Khamis, 13 Jun 2013

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Malaysia's Post 13th GE: Issues, Risks & the Myth of Transformation

Posted: 12 Jun 2013 06:53 PM PDT

There are a few themes which emerged from the 13th GE. Some of the issues and repercussions are going to be highlighted in point form. Firstly, I would like to highlight the key issues:

1) Division: It is quite clear now that the 13th GE has created more divisions than common grounds. The is more profound political difference between the two coalitions - PR and BN - and their supporters. The whole political discourse has become either black or white. It is either you are with us or you are against us. It was compounded by the fact that the Opposition PR had expected to win the GE but was not successful. On the other hand, the BN regime had singled out the low Chinese support as the main reason for their less than stunning victory.

Hence, the two coalitions are caught in an awkward situation. PR had blamed the electoral system and the alleged frauds as the main reason for their unsuccessful campaign. BN had blamed the Chinese community for their predicament. Both cannot accept anything than an absolute victory at the polls.

Continuous post GE bickering over the election results, now preceded by the petitions, is going to drag on for months to come and is going drag in a lot of their supporters and members as well. This is the first sign of division.

Worse case scenario, the division might even expanded to include the rural-urban divide, ethnicity (Malay versus Non-Malay), alternative versus mainstream media and religion (remotely). On the urban-rural divide, the dialogue has involved both the communitarian and morality dimension. It has become socially unthinkable to take a centrist position without being berated by one's social circle. Supporters from both coalitions have taken to peer pressure and communitarianism to press for support and compliance from their friends, colleagues and peers. This is often coated with both communal and morality arguments.

2) Credibility Crisis. The newly minted PR has won almost 90% of all urban seats, leaving BN with both semi-rural and rural seats. However, any discourse concerning the nation is often dictated by the urbanites. The emergence of the online social tools such as the Twitter, Facebook, Blog, Youtube etc. the dominant discourse is not one the ruling regime will cherish.

On the polling night itself, after news that the BN had successfully formed the Federal government, the public discourse on the Internet had established its foothold, intent, shape and agenda. The BN regime and the institutions and processes created by its regime were going to be discredited so that the PR would gain immediate advantage and influence over the minds of the urbanites.

Even with a comfortable mandate and majority, the BN is going to find a hard time restoring its credibility if it cannot influence the discourse. BN might continue to rule but the PR would continue to hold on to their influence and electoral gains and hopefully to build on them.

What is worse and damaging is the credibility crisis has grown internationally. Supporters and leaders of the PR coalition are taking their grouses to the UN, the White House, the UK government, Australia and other international platforms. A number of fraud allegations were made online and they were quickly replicated and shared out by the followers.

The coalition led by de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim was quick to respond with the "Blackout 505" rallies throughout the country to blame the coalition's defeat on electoral fraud and a partial Election Commission. Soon, the fault lines expanded to include the First Past the Post electoral system, gerrymandering, imbalanced rural-urban voters ratio, indelible ink and weightage and others. Calls were made by the pro-PR NGOs for the EC heads to step down.

All these allegations were made before the election petitions were filed and up till today there was no incriminating evidence on illegal Bangladeshi voters or actual blackout at the counting centre. Nonetheless, the intention was clear - to ruin the credibility of the victor in the elections and to cast doubts on the electoral system, agency, players and rules. Here, the PR has successfully taken a higher moral ground and has won the perception war on the back of the newly elected government's credibility.

It is important to note that because the discourse was dominated by largely the pro-PR urbanites, the allegations made and rumours spread by the PR to gain electoral advantage during the campaign period were never challenged or questioned or brought up in any of the civil discourse.

To make the matter worse, the BN had actually committed various money related offenses during the campaign period. Most of them were committed via their 'supporters' and not directly through their candidates or parties. The electoral abuses are going to haunt the regime in the coming days and even leading up to the next GE.

3) Directionless. We can positively expect the political bickering to continue in the coming months if not years leading to the next GE. PR has made impressive gains not only in the Parliament but also in most of the state assemblies. While we rejoice at the birth of the two party system, the real two party system can only be beneficial if both coalitions know when to bicker and when to cooperate. Perpetual bickering is the most likely scenario here. Mutual competition and opposition is going to happen on all policy decisions and this can be really distractive to governance.

