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Bitter election creates long-term headache Najib

Posted: 25 May 2013 02:42 PM PDT

Reuters' interviews with 15 polling agents give an indication of why many Malaysians have lost faith in an electoral system that clearly favours the governing coalition.


Malaysia's divisive election has left a bitter taste for millions of people that risks creating a long-term problem of legitimacy for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak's long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

The outrage was clear at a busy intersection across from one of Kuala Lumpur's fanciest shopping malls, where a huge poster of Najib and his deputy had been defaced — a rare display of public disrespect in the Southeast Asian nation.

One of the scrawled comments poked fun at the unconvincing share of the votes won by Najib's ruling coalition in its May 5 election victory: "47 percent PM," it said.

"If you don't like it, you can leave," mocked another, alluding to a comment by Najib's new home minister that those unhappy with the result — and the electoral system that produced it — should pack up and emigrate.

The tense political atmosphere threatens to prolong policy uncertainty that investors hoped the polls would put to rest, as Najib braces for a possible leadership challenge and the opposition mounts a noisy campaign to contest the result.

By securing 60 percent of parliamentary seats with less than 50 percent of the popular vote, the BN's victory has served to expose starkly the unfairness of a gerrymandered electoral system that is also prone to cheating and bias.

That has galvanized the opposition, led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, into holding a series of big rallies as it refuses to accept the result and prepares legal action to challenge the outcome in nearly 30 close-run seats.

Disgruntled Malaysians have submitted over 220,000 signatures to the White House online petition page, exceeding the number required for a response from President Barack Obama.

In response, divisions have appeared in Umno, the main party in the ruling coalition — in power since independence from Britain in 1957.

Hardliners have urged a crackdown on dissent and blamed minority ethnic Chinese voters for deserting the ruling coalition. That has raised racial tensions in a country whose ethnic Malay majority dominates politics and enjoys special privileges to offset what its leaders see as its disadvantaged position compared to relatively wealthy ethnic Chinese.

Reformers have urged Najib to press ahead with social and economic reforms to blunt the opposition's appeal and address the concerns of discontented young and urban voters. That includes many ethnic Malays who voted for the opposition.

"Every day Najib sees angry Malaysians on the Internet. It is not an easy thing to swallow," said a senior government official who declined to be identified. "There are people in his cabinet asking for a crackdown and there are others asking for him to brandish his reformist side."

The hard liners appeared to gain ground last week when police used the colonial-era Sedition Act to detain three opposition politicians and activists and charged a student with inciting unrest.

The three arrested were later released after a court rejected the police remand order, but could still face charges.

Najib is under pressure from Umno conservatives such as Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who served as prime minister for 22 years, to show a tougher side ahead of a leadership election that could be held as early as August. At least until then, planned reforms such as steps to widen Malaysia's tax base and reduce heavy food and fuel subsidies are likely to stay on hold.

"Najib is not in a very strong position," Mahathir told reporters in Tokyo on Saturday, saying there was a risk that his majority could be weakened further if some ruling coalition politician defected to the opposition.

"When you are concerned about that, the focus on development, economy and all that will be affected. That is Najib's problem."

The opposition has yet to present clear evidence of widespread fraud, but Reuters interviews with 15 polling agents give an indication of why many Malaysians have lost faith in an electoral system that clearly favours the governing coalition.

A majority said that officials of the Election Commission (EC), which is part of the Prime Minister's Department, did not follow procedures or were ill-equipped to oversee the polls.

"Some, not all, officials were not trained enough or did not have the experience to determine what was a spoiled vote," said a counting agent in the Segamat parliamentary seat in southern Johor state, where the BN candidate won by a slim 1,200 majority with 950 votes deemed as spoiled.

"I cannot speculate on whether it was deliberate but there was quite a bit of incompetence," said the agent, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Anwar's three-party alliance says it has evidence that BN officials bought votes with cash and transported immigrants granted citizenship on shaky grounds to vote in areas with close races.

While its legal action, due to be filed with courts around the end of May, is unlikely to succeed, it will keep the electoral fraud issue in the spotlight for months ahead.

In Selangor state near Kuala Lumpur, a Reuters examination found at least 2,000 voters had identity cards deemed "dubious" by a commission of inquiry in Sabah. That commission is investigating longstanding allegations that the ruling coalition handed out citizenship for votes to immigrants.

The government denies the fraud claims, accusing the opposition of being sore losers and of trying to stir up an Arab Spring style revolt. The EC says it took a tough approach in eradicating possible fraud in the electoral rolls.

"The opposition did not lose because of election rigging, it lost because they did not get the vote," EC chairman Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof told Reuters.

Deep concerns over the integrity of Malaysia's elections are nothing new. The government has been shaken by huge street rallies in recent years organized by the influential Bersih movement that has called for sweeping reforms, including a clean-up of the electoral roll and equal access to media.

