Malaysian hopes and fears

April 19, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR: This is an exhilarating time in Malaysia, with the prospect of new political direction in the wake of an unprecedented setback last month to the governing Barisan Nasional, or National Front, coalition. But hope is tinged with fear – not so much of the old enemy, communal violence – but that events will end in some grubby compromises that leave politics stuck in a ghetto of patronage and racial division.

Attention is focused on two issues. First, there is the fight for the leadership of the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, the dominant party in the National Front. Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi is being bitterly attacked by his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, and openly challenged by the former Finance Minister, Tunku Razaleigh Hamzah. Abdullah says he will make way for his successor at a time of his choosing, but he will remain under constant pressure, with party elections later this year culminating in a leadership vote in December.

Second, there is the problem of cohesion in the opposition coalition, Barisan Rakyat, or Peoples’ Front, which now controls 5 of the 13 states. Embracing parties once identified with Islamic fundamentalism and Chinese chauvinism, the coalition is held together by the former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the multiethnic Parti Keadilan Rakyat, or People’s Justice Party. The coalition has its work cut out to stay together.

To many Malaysians, both issues are straddled by one man: Anwar. His ambition to be prime minister is undoubted, as is his stature. Can he persuade enough National Front legislators to jump ship and give the opposition a majority in Parliament? Or will he be seen by enough UMNO members to be the BN’s savior so that some deal with Keadilan will emerge, culminating in Anwar becoming prime minister? Neither, especially the latter, looks likely in the near term, but given the fluidity of personality, money and opportunistic politics there are many scenarios.

Meanwhile, the broader public is concerned with what lessons, if any, UMNO and the BN have learned from their electoral setback. The vote was clearly against a variety of ills, including corruption, nepotism, undermining of judicial independence, marginalization of minorities, inflation, rising income differentials, and weak leadership.

Abdullah was rightly blamed for promising much and delivering little. In defeat, he is showing greater resolve, and some of his cabinet appointments have raised hope for real change. But it is not only Mahathir and other old-timers who blame him for defeat, rather than two decades of sleaze and power abuse.

Some UMNO delegates want reform to revive the party’s fortunes with the electorate. Others want to change a system where the sons and in-laws of prime ministers past and present dominate the party hierarchy. Yet other UMNO delegates need the support of these political aristocrats who can dispense patronage.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak is the son of a former prime minister; the education minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, is the son of another. Abdullah’s son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin is bidding to succeed Hishamuddin, but is being challenged by Mahathir’s son, Mukhriz.

Abdullah’s ability to deliver change and address public dissatisfaction is constrained by his weakness within UMNO. The abysmal performance of his Chinese and Indian partners in the BN makes it difficult to give the minorities a bigger say in government.

Yet Abdullah still has a chance of survival if he has the will to fight, because party unity has emotional appeal and his opponents are not united. Mahathir now has more bark than bite – and even he would prefer to see Abdullah remain than Anwar come to power. Najib, once the unchallenged heir-apparent, has clouds over his reputation that will not disperse quickly. Less controversial candidates may well emerge, the most likely being the international trade minister, Muhyiddin Yassin.

For now ,UMNO infighting gives breathing space to the opposition, but also presents dangers. One is that the relatively honest and open-minded Abdullah will be ousted in favor of an authoritarian who will crack down on dissent. Another, that in desperation some UMNO figures will attempt to fan Malay fears in order to emphasize the party’s role as defender of Malay privileges rather than as leader of a multiracial Malaysia. That danger would increase if opposition cohesion breaks down on racial lines.

Despite these worries, it is hard to find Malaysians who do not welcome the new uncertainties and the chance that the political structure will adjust to the enormous social and economic progress of the past four decades.



Risky ‘duty’ for Johor Umno

April 11, 2008

April 11, 2008

Johor Umno leaders will ask the Prime Minister to spell out a specific plan for his own political future when they meet him today.


THE Prime Minister is not easily perturbed. He is able to keep his composure even in dire circumstances and those close to him attribute it to his inner strength and faith in God.

As such, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will be his usual cool and collected self when he flies into Johor today.

