Monday, December 10, 2007

Elections Will Be Unlikely Next Year, Say Analysts

Rising political tension ā€” with lawyers arrested as they staged a march in the capital yesterday ā€” and more turmoil in the streets expected today, have shaken Malaysia like never before.

And even as the hunt hots up to uncover the ringleaders behind the past year's half-a-dozen rallies, the question on most minds is this: Will a rattled government have the confidence to call elections early next year?

Unlikely, say analysts.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi won't find it easy to decide on an election date, faced as he is with the tough task of garnering support from a nation unhappy with the growing unrest, they say.

"Given the rallies, racial issues and the expected fuel price hikes, general elections appear unlikely until after the middle of next year," Mr Fazil Mohamad Som, analyst with the World Islamic Economic Forum, told AFP.

Yesterday, eight lawyers were among 21 people arrested as the Bar Council Malaysia marked International Human Rights Day. Five were detained for alleged illegal assembly as they took part in a morning march, a symbolic walk which the council had organised the last two years but had called off this year, after it was told it had to apply for a permit.

Expressing shock at the arrests, council president Ambiga Sreenevasan said: "Recently there has been an opening up of democratic spaces in Malaysia which we praised. Today is a terrible setback. This is not Malaysia as we know it to be."

Among the marchers arrested yesterday were 12 Opposition members who rallied last month to demand electoral reforms, activists said. They included Mr Tian Chua, a senior member of the People's Justice Party, which is part of a coalition planning to hold a second demonstration for electoral reforms tomorrow outside Parliament.

Public protests are rare in Malaysia, and the government has been jolted by last month's brace of rallies ā€” one demanding electoral reforms and the other airing the grievances of the ethnic Indian minority.

"The government really needs to address the concerns of this underdeveloped group if it hopes to get the continued loyalty of the Indians in the upcoming elections," said political analyst Khoo Kay Peng. "They want a voice and they want change," he said. "In the light of all this, I don't believe that the prime minister can call for elections so early in the year."

Of the demonstrations that have drawn crowds of up to 30,000, Mr Hishammuddin Hussein, the influential youth chief of the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), told the Star newspaper: "There must be somebody planning something behind the scenes." Some believe it is former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, now de facto leader of opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

On a recent visit to India, Mr Anwar had spoken about the plight of Malaysia's ethnic Indians to the media and political leaders there. His actions drew strong reactions from Barisan Nasional. On Friday, MCA secretary-general Ong Ka Chuan lambasted Mr Anwar for seeking foreign interference in Malaysia's domestic affairs.

But experts and civil society activists told Today that it was unlikely that Mr Anwar was playing the role of puppet master.

Mr Yang Razali Kassim of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told Today: "What we are seeing is a groundswell of legitimate expressions of discontent from the various interest groups, taking advantage of the run-up to the next general elections."

Having worked closely with Hindraf leaders in his course of work, Dr S Nagarajan, research director of a Malaysian non-profit organisation that helps underprivileged ethnic Indians, strongly believes that their recent rally did not involve of any political parties. "In fact, political parties and other NGOs have difficulties dealing with personalities in Hindraf because they are highly emotive and headstrong," said the research director of Educational Welfare and Research Foundation Malaysia.

The coalition is all but assured of another term when it goes to the polls, which must be called by May 2009, say political observers, but the turmoil could cut Mr Abdullah's majority.

A senior government official who meets with the Premier regularly told AFP: "If the present integrity issues continue to erode the government's popularity, he will be hard-pressed to achieve any of this and to hold on to his own presidency of the party." ( By Nazry Bahrawi for Today

***** I personally feel that the elections will be held early next year. By now the BN and especially Umno already know that there is no way they can repeat or even come close to the earlier landslide win. By waiting longer there is no guarantee that things will improve. The danger for the ruling party is that the situation may become even worse than now. If say late next year there are a few street protests and if the authorities were to strongly crackdown on those, the government's fortunes will definitely plummet.

Add to that the uncertainty of the state of the economy in a year's time. It's going to be a difficult decision for Pak Lah. Let's wait and see.
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like Pak Musharaff, just declare a state of emergency, arrest and jail all opponents and presto! no more elections! Example: Saudi Arabia has no elections in its entire history

1:10 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fear many have made a mistake and underestimated UMNO. Do you remember the story of Hang Tuah whom murdered his best friend for his king? Loyalty without question, such virtue Iā€™m afraid will continue and fueled by the race card, trump card held by the incumbents. UMNO will be undefeatable.

3:49 PM GMT+8  

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