24 February, 2008

2008 Election: political parties kick off campaign

Malaysia's political parties formally started campaigning Sunday for general elections with fractious opposition groups joining forces in a bid to deprive the ruling coalition of a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

Hundreds of political heavy-hitters and first-time aspirants filed their nomination papers to contest 222 parliamentary constituencies and 505 state legislature seats. The process officially marked the start of a 13-day campaigning period ahead of the March 8 ballot.

A big crowd including foreign media turned out at the Merdeka Hall, Rembau District Council, here Sunday to witness candidates for the Rembau parliamentary seat file their nomination papers.

At the centre of attraction was Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate Khairy Jamaluddin. the prime minister''s son-in-law.

Khairy, who is Umno Youth deputy chief, arrived at the hall with Negeri Sembilan menteri besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan at 8am. Mohamad Hasan is defending the Rantau state seat.

Two fixed-wing aircraft carrying Umno and BN flags flew past to lend an air of excitement to the BN supporters.

Former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that there should be NO political dynasties in the country.

..Many believed it was a reference to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin.

Has Pak Lah BROKE Tun Mahathir's Long-Standing Tradition, by STARTING a Dynasty Within UMNO ?

As Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi approaches his second general election, there are some who wonder if his grip on political power is weakening.

Associate Professor Bilveer Singh predicts a tough election for Mr Abdullah, whose Barisan National coalition secured 66 per cent of the votes in 2004.

Prof Bilveer, who is from the National University of Singapore political science department, said: 'The 2004 honeymoon is over. Now the question is whether there is a sour moon or a bitter moon.

'Ever since he came into power in 2004 on the ticket of transparency and accountability, the results are lacking, and this raises questions.'

A big worry has also emerged over the handling of non-Muslims in Malaysia, with recent unrest from the Indian community over the demolition of Hindu temples and a growing disquiet in the Chinese community, especially in areas like Penang and Malacca.

Although the economy has remained buoyant, rising crime rates and a recent scandal involving the judiciary have also taken a toll on the ruling party's popularity, say observers.

They argue that Mr Abdullah's 'safe' choices of candidates over the past few days illustrate BN's concerns.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political science head Dr Ahmad Nidzammudin Sulaiman said the PM's decision to retain politicians such as Malacca chief minister Mohd Ali Rustam and former Tourism Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor was a sign that he wanted a team that was close to him.


Dr Ahmad said Tengku Adnan was a questionable choice as the latter's name had been associated with a recent judge-fixing scandal involving a chief justice and a prominent lawyer.

Dr Ahmad said this could mean that Pak Lah, as Mr Abdullah is known, not only wanted to ensure victories but secure his position as United Malays National Organisation (Umno) party president.

Umno is the largest party in the ruling coalition which includes the Malaysian Chinese Association and the Malaysian Indian Congress.

But some believe that a poor showing in this election could lead to Mr Abdullah being forced to step aside, especially if pressing race-relation and corruption issues are not handled satisfactorily.

'We can expect some in-fighting within Umno itself, that could challenge Mr Abdullah,' said Dr Ahmad, pointing out that 'risks' have been taken in the choice of candidates in Terengganu.

He said Mr Abdullah's decision to drop the group of Umno leaders led by former Marang Member of Parliament Mr Abdul Rahman Bakar was surprising.

'In the 2004 general elections, the group reclaimed Terengganu from the opposition (Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party),' he said.

He added that this would surely cause disappointment in factions within Umno.

And if the party does turn against him, Dr Ahmad does think that Mr Abdullah could be pressured into stepping down.

But not everyone buys the argument that Mr Abdullah is losing support within the ranks.

One BN politician, who declined to be named as he is not the party's 'spokesman', said that the PM still had the support of the people.

He also explained that the party had already moved into overdrive to combat the negative sentiment.

He said this was in addition to the consistent effort made to reach grassroots leaders, a tactic that most opposition leaders do not have the resources to adopt.

'We spent long hours talking to people in rural areas and the heartlands on the rationale behind some government policies,' he said.

The former MP said at times, it was not the national issues that bothered voters.


'They are concerned with basic amenities, helping out schools and providing welfare to the hardcore poor in those areas and we are here to help them,' he said.

He said it was this type of commitment that has led to resounding victories of the past, including BN's amazing tally of 198 seats won out of a possible 220 in 2004.

And he is not alone in his views.

In a recent editorial, former New Straits Times Group Editor in Chief Kalimullah Hassan said that the BN's ability to 'keep the economy growing, bridge the rural-urban divide, improve the public delivery system and bring equitable growth to different parts of the country' would be enough of an answer to its vehement critics.

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