Ostensibly, he is there for a meeting of the Iskandar Regional Development Authority board which he co-chairs with Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman. But after Friday prayers, he is scheduled to meet the Johor Umno liaison committee.

The Umno president is quite aware of why the Johor Umno leaders have asked to meet him and aides say he is prepared to listen to them with an open mind.

The Johor leaders plan to convey their concern and misgivings about the state of the party following the losses suffered by the Barisan Nasional.

They also plan to ask the Prime Minister to spell out a more specific outline of his political future for the sake of Umno.

And they have stressed that the meeting will be conducted with décorum and respect because “Pak Lah is our PM as well as party president.”

The Johor group, said a senior MP from the state, is not asking him to step down.

“We are not talking about asking him to resign. We are a Malay party and we want to do it the Malay way. There will be no such thing as forcing anyone to resign as what some people have claimed. But it’s important that Pak Lah draws up his own plans and makes it known to the party. Our members feel that it will help stop people out there from attacking the leadership and party,” said the senior MP.

The Johor Umno committee discussed the matter at a meeting two Saturdays ago and Abdul Ghani, who is also the state Umno chief, has been tasked to convey the message to Abdullah at today’s meeting.

But there were also alternative voices and one of them was Johor Baru MP Datuk Shahrir Samad who insisted that Abdullah should be given time and that if he wished to stay on, then no one should pressure him otherwise.

Shahrir, who is Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister, said Abdullah should not be the only one blamed for the disastrous election performance.

“Everyone has to share the blame and correct their own faults. Let Pak Lah face the Umno general assembly in December and in the meantime, let’s focus on our own work,” he said.

The Johor initiative has been the subject of great discussion among the rank and file because of its gravity as well as implications and consequences. But the leaders feel they cannot ignore the rumblings on the ground if Umno is to recover and regain ground.

Besides, Johor Umno leads the pack with six ministers and two deputy ministers in the federal government. There are six Johoreans among the 25 elected party supreme council members.

Abdullah, to his credit, has said that he would not overstay and that he wants to put things right before retiring.

When he visited Sabah on Monday, he said quite clearly that he would not stay any longer than he should, that he had not intention of remaining Prime Minister “for years.” He said that his successor and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak understood this more than anyone else.

A senior Johor politician who had tried to prepare Abdullah for today’s meeting said the Prime Minister has always been receptive to feedback.

“He is prepared for the message and he took what I had to say with such calm and dignity that I was the one who felt emotional. I would have cried if there had not been other people nearby,” said the politician.

There is really not very much that will surprise the Prime Minister given what he has gone through the last few weeks.

In fact, several days after the elections, the tough-talking Cheras Umno chief Datuk Syed Ali Alhabshee had gone to see Abdullah at his Putrajaya residence.

Abdullah had greeted Syed Ali with a warm handshake, patted him on the tummy and said: “So, you want me to leave?”

Then he listened intently to what the Cheras chief had to say about the elections.

“It is not that we love Pak Lah less, but we love Umno more,” said the same senior Johor politician.

A key concern of the Johor group is preserving the dignity of the Umno leadership or what they call the institution of Umno.

They are worried about what will happen when the party’s branch and division meetings begin in a few months’ time.

“I can control my division but there are 20,000 branches all over the country and we cannot control them. We don’t want them making statements and passing resolutions on the leadership that will further damage the party,” said the politician.

The southern leaders are taking a huge risk but they feel it is “our duty” to bring up this thorny subject with Abdullah.


Kedah and Penang Umno leaders want changes at the top

April 11, 2008

Kedah and Penang Umno leaders want changes at the top

PENANG: Umno leaders here and in Kedah have told the party management committee that the leadership needs to be changed in order to save the party.

The 250 division, Wanita, Youth and Puteri leaders in Kedah at a meeting held in Sungai Petani even went as far as to suggest who should take over as the party’s number one and number two.

“Umno is running out of time and a change is needed soon,” said a party member who was at the closed-door meeting yesterday.

The three-hour meeting was conducted by the party’s management committee headed by Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. It is part of a post-mortem exercise undertaken by the party after the poor showing in the March 8 general election.

Another division chief said it was a free-for-all session and the committee told them to speak frankly.

