Monday, March 10, 2008

Malaysia PM Blunder May Be Costly to Him

Malaysia's prime minister may have made his biggest political blunder by calling early elections that only exposed public anger over simmering racial tensions and his perceived missteps.

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's ruling coalition was dealt a string of defeats in Saturday's general elections, which analysts said Sunday will place him under pressure to resign.

"He misread the signs. A lot of people were voting against Badawi," said Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, a human rights lawyer and political commentator. "He became the face of the mismanagement of the country. People were beginning to really, really dislike him despite his affable demeanor."

But national news agency Bernama quoted the prime minister as saying he does not need to step down because he still has strong support, especially from ruling party leaders. "I will not resign because there is no pressure," Abdullah was quoted as saying.

Abdullah was sworn in this morning at the national palace for a new five-year term.

The opposition gained control of five of Malaysia's 13 states and a third of its parliament in the biggest electoral upset in the country's history. Abdullah's National Front coalition lost its two-thirds majority in the 222-member parliament for the first time in four decades, winning only a simple majority of 139 seats.

The results were seen as a verdict against a string of perceived missteps by Abdullah, 68, and his failure to fulfill promises made ahead of the 2004 elections, which the National Front won in its biggest victory ever.

Among those missteps, analysts said, Abdullah ignored Malaysia's widening poverty gap and increasing cost of living. He made his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin one of his advisers. And when the southern state of Johor was struggling after floods in late 2006, Abdullah was in Perth to inaugurate his brother's curry restaurant.

Some even criticized him for remarrying less than two years after his first wife died of cancer and then engaging in public displays of affection.

"At a time when the country is crumbling around us we have to watch his lovey-dovey going-ons with his wife," said Malik. "People don't want to see a lovable teddy bear. They want a tough leader."

Abdullah's next big test will come later this year when he faces the general assembly of the United Malays National Organization, the largest party in the National Front coalition. A date has not yet been set.

"The reality is that there will be tremendous pressure within UMNO for him (Abdullah) to step down," said Bridget Welsh of the Johns Hopkins University, an expert on Southeast Asia who was in Malaysia to monitor the polls.

Former longtime leader Mahathir Mohamad already has called for Abdullah's resignation, saying he had "apparently made the wrong choice" when he hand-picked Abdullah to succeed him in 2003.

The National Front is a coalition of 11 small parties and three major ones that represent Malaysia's main ethnic groups — the majority Muslim Malays who make up 60 percent of the 27 million population, the Chinese at 25 percent and Indians at 8 percent.

Traditionally, Malays have voted for UMNO, the Chinese for the Malaysian Chinese Association and the Indians for the Malaysian Indian Congress.

The power-sharing arrangement has worked as long as the three races believed only their parties could look after their respective communities' interests. But the minorities have become increasingly disappointed with their parties.

The Chinese and Indians are angry about an affirmative action program known as the New Economic Policy that has given Malays preference in jobs, education, business, housing, finance and religion since 1971.

They also worry that their religious rights are being eroded by the government. Several Indian temples were destroyed by authorities last year, purportedly for illegal construction, and many courts presiding over religious disputes ruled in favor of Muslims.

Ordinary Malays also are unhappy, many charging that the benefits of the New Economic Policy are being reaped only by rich and well-connected Malays.

Repressive police tactics haven't helped ease the tension. In October, officers dispersed thousands of people with tear gas and water cannons at a street protest for electoral and judicial reforms.

A month later, minority Indians were chased away by the police when they held a rally to protest against racial discrimination. Five of their leaders were jailed under a law that allows indefinite detention without trial.

These frustrations were tapped by the opposition parties, which for the first time set aside their ideological differences and came together to pose a united challenge.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim campaigned on a platform that urged people to look outside race-based politics. Although the opposition parties are also identified by race, they have agreed to build a multiracial alliance where all races will be treated equally.

"What is crucial now is how the opposition works as a coalition," Welsh said. "The mandate given to them has created a national opposition for the first time." (AFP)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

We may not like Abdullah but he is a better PM than Najib who vowed to bathe his dagger with Chinese blood in 1987.

If Najib or Mahathir is the PM , these two fellas may just create riot and get the Agong to declare emergency and suspend parliament to nullify the GE 12 result.

2:53 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Latest news is that, fearing for his life, the feng shui consultant who gave the dissolution of parliament and polls dates to the hadhari PM has sought asylum in the US embassy in KL

7:38 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with 2:53. Mahathir is still his typical arrogant rabble-rousing sneering self. He is the one who should be blamed for BN's downfall, and before anyone can say that, he quickly oints at Badawi. In his 20 year rule, Mahathir used his iron grip on everybody, brought corruption to a new high, nepotism, judiciary oppression, you name it. And when he wanted to get rid of Anwar, he slapped gay charges on him. The debacle of this election as they call it is a result of Mahathir's legacy. And the beauty of all this is the man he sought to destroy has not only been restored to hero status, he is apparently reformed into a moderate man accepted by all races. If I were Anwar, I'd send the biggest bouquet to Mahathir for saving my ass. Who's sorry now?

11:51 PM GMT+8  

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