On the aspect of economic management, there is a need for a bipartisan cooperation since the BN has control over finances and the Federal administration while PR is leading the two biggest economies in Malaysia; Penang and Selangor. On economic competitiveness, the country must find viable solutions to a vast array of issues e.g. finding new economic frontiers, fostering a vibrant economy to attract more local and foreign investments, create more valued added jobs, solving the income bottlenecks, moving up the value chain and technology adoption, regional positioning and strengthening trade.

A number of these issues cannot be addressed without ironing out the political differences between these two coalitions. The political risk posed by the bickering coalitions is enough to turn off any potential mid-to-long term commitment and investment in the country.

There is a danger of the BN government being selective in its economic direction and stimulation. Some hawkish leaders in UMNO are already calling for a tit-for-tat action against the Chinese community for rejecting their hand of "friendship". Utusan Malaysia, the conservative UMNO mouthpiece, has been publishing provocative headlines on the Chinese voters' snub against the UMNO-led ruling regime. The same leaders have suggested to the Najib administration to focus more and reward the Malay, Indian and Sabah and Sarawak natives for supporting the regime.

If Najib's submits his administration to the internal pressure, it might spells more instability for the private sector investment in Malaysia. There is going to be a greater outflow of funds and talents overseas.

There is little to differentiate the economic model of both PR and BN; although the former claimed to be more credible and accountable. However, there has not been any major institutional or systemic transformation in both Selangor and Penang over the last 5 years. During the 13th GE, both coalitions had stuck to the populist policy by promising more grants and subsidies to the lower income group.

There was little mention of transformation, reformation and overhaul of the socio-economic model and governance. There was no mention of their respective foreign policy direction. Hence, it is suffice to note that the socio-economic model and the foreign policy direction would not be undergoing any major transformation apart from the check-and-balance e.g. open tender, counter wastage and corruption proposed by the PR.



Malaysia’s GE13: What happened, what now? (part 2)

Posted: 12 Jun 2013 04:09 PM PDT

A rejection of Perkasa?

PRU13 was a less than explicit, and often inchoate, engagement, or contestation, between two rival views of the Malaysian nation, of what it is and where it was, or might be, headed.

On the one side, UMNO/BN, and especially in its appeals to its own power-base in the core Malay electorate, maintained incessantly that the country is and has always been Tanah Melayu —— Malay land and the land of the Malays —— and that the country's defining Malay identity would now have to be upheld by a reaffirmation and, if necessary, even an expansion beyond previously existing understandings of what that characterisation as Tanah Melayu might mean.

On the other side, the Pakatan coalition stuck to the terms of the agreement binding together its three partners. In a less than fully worked-out way they insisted that Malaysia was, or must become, a land of and for all Malaysians, and was now ready to do so. Or at least to make a common start on that journey —— that quest for a shared future based upon a new national understanding and, under the existing Constitution, a new principled foundation.

That was the choice that was placed on offer to the voters. If it was the campaign that was waged by UMNO/BN that won the day, can it be said that the overall election result represented a rejection of Perkasa by the nation, especially the Malay electorate?

Hardly. That is simply not so.

Yes, two Perkasa men who received UMNO/BN backing were defeated. But 88 UMNO candidates won. And that is more important, that is what matters.

They won on the "Malays in danger, Islam under threat" campaign waged in the Malay media that, as its main election effort, UMNO directed at the nation's Malay voters.

The Perkasa position is in effect, as some put it, "Malays on top, now and forever. That is Malaysia, love it or leave it!"

It is a hard, uncompromising position. But that, too, if in slightly more polite and modulated terms, was the essence of the UMNO campaign that was projected daily, with ever increasing determination and with increasingly disquieting effect, by Utusan and its media consociates to the ever more fearful Malay voters in the rural heartlands.

Two outright, up-front card-carrying Perkasa candidates lost, even though they enjoyed UMNO support.

But UMNO ran, and won handsomely upon, a campaign which can simply be described as "Perkasa Mild". A Perkasa-type campaign detached from the perhaps dubious or extreme reputation of Perkasa itself. A Perkasa-line not, like the original, angry but one for the somewhat more polite and genteel, and for those gripped by a fearful, and artfully cultivated, collective cultural and political anxiety.

A Perkasa line, it might perhaps be said, for those who might hesitate, not out of fear but even out of basic decency and in good conscience, to be publicly identified with Perkasa.