Some leaders also called on party leaders to stop “attacking” Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and for the committee to end the “expose” against the former Prime Minister in the media.

Later at a similar meeting at the Penang Umno building, the management committee was also told of the unhappiness of members there with the current leadership.

The leaders from the 13 divisions told the committee that the Barisan did badly because the people, especially the Malays, had swung to the Opposition as they felt that Umno leaders had lost touch with the grassroots.

“The divisional leaders called for new blood in the leadership and that the party needed someone who could bring back the Malay support.

“Most division leaders wanted the leadership to be transparent and to consult the divisions when choosing candidates in the election. They did not want ‘parachute’ candidates.

“The management committee only came to meet us when damage had already been done,” said one leader.

A state leader said the local leaders also wanted the leadership to take PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim seriously.

“It is a serious matter when PKR said it could form the government within six months,” he said.

Another leader also questioned why the leadership wanted to take action against members for alleged sabotage because party grassroots had actually worked hard during the elections.

“The people rejected Umno,” he said. “It is better for our leaders to close ranks than go on a witch hunt.”


A political mystery is finally solved

April 11, 2008

April 11, 2008

I WOULD like to thank Karpal Singh for solving a mystery which had bothered me over the last five years i.e. ever since I stepped down as Prime Minister.

I had been used to the BN and even the Alliance Government before it, being criticised and attacked by DAP MPs even for imaginary misdeeds by them. However, after Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over, even the clear abuses of power and wrong actions by the Government were hardly commented upon by DAP stalwarts like Karpal and Lim Kit Siang.

I was puzzled. I could not believe the suggestion that there was a “pakat” (conspiracy) involving Abdullah and the DAP. But when Karpal advised me to retire with dignity and honour and refrain from criticising the present Prime Minister, I realised that the DAP actually supports Datuk Seri Abdullah and his continued stewardship of this country.

But why does the DAP want Abdullah to continue being the PM? Being in the Opposition, the DAP must know that the Chinese community by and large disliked the Government headed by Datuk Seri Abdullah. They had openly spoken of their disenchantment and intention not to vote for Barisan Nasional in the 2008 elections.

The mishandling of the Hindraf by Datuk Seri Abdullah had also alienated the Indians. Certainly, the other Opposition parties knew that Malays, including Umno members, were strongly critical of Datuk Seri Abdullah.

Obviously, the DAP and other opposition parties stood to gain by the loss of faith in Datuk Seri Abdullah’s leadership by the erstwhile supporters of the BN.

And sure enough, they voted massively against the BN in the March 8 General Election. Those who could not bring themselves to vote for the Opposition deliberately spoiled their votes. This explains the unprecedented 300,000 plus spoilt votes in this election.

When Karpal urges me to refrain from criticising the present Prime Minister, it must be because he knew that this PM would continue to alienate BN supporters. At the next election, these people could be even more disgusted with the PM that they would actually cause the BN to lose even its majority in Parliament and would no longer form the Federal Government.

In other words, the “Pakatan” (The English equivalent to “pakatan” is “conspirators”) would actually win by default and form the Federal Government.

This explains why the DAP seems to be very friendly with Datuk Seri Abdullah and why Karpal wants me to stop criticising him. He and his colleagues are against any move to get Datuk Seri Abdullah to step down.

Tunku did criticise me and did try to unseat me by supporting Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. Tun Hussein Onn was unhappy with me over my “Buy British Last” policy but was not well enough to go public, so to speak. So my outbursts are nothing unusual. One can almost say it is in accord with tradition.

As to my phobia of lawyers, this idea had been promoted by Opposition lawyers for political reasons. Karpal seems to imply that I really wanted to hang the lawyers. As everyone knows, Shakespeare hanged all the lawyers during his time. Karpal can go on believing that I was not joking. That is his right. But my conscience is clear and a lot of lawyers seem to have a different mind from Karpal.

So I would like to thank Karpal for helping to solve a political mystery that had bothered me over the last five years. However, as a citizen who loves this country, I will continue to speak up, more so because the Umno leaders and members fear criticising the leadership. They would be labelled saboteurs and would be punished.



