Sunday, March 09, 2008

POLITICS-MALAYSIA: Voters Go Secular, Snub Ruling Coalition

By Baradan Kuppusamy

Malaysia's ruling National Front (NF) coalition has suffered its biggest setback in five decades of unbroken power, losing five state governments and the two-thirds majority it enjoyed in national parliament.

The big gainer in Saturday's general elections was a three-party ‘secular’ opposition led by reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim whose appeal has risen among voters frustrated by uninspiring leadership, failure to curb rampant corruption and rising ethnic and religious tensions.

At the 222-seat federal parliament the ruling coalition managed 139, a simple majority, but nevertheless a government that is expected to be stable enough to continue with its current neo-liberal policies.

However, the main aim of the opposition parties -- including the People's Justice Party, the Islamic party PAS, and the Democratic Action Party -- to deny the NF (or Barisan Nasional) a two-thirds majority, and thereby block unpopular amendments to the constitution, has been achieved.

Although he may form a new federal government with a simple majority, the defeat is personally humiliating for Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, already under pressure to quit and hand over the reins to his deputy Najib Razak.

In an encouraging sign of political maturity there was no outward display of racial tension or clashes as was the case when the pro-Muslim-Malay ruling coalition suffered reverses in 1969, leading to race riots.

Saturday’s outcome is seen as a stunning personal reversal of fortunes for Badawi who had led the Front to its best ever result in the last elections in 2004, winning 91 percent of the parliamentary seats and 12 of Malaysia's 13 states.

Among the five states that the government lost were industrial Selangor and Penang in the west as well as Perak in the north. Eastern Kedah and Kelantan states fell to the fundamentalist PAS party.

A key issue in the elections was disillusionment among ethnic Chinese and Indians, minorities with complaints of discrimination related mostly to the New Economic Policy (NEP), an affirmative action policy that gives Malays, invariably of the Muslim faith, preference in jobs, business and education.

Poor Malays, left out of the NEP, also seem to have voted opposition in large numbers, convinced by arguments set out by Anwar during the election campaign that the NEP had been hijacked by rich and influential Malays.

The programme was designed 37 years ago to help the majority Malays catch up with the wealthier Chinese. But minorities complain that the system has continued despite the rising living standards of Malays.

Malays make up 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people, while Chinese account for 25 percent and Indians eight percent. Each ethnic group is represented by a party in the NF, an arrangement that has worked to keep down racial tensions in the past.

"All races were fed up with the government and decided to vote opposition this time," said Ragu Kesavan, vice-chairman of the Malaysian Bar. "It is a healthy sign that the people are gaining in political maturity and that real democracy is possible."

"The opposition victory is good for multi-racial politics and the possible birth of a two-party system," he told IPS. "For too long one party has dominated political life in this country."

"This is a defining moment, unprecedented in our nation's history," said opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in a late night victory speech. "The people have voted decisively for a new era where the government must be truly inclusive and recognise that all Malaysians, regardless of race and color, culture and religion, are a nation of one."

Other factors behind the "revolt of the masses" are Badawi’s failure to fight corruption, as promised during the last elections, and seeming indifference to runaway inflation.

Across the country urban-Chinese majority seats fell like dominoes to the Chinese-based opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), apparently angered by Badawi’s policies and performance.

"This is a political tsunami, this is unprecedented, this is a new era in Malaysian politics,'’ said Steven Gan, editor of, an independent online news magazine.

"One happy outcome of this opposition victory is that a two-party political system is now possible," Gan told IPS. "This victory is excellent for democracy to take root in Malaysia."

"The opposition victory will lead to a fundamental change in the way politics is conducted in this country," said Stanley Koh, analyst and former MCA leader. "The results will rewrite politics in the country."

Opposition lawmakers in their campaigns had blamed Badawi for failing to hold back overzealous Muslim officials from demolishing Hindu and Chinese temples.

"He did not defend our constitutional right to freedom of religion and protection of our places of worship," said lawyer and human rights activists Ramu Kandasamy.

"The people have shown their unhappiness at the polls," he said. "Mr Abdullah has to heal the wounds. Our hurt is deep and it will take a long time to heal."

Ruling party leaders had shown concern mid-way into the 13-day campaign when rallies by de facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim started drawing unexpectedly large crowds.

His "we are all equal" message had a magical effect on minorities who had suffered from discrimination in education, jobs, financial assistance and religious policy.

For the first time in decades several socialists will see the inside of parliament, promising lively debates in the house and affording an opportunity to address serious public grouses.

Among left wing winners are Dr Nasir Hashim and Dr Michael Jeyakumar, the man who defeated Samy Vellu, president of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) that has come to be despised by ethnic Indians.

The opposition also made a dramatic sweep of the majority of the constituencies in the capital. Among the winners is Nuzrul Izzah, the 27-year-old daughter of Ibrahim, making her debut in politics and defeating a sitting woman minister.

"This is a defining moment, unprecedented in our nation's history," said opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. "The people have voted decisively for a new era where the government must be truly inclusive and recognise that all Malaysians, regardless of race and color, culture and religion, are a nation of one." (Inter Press Service, Italy)
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great! But sad Sabah and Sarawak are still sleeping..Otherwise, it will be perfect.

9:59 PM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let the "Great Sleeping Mullah" be sworn in as PM for another 5 years so that the rest of the BN-controlled states can join the BR states in a few more years

9:11 AM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is the will of Allah the Almighty, that if any leader of the country doesn't bother to know the pligt of the needy - Muslims or Non-Muslims alike will have to face such a consequences.

10:22 AM GMT+8  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sabah and Sarawak always lagging so they deserve to be poor and uneducated.

10:25 AM GMT+8  

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