On the contrary. Perkasa, they might well feel, may be extremists. But UMNO is mainstream. And if that is what UMNO is saying, if that is the campaign that it is running, well, that line and that campaign, being UMNO's, cannot be extreme. That, for some, was the psychology of supporting "Perkasa Mild".

It proved a winning campaign.

A winning campaign, certainly, for UMNO. And also, though in a different way, a winning campaign for Perkasa as well.

A winning campaign for Perkasa despite the loss of the two high-profile Perkasa members whose candidacy UMNO was supporting.

How so?

In UMNO's 88 victories, Perkasa and its stance were lent an official respectability and "normalised" —— and in that way given a kind of vindication. Or at least political and moral absolution.

That is how what some political scientists used to call "ginger groups" —— or radical pressure groups operating from outside a party upon like-minded "true believers" and sympathisers within it —— operate and succeed.

In France in the 1950s one such group —— the forerunner of the Le Pen movement of recent years and today —— for a while rode high. The Poujadist movement influenced and infiltrated the ruling Gaullists. As they did, as they succeeded in doing so, their strength declined. Challenged by a journalist that his movement had failed, one Poujadist leader powerfully responded: "Not so! We have not failed, we have succeeded! We have succeeded in 'Poujad-izing' the moderates!"

Perkasa, too, may soon be able to make the same rejoinder, the same boast.

With that tune borrowed from Perkasa but played in a minor key, the UMNO in very difficult times did not just hold on to what it had but significantly increased its number of parliamentary seats. The costs of its doing so were paid by the plummeting plausibility of its main long-term non-Malay partner parties in BN. They may never recover.

But for UMNO it worked well. UMNO's number of seats is up by 9, a number not far short of what is now the combined MCA, MIC and Gerakan parliamentary presence of 12.

BN representation from the nation's primary zone in peninsular Malaysia is overwhelmingly an UMNO parliamentary presence: 88 of 100. The old partner parties —— MCA, MIC and Gerakan —— are now in no position to restrain UMNO or to resist its demands. To have its way, UMNO has merely to "square things off" with its Sarawak and Sabah allies, operating not as a solid bloc but as a collection of mutually wary contenders who can, if need be, be played off against one another.

From the viewpoint of the practitioners of UMNO Realpolitik it is a very satisfactory outcome —— even if the party's "hard men" did not exactly envisage this outcome and plan it down to the last detail.

It is, for them, a very satisfactory outcome that was delivered by the success of their "Perkasa Mild" strategy.

A "Chinese tsunami"?

Recourse to that strategy came, as indicated, with a cost.

It entailed a substantial "writing off in advance" of much of "the Chinese vote" —— of the votes of the vast majority of Malaysian citizens of Chinese origins and cultural background. It deprived the leaders of the Chinese partner parties MCA and Gerakan of "face" and credibility and stripped their parties of what was left of their political plausibility.

Yet the movement of voters away from UMNO/BN was not, as some have suggested, simply a "Chinese phenomenon".

The same trend seems to have been characteristic, in greater or lesser degree, of a significant number of Malaysians of all backgrounds who reside in and around the main cities, and in their adjoining semi-urban zones.

It was displayed, that is, by most of those whose lives are grounded outside of the electorally "overrepresented" rural Malay heartlands and whose cultural orientations are focused upon concerns that lie beyond where the UMNO and Utusan "Malay anxiety campaign" had great cultural reach and political "traction".

The results of PRU12 in 2008 had come as a great surprise to some. While some people had seen it coming, others, including those who then ran the UMNO/BN campaign, did not. And, as if it had come suddenly from nowhere, they dubbed it a "tsunami".

Things were different this time. The UMNO/BN side knew that they were in "the fight of their lives", a fight for political survival. Anti-UMNO/BN currents were running strong in 2013. When they showed up in the election results, it could have been a surprise to nobody.

But in politics there are few things harder to resist than a convenient cliché. When the massive falling away of government support became clear, and Barisan National in the peninsula was left looking very much like a club with only one member attended by a few bemused janitors, the official response, orchestrated by UMNO and Utusan, was that what had happened was a "Chinese tsunami".

The Chinese had defected, it was claimed, they had abandoned UMNO/BN. The Chinese were to blame. "What more can the Chinese possibly want [beyond what they already enjoy under UMNO/BN]" was Utusan's furious banner headline.