Selangor probes alienation of forest reserves

April 9, 2008

SHAH ALAM (April 8, 2008): Selangor has launched thorough investigations into the cancellation of 4,325.5ha of gazetted forest reserves alienated to various parties.

Mentri Besar Tan Seri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim said the state government has already instructed all land and district offices in Selangor to furnish the list of the parties who have received the land.

A total 241,568ha of the total 796,084 ha in the state area has been gazetted as forest reserves, he said.

“However, district and land office records show that 4,325.5ha of forest reserve status had been revoked between 2000 and 2007.”

He said most of the land have been earmarked for property development.

Abdul Khalid also commented on the issue of duplicated land titles, saying there are currently 21 cases which are being investigated by the police or is in court.

He said these disputes involved a total of seven acres of land, mostly located in rural areas and in the Petaling and Gombak districts.

The new state government has decided to continue with the one-stop modern pig farming project in Ladang Tumbuk, Mukim Batu in Kuala Langat, which was approved by the previous state government on Jan 30.

Abdul Khalid said the new state government will improve on the implementation of the project as it is currently already operating as a centralised pig farming area, which adheres to the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry and state government’s quality standards.

He said the one-stop centre will resolve the problem of pollution due to waste from pig farming.

Abdul Khalid said all the waste will be reused as bio-gas for electricity, water for cleansing of the farm and food farming for the livestock.

He said all pig farms outside the area are required to move their operations to this facility, in line with the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry requirements which will be monitored by the relevant authorities.

“All farmers who move to the facility will be given incentives and business and investment opportunities. Furthermore, the land can also be utilised for other business activities.”

He said the state is also looking into centralising all farming activities involving other livestocks and poultry.

Abdul Khalid said Selangor is also studying and looking towards Perak as a source for water in the near future.

He  said the deal with Pahang has been finalised, however, there is an anticipated water shortage in the next two decades for the state due to the rising population and urbanisation.

He said this after a meeting with new Perak Mentri Besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin in his office today.

Mohammad Nizar in turn said Perak is rich in water reserves and due to its close to proximity, water can be channelled into Selangor via the Bernam Valley.

He said this will also boost development in Bernam Valley.


It’s now called Pakatan Rakyat

April 2, 2008

April 2, 2008

By : Marc Lourdes 

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(Seated, from left) Lim Kit Siang, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail at the press conference to announce the setting up of Pakatan Rakyat.
(Seated, from left) Lim Kit Siang, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail at the press conference to announce the setting up of Pakatan Rakyat.

PETALING JAYA: The tripartite Pas-DAP-PKR grouping, which made significant gains in last month’s general election, has agreed to a formal coalition called Pakatan Rakyat.

Bigwigs from the three ideologically diverse parties, including Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang and Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, met at the office of PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim yesterday to discuss the arrangement.

In a joint statement, they said the name Pakatan Rakyat had been proposed pending official endorsement by the respective parties.

It is still uncertain whether the formalised coalition would seek an immediate registration, with Lim and Anwar non-committal on the matter when asked.

One of the understandings reached was that all state governments under their control (Kelantan, Penang, Perak, Kedah and Selangor) would conduct policies in accordance with those of Pakatan Rakyat.

Anwar said the coalition, which would be led collectively, would work towards common principles as published in the various party manifestos.

A joint secretariat, consisting three representatives of each party, has been formed to develop and strengthen the structure and framework of Pakatan Rakyat.

Asked about how Pas and DAP, which have very differing ideologies, would approach the coalition, Anwar said they worked together on principles like justice and fairness.

“We are committed to a reform programme backed by the spirit of the Constitution.

“I don’t see any difficulty. We have reached a consensus,” he said.

Questioned as to which party would dominate the coalition, Anwar replied that the dominant force was the rakyat.

“The agenda is clear. It makes no difference whoever is the menteri besar. They are tied to policies determined by Pakatan Rakyat.”

Replying to questions on Pas’ alleged intentions to form an Islamic state, Anwar and Abdul Hadi both said it was an issue that should not be made contentious any more.

“It was not mentioned in the Pas manifesto and has not been mentioned for a long time.

“It is no longer an issue,” Anwar said.

