Saturday, March 08, 2008

Malaysian Voters Vow To Bring Change Despite Fears Of Poll Fraud

Saiful makes a final check of his tyre pressure and curses a radio traffic report that gives warning of “appalling congestion” on all Malaysia's roads this weekend.

Later that night, when the 33-year-old mechanic finishes his shift, he and his cousin will brave the 500km (300-mile) drive from Kuala Lumpur to his home town of Kota Bahru in the far northeast of the country to vote in the election today.

Saiful has never felt such a strong sense of mission; it is an election, he says, whose result could stop the Prime Minister ever sleeping again.

“This is the vote that could finally give us the power to stop the screw-ups and stop the corruption,” he says. “Democracy in Malaysia is about 45 per cent of what it should be. This time tomorrow, it could at least be over 50 per cent.”

It is voters like Saiful — Muslim, ethnically Malay and restive —- that are indeed giving Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the Prime Minister, serious cause for concern. Especially worrying for him is that his ethnic Malay supporters may, for this election, defect to the Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS).

They are voters who are not viscerally opposed to Mr Badawi and the coalition that has ruled for five unbroken decades, but will do everything in their power to vote in a credible opposition in both the 222-seat Parliament and the 505 seats of Malaysia's sprawling state legislature.

And many Malaysians believe that, faced with this unprecedented threat, the ruling camp will attempt to cheat its way to victory. The group Human Rights Watch said yesterday that the ballot could be the “dirtiest ever”, condemning the Government for manipulating the voting process.

Campaign speeches by the opposition have already been rife with allegations that the Government will use the ballots of tens of thousands of “phantom voters” in closely contested seats. Local campaigners have also said that the electoral rolls also include about 9,000 voters born more than a century ago, including two who would, at the age of 128, be the oldest people on earth.

Few believe that, even in a fair fight, the BN's parliamentary majority is truly threatened by today's election. But the Opposition — once disparate but now more consolidated under the leadership of Anwar Ibrahim —- has set itself an achievable target. If the ruling coalition's parliamentary majority falls lower than two thirds of the seats, it loses its ability to steamroller constitutional change.

“It's very difficult, unless you have massive vote rigging, for the ruling coalition ... to have a two-thirds majority,” said Mr Anwar, “I'm absolutely certain of that.”

The vehemence of the opposition he has whipped up was on display yesterday in what is thought to have been the largest rally of the campaign —- a 25,000-strong throng that gathered under the banner of the Democratic Action Party and on the Prime Minister's home state doorstep of Penang.

These were people within Malaysia's 11 million electorate who were promised a strong anti-corruption drive at the election five years ago, but see things only getting worse.

They feel less safe on the streets than they did in 2003, and complain that the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition has not distributed Malaysia's colossal natural resource-derived wealth fairly.

Over the past few months these voters have also grown particularly sensitive to the rising discontent of the country's Chinese and Indian minorities - a combined 34 per cent of the population and the two blocs with the noisiest dissatisfaction. Political analysts say that it has given Malaysia's fragmented ethnic situation an “edginess” that had previously been buried more deeply below the surface. (Times Online, UK)
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Should we less out BN's Parliamentary votes for Sabah (22) and Sarawak (29), West Malaysia is only 86. And, Opposition is 80. This would be quite a fair analysis taking into consideration about funds and various accessibility for Opposition in Sabah and Sarawak. Hence, technically the Opposition did a good job in West Malaysia...

11:29 AM GMT+8  

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