11 March, 2008

Abdullah Vs Anwar

The elections may be over, but the battle for hearts and minds in Malaysia is only just beginning.

A wily challenger came upon a weak and lazy incumbent and pummeled him.

That's how the shocking results of the recently concluded Malaysian elections are being caricatured in the media.

One cartoonist portrayed the worst-ever performance by the ruling coalition as the outcome of a contest between Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the mild-mannered ``never-mind'' prime minister, and Anwar Ibrahim, the tough ``mastermind'' of the opposition.

The poll, however, was not only about personalities. It was also about the people of Malaysia and their disillusionment with a deeply entrenched culture of political and judicial corruption, cronyism and the resultant concentration of economic power.

Anwar and his allies have announced that they would scrap the pro-Malay economic policies in Selangor, which surrounds the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur. Anwar has previously denounced the quotas as ``obsolete'' and an obstacle to economic growth.

Pundits are speculating about how long it will be before Abdullah surrenders the top job -- perhaps to his deputy, the 54-year-old Najib Razak -- or is forced to do so by UMNO leaders.

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who assumed his second term in office on Monday,has said his government has important lessons to learn after it suffered heavy losses in general elections, slashing its parliamentary majority and reshaping the country's political landscape,he said all parties in the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition shared responsibility for its heaviest election losses since independence in 1957.

An Associated Press analysis and calculations by independent analysts showed that the coalition's share of the popular vote is barely half _ about 51 percent of the 7.9 million votes cast. Nevertheless, the ruling National

«As far as the parliamentary results are concerned, the ruling coalition should have done even more badly than what they achieved,» said Mohammad Agus Yusoff, a political science professor at the National University of Malaysia.

Take away the sparsely populated states of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo island _ where the National Front won all but two seats _ and the coalition's popular vote dips to 49.8 percent in peninsular Malaysia, the country's political and economic mainland.

Opposition groups have long blamed gerrymandering for such discrepancies between popular vote and seats in parliament, claiming the Election Commission distorts polling districts to favor the government.

For example, the administrative capital of Putrajaya, a government stronghold, sends one lawmaker to Parliament even though its voter population is about 5,000. But Seputeh constituency in neighboring Kuala Lumpur _ with more than 76,000 voters _ gets only one seat in Parliament, which the opposition Democratic Action Party won.

Authorities, however, deny gerrymandering occurs, saying constituencies are demarcated according to size.

The ruling coalition fared worst in Kuala Lumpur, the country's financial capital, with 38 percent of the vote going to BN, the National Front.

The results underscore deep disaffection among minority ethnic Chinese and Indians, who total only about one-third of Malaysia's 27 million people but live predominantly in the states where the opposition made surprisingly strong inroads.

«There is great disfavor in the urban population that we can see in the popular vote, which is more reflective of public sentiment,» said Tricia Yeoh, director of the Center for Public Policy Studies think tank.

Initial estimates have indicated only around 35 percent of ethnic Chinese voted for the National Front, down from 65 percent in 2004, Yeoh said. About 47 percent of Indians supported the coalition, compared to 82 percent previously.

Ethnic Chinese and Indians have increasingly griped about discrimination _ particularly an affirmative action system that gives Malays preference in jobs, business and education. Urban Malaysians, including Malays, are also frustrated over rising prices and crime.

The ruling coalition's share of votes from the ethnic Malay Muslim majority seem to have dipped less severely from 63 percent in 2004 to 58 percent this time, Yeoh said.

Meanwhile, Rembau’s PKR candidate Badrul Hisham Shaharin is today considering a legal challenge against the result

According to Malaysiakini, on Saturday night, the initial count for the Rembau parliament constituency in Negri Sembilan showed that PKR had taken the seat by a razor-thin majority of 141 votes.

A recount however saw a complete reversal - Khairy Jamaluddin, son-in-law of premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, won by a staggering difference of 5,000 votes.

For opposition party PKR, this stark gap came in as a shock and consequentially became a solid basis for suspicion.

“There were (also) irregularities in the vote counting procedure. The Election Commission (EC) did not issue the ‘Form 14' to us when it was compulsory to do so,” said Badrul, a former teacher and member of PKR supreme council.

Elaborating, Badrul said that Form 14 was an extremely important procedure as the document was one of the many measures that was in place to prevent vote-rigging.

Form 14 contains the number of total voters for a particular polling station and once the vote counting has been finalised, the form will be the official indicator of the number of votes designated for each candidate.

If the form was not issued, the results could not be considered as an official one but most importantly, it gave way for manipulation as the number of votes may be added in favour of a particular candidate.

It is compulsory for the form to be issued from each polling stations to each of the candidates’ polling agents stationed there.

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