Abdul Hadi said the issue should not be raised to create trouble and that the truth was that Islam as a religion supported basic principles such as fighting corruption and creating good governance.

Speaking on the failed attempt to create a workable coalition via the Barisan Alternatif in 1999, Lim said they had learnt the lesson from that first, abortive attempt at forming a multi-ethnic opposition front.

“We have learnt and come together on common principles that the people can support,” he said.

In a telephone interview later, Lim said he expected the Pakatan Rakyat framework to be finalised in a matter of weeks.

He added that DAP had no relationship with Pas prior to March 8, but the message from the people on that day was that they wanted the parties to work together to restore justice, freedom and democracy.

“The challenge is for us to rise to the expectations of the people.”

A convention of all Pakatan Rakyat parliamentary and state assembly representatives will be held on April 27 to further the understanding of the coalition’s policies.

On Monday night, at a rally at Stadium Melawati in Shah Alam, Abdul Hadi spoke about the formation of the coalition, saying it would welcome defecting Barisan Nasional parliamentarians.


Malaysian ruling party dissidents launch attack on weakened prime minister

April 2, 2008

April 1, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad urged his supporters Tuesday to openly rebel against the prime minister after massive losses in general elections plunged the ruling party into its worst crisis.

About 2,000 members of the United Malays National Organization party gathered to hear Mahathir speak at a hotel conference hall in the biggest display of defiance so far against the party’s leader, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The meeting’s agenda was to analyze the unprecedented losses suffered by Abdullah’s National Front ruling coalition in March 8 general elections. But it turned into a free-for-all session to bitterly criticize the 68-year-old prime minister, who is watching his grip on power weaken despite insisting he has the full support of his party.

“I call on him to resign. Anyone else would have done so already, but he is shameless,” Mahathir said. “If he waits until the party is totally destroyed, it would be useless.”

Mahathir accused Abdullah of failing to curb unbridled corruption, nepotism and cronyism. He referred repeatedly to Abdullah’s son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, who is believed to wield huge influence in the Malay party, which is the dominant group in the National Front.

Mahathir ruled Malaysia for 22 years before handing power to Abdullah in 2003. Although he personally picked Abdullah, Mahathir is now the prime minister’s most vocal critic. His son Mukhriz, a senior party official, also urged Abdullah to resign.

“We have reached a crossroads. There is something very wrong with our leadership, which is Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,” Mukhriz said to loud applause.

The show of anger is a clear sign of the deep crisis in the National Front, which is reeling from its worst electoral performance ever. The coalition lost five of Malaysia’s 13 states and its traditional two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time since 1969.

Mahathir urged disgruntled party members to organize themselves against Abdullah.

“We must arrange our moves,” Mahathir said. “It is pointless if I am alone. All of us must be brave. If you love your country, be brave and speak out.”

An Abdullah loyalist, Mohamad Khir Toyo, acknowledged the party needs reforms but said a leadership change was not necessarily the solution. He was bombarded with questions from the audience about whether Khairy had influence in choosing election candidates.

Abdullah has postponed party elections that had been set for August to December. Critics say he is trying to avoid losing re-election as party president.

Also on Tuesday, Malaysia’s three ideologically diverse opposition parties forged a formal coalition, the People’s Alliance, to boost their challenge to the National Front.

The coalition — comprising the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, the secular Chinese-based Democratic Action Party and the multiethnic People’s Justice Party — agreed to “uphold the rights and interests of all Malaysians,” said opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.


Associated Press writer Julia Zappei contributed to this report.


Malaysia PM in deeper crisis as 2 Cabinet ministers seek leadership reforms

March 31, 2008

Mar 31, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Two Cabinet ministers have endorsed demands by ruling party dissidents to hold an open contest for the party leadership, highlighting the prime minister’s weakening control over power in Malaysia after disastrous election results.

The Star daily quoted International Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Higher Education Minister Khaled Nordin on Monday as saying everybody should be eligible to run for the post of the United Malays National Organization party’s president.

At present, a contestant must be nominated by 30 percent of the party’s divisions, which is hard to secure by someone not endorsed by the party leadership. The party president automatically becomes the prime minister.