One thing needs to be made clear here.

The expression "Chinese tsunami" is a polite —— meaning in-explicit, since it does not use those words directly —— way of saying that kaum Cina kita sudah memberontak dan menderhaka, that our Chinese community has rebelled and committed treason.

That is what people who use the expression "Chinese tsunami" mean.

So the issue to be discussed is not whether this second "tsunami" of 2013 was a "Chinese" or a more general and widespread "storm".

What is needed is to bring into the clear and explicit light of day the underlying meaning of that coded expression and to call to account —— for what they mean to say, and what political objective they intend to accomplish by saying it —— those who are trading subliminally in this notion of Chinese treason (derhaka Cina).

To react by shouting in exasperation, "how dare they, how dare the Chinese presume to behave disloyally, to indulge in treason!" ignores the fact that those who voted in ways that UMNO and Utusan may not have liked were, as Malaysian citizens, fully entitled to cast their votes as they pleased, and to use their votes to say that they did not like what they were seeing —— that they did not like the direction in which UMNO now seemed determined to drag the country.

The attitude and response displayed by UMNO and Utusan are those of a different situation. They are those of the Ottoman Empire. There, every millet (meaning every "encapsulated" national or cultural or religious minority) had the right to manage its own internal affairs autonomously, free from outside interference —— so long as they remained monolithically loyal under their own leaders to the sultan and his government.

But Malaysia in Prime Minister Najib's time is not the Ottoman Empire in the age of Suleyman the Magnificent or Abdul Majid I.

The point is obvious, but its implications are difficult for some to grasp.

The expression "Chinese tsunami" may be rhetorically evocative. But it is logically and empirically dubious, and its use is politically and morally inexcusable.



Perpaduan Melayu: Peluang Yang Terlepas

Posted: 12 Jun 2013 02:27 PM PDT

Umum sudah tahu masalah antara Ketua Perhubungan PKR Selangor itu dengan Menteri Besar Selangor kerana telah berlaku secara terbuka.

Cerita Barisan Nasional diselamatkan oleh orang Melayu, Bumiputera dan luar bandar pada Pilihan Raya Umum 5 Mei lalu pun sudah diketahui. Yang belum jelas ialah apa yang Perdana Menteri, Mohd Najib Abdul Razak, akan buat untuk mereka.

Begitu juga cerita Parti Islam Se Malaysia (PAS) ditolak oleh penyokongnya sendiri kerana mengorbankan prinsip perjuangan – Negara Islam dan Hukum Hudud – apabila terlalu taasub dengan kerjasama dengan PKR dan Parti Tindakan Demokratik (DAP).

Apa yang mungkin tidak diketahui umum dan sukar dipercayai ialah Umno, PAS dan sekelompok pemimpin PKR telah kehilangan peluang untuk menubuhkan "Kerajaan Perpaduan" di Selangor, Terengganu dan Kedah.

Di Selangor ia ada kaitan dengan permusuhan antara Azmin dan Abdul Khalid. Di Terengganu kerana kecenderungan Presiden PAS, Abdul Hadi Awang ke arah perpaduan Melayu dan Islam.

Di Selangor bisik dan risik mengenai kerajaan campuran PAS-PKR-Umno cukup serius. Seandainya rancangan itu berjaya, PAS, Umno dan sesetengah elemen PKR akan menubuhkan kerajaan campuran dengan PAS menyumbangkan calon Menteri Besar.

Di antara tiga parti itu, PAS adalah yang paling kuat di Selangor dengan menguasai 15 daripada 56 kerusi DUN, diikuti PKR 14 dan Umno 12. Daripada 14 Adun PKR, 10 adalah Melayu.

Tetapi peluang itu terlepas kerana pihak-pihak yang terbabit takut didedahkan dan tidak bersedia bertolak ansur mengenai calon Menteri Besar, kecuali Azmin yang dikatakan lebih terbuka.

Di Terengganu pula, kepemimpinan PAS negeri dikatakan berminat bekerjasama dengan Umno walaupun PAS hampir-hampir menewaskan Umno. Umno menang 17 kerusi DUN manakala PAS 14 dan PKR satu.

Di Kelantan pun angin perubahan dikatakan telah mula bertiup berikutan pengunduran diri Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat sebagai Menteri Besar dan digantikan oleh Ahmad Yakob.




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