it co-opted opposition parties like the Gerakan, PPP and PAS into an enlarged coalition, a move that side-stepped the need to deal with root causes of voter disaffection.

Today, can the BN utilise the same enlargement tactic to offset its electoral losses? More important, can BN afford to ignore the rising chorus of complaints by supporters of Gerakan, MCA, MIC and PPP that being members of the ruling coalition caused these parties’ near annihilation in the recent polls?

It is tempting to argue the opposition parties’ success signals Malaysians are ready to abandon the comfort of race-based political parties. This assumption may be premature.

For voters in urban areas, the dominant sentiment appeared to be an urge to teach the arrogant BN a lesson. This suggests the election was an indictment against the ruling coalition rather than an endorsement for opposition parties.

Furthermore, the 322,461 spoilt votes and 72,058 unreturned ballots suggests some constituencies were lost by BN, rather than won by opposition parties. And in nine parliamentary seats, these spoilt votes and unreturned ballots could have changed the outcome.

Since opposition supporters were strongly motivated to ensure victory for their candidates, they were unlikely to have deliberately wasted their votes. It is reasonable, therefore, to assume most of the spoilt votes and unreturned ballots were the work of BN supporters.

There were 14 parliamentary seats where the number of spoilt votes exceeded the winners’ majority. And in another seat – Hulu Langat in Selangor – the spoilt votes plus unreturned ballots outnumbered PAS’ majority.

Of these 15 parliamentary seats, six were won by BN while Keadilan, PAS and DAP collectively secured nine. But for the spoilt votes and unreturned ballots, BN could have secured 179 parliamentary seats and retained its two-thirds majority.

While the challenges the BN faces are apparent, the results of the recent polls also offer a unique opportunity.

Going forward, Keadilan, DAP and PAS will have to deal with the same conflicting pressures that Umno, MCA and MIC continually grapple with. For example, DAP can no longer try and outbid the MCA and Gerakan for support among the Chinese community without jeopardising Malay support for Keadilan and PAS.

Similarly, Umno should benefit significantly from Keadilan and PAS’ commitment to a non-racial approach on issues, a move that should reduce competitive pressure for Malay support.

Furthermore, DAP (with its call for a Malaysian Malaysia), and PAS (with its commitment to establishing an Islamic state), are an ideological mismatch. Together with Keadilan, all three are currently united by the prospect of sharing power. Whether the pragmatism displayed by DAP and PAS will continue to prevail over ideological purity is an open question.

In short, the results of the 12th general election have thrown up a near perfect symmetry – the challenges the opposition parties now face provide an opportunity the ruling coalition must seize if it hopes to remain politically relevant.

Opinions expressed in this article are the personal views of the writer and should not be attributed to any organisation she is connected with. She can be contacted at schoo@noordinsopiee.com. Comments: feedback@thesundaily.com

The Sun, Mon, 31 Mar 2008

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What Tun Dr Mahathir Said?

"The NEP has been well formed but needs implementation. The Malays also did not treat it well. We gave them shares, they sell the shares. We give them APs, they sell APs. We gave them contracts, they sold off contracts. We asked them to build IT labs in schools, the labs collapsed."

Source: FinacialDaily, "Dr M witdraws backing for Najib, calls for emergency meeting", Wednesday, April 2, 2008.