The nomination quota encourages an “unhealthy political culture,” Muhyiddin, who is the party vice president, was quoted as saying. “I hope that with the abolition, the party at all levels will have a healthy democratic election system.”

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is facing the biggest crisis of his political career after the March 8 general elections, in which the ruling National Front retained power but lost its traditional two-thirds majority. It also conceded five states to the opposition.

Being the dominant party in the coalition, Abdullah’s United Malays National Organization took most of the blame for the losses. The pressure on Abdullah increased after critics called on him to resign, a demand he rejected.

He also postponed party elections, which had been due in August, until December. But it will be difficult for a challenger to dislodge Abdullah in the elections because of the quota system, which was introduced by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1987 after he narrowly survived a challenge by then-Finance Minister Razaleigh Hamzah.

Mahathir, now an ordinary party member, is one of those calling for abolishing the quota system. Among the others is Razaleigh, who has openly declared he will try to challenge Abdullah.

Critics say the quota system ensures that members dissatisfied with the prime minister’s leadership cannot challenge him democratically. Supporters say it is necessary to ensure only serious candidates contest.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also the party deputy president, acknowledged there was unhappiness over the system but denied it was an impediment to democracy in the party.

“The system was introduced to prevent candidates that do not have strong support in the party to contest for top posts just to challenge the leadership,” he told reporters.

“It is not aimed at deterring democracy. Even though there is a quota system, democracy still flourishes in our party,” he said.

Abandoning the system would also mean changing the party constitution, which can only be done at an extraordinary general meeting. Party leaders have so far rejected calls for such a meeting.

Khaled and Muhyiddin, the two ministers, claimed they had opposed it when it was introduced by Mahathir but failed.

Muhyiddin stressed that his call did not mean he was against the current leadership or was encouraging members to challenge the president, The Star said.

Aides to Khaled and Muhyiddin confirmed they made the comments. The aides declined to be identified citing protocol.


Zam: Dr M to blame, too

March 31, 2008
KUALA LUMPUR: Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad must shoulder some of the blame for Barisan Nasional’s worst-ever performance in the recent general election, says former Information Minister Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin.

Dr Mahathir’s various accusations swayed the people to vote against Barisan, he said.

“Laying all blame on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for Barisan’s losses is not right because it is clear that Dr Mahathir is full of anger and uncontrolled vengeance,” said Zainuddin.

“Maybe he was not aware or maybe he purposely did not want to be aware that his credibility as a former leader is still strong and that his influence on the grassroots, both Malay and non-Malays, is significant.”

“His credibility influenced people into believing what he said and he also lent this credibility to bloggers and websites,” he said when met at his house here yesterday.

Zainuddin said there were three statements in particular that affected Umno’s and Malaysians’ confidence in the leadership in the run-up to the elections.

“The first was when he said he regretted appointing Abdullah as the Prime Minister.

“This was then followed up by Dr Mahathir saying that Abdullah was only meant to be a one-term Prime Minister and that more opposition was needed in Parliament.”

Zainuddin added that the third and most damning statement that was widely accepted by all segments of society was about the role Deputy Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and his advisers played in the country’s politics and economy.

“This even caused Gerakan adviser Tan Sri Lim Keng Yaik to ask Abdullah to get rid of his advisers,” he said.

Zainuddin said he was merely telling the truth when he said thatDr Mahathir could not deny he had played a role in Barisan’s dismal poll results.

“This is not to say that other factors do not count, but Dr Mahathir cannot absolve himself from this.

“There have been many opinions in the aftermath of the election but Dr Mahathir being a factor was not really mentioned, “ he added.


Malaysian politic developments will have impact on region

March 31, 2008

Suddenly, Malaysia has become the most exciting place in Southeast Asia – not for its Manhattan-like skyscrapers or even its “Truly Asia” self-indulgent slogan.

Published on March 31, 2008

Stop by a kopi-tiem for teh-tarik in any neighbourhood in the capital these days, one can hear a lively exchange of street wisdom on the future of Malay politics. Will Pak Lah resign? Is Anwar coming back? Is UMNO collapsing? The list goes on.