After a violent police response to a 2011 rally, Najib burnished his reform credentials by rolling back some draconian security laws and introducing limited electoral reforms.

Bersih says those reforms did not go far enough, and is refusing to recognize the election results until it has verified hundreds of allegations of fraud in a "people's tribunal". It has previously highlighted instances of voters over 120 years of age and hundreds of voters living at a single address.

Likely far more influential than fraud are electoral boundaries that have been manipulated over the years to favour the BN. Pro-opposition constituencies in urban areas have up to nine times the number of voters than pro-government seats.

The opposition won just 89 seats in the 222-seat parliament, despite winning more than 51 percent of the vote.

"Najib won on malapportionment rather than his policies to eradicate corruption and reform theeconomy as voters felt he wasn't sincere," said Ooi Kee Beng, Singapore-based deputy director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Najib, the 59-year-old son of a former prime minister, is unlikely to countenance deeper electoral reforms, a move that could be political suicide for the BN.

Reformists within Umno are urging him, however, to ignore calls for a security crackdown and push ahead with steps to tackle corruption and make the ruling coalition more appealing to urban and ethnic Chinese voters who have deserted it.

"Of course the debate on whether we are truly a majority government will go on. But we can gain respect from the people," said Saifuddin Abdullah, a prominent reformist who is a member Umno's Supreme Council.


MCA: Asset strippers and plumbers within?

Posted: 25 May 2013 02:07 PM PDT

The latest tension within the party hierarchy on the proposed Matang-Scope affair is a good reason for the re-introduction of the CBOT to the party.

Stanley Koh, FMT

There is a certain hypocrisy and controversy in the latest proposed Matang-Scope merger involving MCA's financial arm, Huaren Holdings Berhad.

The ongoing proposed merger between Scope Industries and Matang Holdings Bhd had minority shareholders crying foul and alleging bad faith over the proposed deal.

Scope Industries is an electrical and electronic manufacturer while Matang Holdings Berhad is a property investment company that was established some 36 years ago.

Huaren Holdings is the largest capital shareholder in Matang, having 10.72 per cent or 12.864 million shares. With 19,984 shareholders, most of them are in Johor (81.48%) followed by Selangor and Malacca.

Spokesman for the minority shareholders Wong Pang Nam, who has since left Matang as financial controller, had claimed that he was kept in the dark and disallowed to be engaged in the negotiation on the proposed merger.

Wong, in his formal written complaints to the relevant authorities, listed five major grievances, the main one over the market value figures on the assets held by Matang Holdings.

According to claims by the minority shareholders, the valuation on the assets (properties) of Matang indicated a shortfall or difference of RM48.45 million, assessed by their respective professional market consultants engaged separately by the disputed parties.

The disputed parties have also engaged their respective solicitors. In a statement through its solicitors, the Matang Board of Directors had denied they acted in bad faith or have failed to discharge their fiduciary duties to the shareholders of Matang.

The prevailing dispute is not only an embarrassment but has put the party leadership into the public's spotlight on the hypocrisy and double standard of its leadership in tackling its own backyard on investment matters when it had frivolously attacked the Pakatan-led Selangor government over the disputed valuation of landed assets of Talam Corporation.

On the political front, besides blaming the party president Dr Chua Soi Lek for the MCA's disastrous electoral showing, his critics are raising questions as to why an outgoing president and his key officials are pursuing investment opportunities for the party's financial arm when they should in fact leave it to the impending new MCA leadership expected to emerge in a few months' time.

This they argued would be consistent to the tough stand undertaken by Chua and his core group when they had similarly challenged and opposed the proposal for a Board of Trustees in 2008 on the ground that outgoing Ong Ka Ting presidential office should leave the matter to the newly elected incoming leadership.

Then, Ka Ting's detractors objected to the proposal for a Central Board of Trustees (CBOT) to manage the party's movable and immovable assets believed to worth some RM1.5 billion at that time.

CBOT's objectives were to ensure more transparency in investment decision-making and a collective accountability in managing the party assets. It would also have diluted the powers of the party president in relation to the management of party assets and custody of the party's funds.

It was not surprising that those who objected the CBOT proposal were backers of Chua.

Introduce CBOT now

Perhaps this is the time again for MCA to bring back the CBOT proposal.

The latest tiff within the party hierarchy on the proposed Matang-Scope affair is a good reason for the re-introduction of the CBOT to the party.

The proposal to set up a central board of trustees would be a positive move to rationalise or prevent the power abuses of the president's office in making investment decision-making.

It would also involve key signatories, including the party treasurer and the secretary general, in managing party assets and party funds.

That will definitely require a major review and overhaul in the party's constitution, specifically referring to the Article 146 and other related provisions pertaining to managing the party's assets.

"Many in the party seemed to have forgotten or perhaps have not learned any lessons over the party's decision to acquire Nanyang Siang Pau group of companies which split the party into two major factions," a party insider said.



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