20 February, 2008

Anwar Ibrahim on opposition strategies in Malaysia election

Malaysia’s three main opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance Party, Parti Islam SeMalaysia and Parti Keadilan Rakyat have agreed to cooperate with each other in the upcoming March 8th general election.

They have decided to field single candidates in most constituencies in Malaysia to avoid contesting with one another and to provide a viable alternative to the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

In an exclusive interview in Kuala Lumpur with former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from Parti Keadilan Rakyat, RSI’s Shereena Sajeed asked about the extent of the opposition’s preparations for the contest so far.

AI: We negotiated separately with PAS in the Malay heartland, with the DAP in the Chinese areas because we are able to at least engage with them. We have covered almost all seats except for one or two contentious ones with PAS. We’ve virtually resolved everything with the DAP except with Sabah and Sarawak which we hope to resolve by today.

In terms of Keadilan, which areas are you contesting and how many seats are you looking at?

AI: Keadilan is focused mainly on the mixed seats. We are a multi-religious, multi-racial party so therefore we cover the main middle ground. Although we do take a few predominantly Chinese majority seats and also Malay majority seats in the East Coast and the North. I can’t say for sure because discussions are still ongoing but I think we will exceed 70 seats, both in the Peninsular and the Sabah, Sarawak constituencies.

And what issues will Keadilan be focusing on?

AI: The main issue is governance and accountability. We’ve said that due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of leadership, the country has fallen in terms of competitiveness, foreign direct investments and the economy is of course faltering. We cite the example of Singapore, mainly because we started off as a country with relatively slight differences in economic standing. But Singapore has surpassed us in terms of per capita income by almost five times. There is something really wrong either with policy or governance and lack of accountability and massive corruption that has led to this state of affairs.

In your opinion, what are Keadilan’s chances of success this time round?

AI: I think since independence 50 years ago, this is going to be one defining moment in our history. We’ve seen this groundswell of support. My main concern and I need to reiterate this, is the electoral process. The electoral list until now has not been cleared or verified. It’s made so complex. There are lots of reports of phantom voters, voters with no addresses, voters above 100 or 120 years old which seems rather odd to me.

Regarding Nurul, your daughter, there is speculation about whether she is contesting, maybe you can clear that up? What’s your view on her contesting?

AI: As a party leader, Azizah (Anwar’s wife) of course wouldn’t say no but as a mother, she has a lot of misgivings. I have a more neutral stance on that, allowing her to decide for herself. Right now, frankly we’re not terribly keen because Azizah is involved and so am I. But as always, particularly in the KL neighbourhood, the pressure is very strong so I am leaving it to her. I find it very difficult for her. She always tells me, “Papa, don’t burden me. Don’t force me to decide. We’ll have to decide together”. She’s not too keen on it but I can sense that she is also changing because she’s listening to a lot of people and she’s been on the ground for some time.

That was Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from Parti Keadilan Rakyat speaking with Shereena Sajeed in Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia goes to the polls next month and this time the campaign is going online, as opposition parties turn to blogs, SMS and YouTube to dodge a virtual blackout on mainstream media.

Major newspapers and television stations -- many partly owned by parties in the ruling coalition -- are awash with flattering stories on the government and its achievements ahead of March 8 general elections.

The opposition parties rate barely a mention, but thanks to the Internet they have begun campaigning feverishly in cyberspace with the aim of reaching young, urban, educated voters.

"They control the television but we've got YouTube now," said 31-year-old Lee Sean Li, an accountant who avidly surfs the Net for alternative news and complains there are only negative glimpses of the opposition in the main media....more

When Malaysia last went to the polls in March 2004, many voters were attracted by the “Pak Lah Factor”. Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi , who had taken the helm as prime minister only five months before that, was described as religious and dubbed Mr. Clean. He promised to be prime minister of all Malaysians, regardless of colour or creed; to fight corruption; and improve transparency and the public service delivery. The campaign message worked – he led the Barisan Nasional (BN) to a landslide victory.

As the nation heads to the polls on March 8, almost four years later, it is appraisal time for Abdullah and his administration – and it will be no picnic. Much has happened during that period, from bread and butter issues like rising crime and inflation, to growing concerns about civil liberties, the state of the judiciary and the position of the different political parties within their constituencies....more

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