Nataraja Naidu, 58, a former government official, says proudly that he voted for the opposition for the first time. “I realised that a change in Malaysian politics must come from me first. I support the opposition,” he said. “I want to see every anak bangsa Malaysian being treated equally.”

Yang Lee-jing, 72, a taxi driver, who has seen it all, is more cautious in his appraisal. “I have seen riots on the streets before. Although now things are different, but it is still bumiputra,” he says, referring to the Malay race. Yang was more resigned about the current political scene, saying Malaysian politics will continue to be based on race. The country’s population comprises 65 per cent Malays, 25 per cent Chinese, 6 per cent Indian and the rest are other nationalities.

Naidu and Yang are not alone in having such juxtaposed sentiments. They know, as minorities, it is a tall order to have everybody enjoy the same rights. But for them to be able to speak aloud on this issue without fear is already a huge accomplishment. Malaysia is more open than ever before. While the mainstream media are still timid, online media and bloggers have filled in the gap and are thriving. The Internet has now become one of the most important communication tools in Malaysian politics. Even Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi confessed that his party’s defeat was due to its failure to acknowledge the power of the Internet.

Prem Chandra, chief of the Internet portal Malaysiakini, was succinct, saying that the voices of opposition candidates could be read and heard online. “Quite often, mainstream media have to catch up with the online information, which is freer and faster,” he said. Ironically, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad also lamented the lack of media freedom and sought media space online.

Increasingly, ordinary Malaysians have come to grips with the political reality that they have been brought up in since the country gained independence in 1957. Since then, the politics here has been dominated by the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO), along with other smaller community-based parties known as the Barisan Nasional. The Malay voters used to think that without UMNO, their interests would not be protected.

But in the past few two years, the Malaysians, especially the Chinese and Indians, have begun to think differently in responding to religious and social discrimination. Instead of asking the ruling political party for changes, they have chosen instead to look for an alternative group, which can give them a better deal. Then came the formation of an opposition coalition with a more holistic approach to economic and social development. Now they think change is possible. As in the US primaries, the call for change is getting louder by the day in the world’s most modern Islamic nation.

The political tsunami started with the outcome of the March 8 general elections. The opposition seized 82 out of 222-seats in parliament, just 30 seats short of forming a government. The opposition group comprises the Islamist party known as PAS, the Chinese-based and secular Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the multiracial People’s Justice Party (PKR). Both PAS and DAP are more pragmatic and more reconciliatory towards each other.

For the first time, Malaysians feel that a new dawn is approaching for their country. Of course, mindful of racial history, there is also some anxiety. But intellectuals and the middle class are discussing the possibility of a multi-party system or even an end to race-based politics, which has dominated the country in the past five decades.

“Malaysians believe that there could be changes without bloodshed as in 1969. We have learned lessons from the past,” said Tian Chua, a former activist, who got elected in Batu constituency. Chua was optimistic that sooner than later there would be an alternative government rather than the current National Front led by UMNO.

“First of all, we have to show that the opposition has the capacity to provide better policies and reduce corruption,” he said. Only a few days in his job, he told me in a kopi tiem in Ambang Utama that several wasteful projects were reviewed and slashed and money was saved. At the moment, he said the opposition could make a difference in Selangor, Penang, Perak, Kedah, the country’s four richest states, who contribute 60 per cent of its gross domestic product.

Chua is confident that if the opposition parties are resilient and end discrimination and can still maintain stability and prosperity, then they would get a chance to form the government. “We must make things better and understand the feelings of the people. It is the reformasi spirit.”

After all, one can also sense that the reformasi movement started by former deputy prime minister Ibrahim Anwar is still very much alive. Ordinary people want social justice and better governance. Politics is too elitist, focusing on a few groups of people, they said.

If Malaysia can achieve all these, it would impact on political developments in the region and beyond. Singapore has already dispatched teams of political scientists to Malaysia to gain understanding and insights into the latest phenomenon. Currently, the region’s existing democracies such as Thailand and the Philippines are in disarray, plagued with political instability, corruption and lack of governance. Further consolidation in Malaysia’s democracy will resonate well in Indonesia’s current political dynamic.

Kavi Chongkittavorn

The Nation