07 March, 2008

The moment of truth is upon us !

Public protests are frowned on by Malaysia’s mildly authoritarian government and often broken up by the riot police. So when a group of opposition party members and activists wanted to send a message to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi earlier this year they chose a softer and safer alternative — delivering a pillow to his office.

“He has a reputation for liking to sleep,” said Rahmat Haron, a poet and self-styled government critic. Mr. Rahmat helped lead the small delegation, which made it as far as the security checkpoint. “He sleeps in cabinet meetings, he sleeps in Parliament,” he added. “So we thought, why not make him more comfortable?”

In the face of the repeated criticism that he figuratively and literally sleeps on the job, the prime minister has come across as defensive.

“We are not deaf, for we hear what the people say,” Mr. Abdullah said this week, according to the state-run news agency Bernama. “We are not asleep, for we are working.”

If the governing coalition’s majority is narrowed significantly, Mr. Abdullah’s position would be weakened inside his party, and he could face pressure to step down at a party conference scheduled for later this year, analysts say.

More than 25,000 people attended the rally late on Thursday by the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) in the northern state of Penang, home to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi where the DAP hoped to make its biggest electoral inroad.

The organizers put the figure at about 50,000 people or more, as the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition faces a backlash by ethnic Chinese and Indians, who complain of religious and racial inequality in the mainly Muslim nation.

Abdullah, speaking to reporters in Penang on Thursday, warned the Chinese that a vote for the opposition could limit their say in national decision-making. "I don't want to form a government that is made up of only one race," he said.

In Malaysia, the General Election began officially last Sunday. Voters go to the polls on 8 March. At just 13 days, the election campaign may seem short to us - but it is actually the longest election campaign in more than 25 years. It is being contested by more than twenty parties, with 1,588 candidates fighting for 222 seats in the national parliament. Malaysia is led by an unassuming and modest Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, who heads a national coalition of 14 different parties, representing the full spread of regional, ethnic and religious identities which make up modern day Malaysia.

As a moderate Muslim leader, Badawi advocates a theory of Islam known as ‘Islam Hadhari’ or ‘Civilisation Islam’ which argues for the compatibility of Islam with economic and technological development. It also sees no conflict in better relations between the Muslim world and the West.

The kind of realism that seems to have affected Western policy in the aftermath of Iraq often places security concerns in the Islamic world over the progress and freedoms of its citizens. Malaysia’s current government doesn’t require that kind of compromise. When the West has so few reliable allies in the Muslim world, it would be wise for us to support those who can provide not just security, but also moderation and democracy.

If politics makes for strange bed fellows then this opposition alliance to Mr Badawi has it all. The three party coalition is led by conservative Islamists, includes a party of left-wing Chinese activists as well as the supporters of the former deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Anwar Ibrahim.

Anwar has assiduously courted liberal and media opinion in the USA and Europe since he was released from his imprisonment on corruption charges. He has been a regular on the international speaking circuit. He has rubbed shoulders with some of the regular party-goers on the liberal cocktail circuit of Manhattan's Upper East Side to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong. He increasingly likes to present himself as the Malaysian equivalent of somewhere between Ang Sung Su Kyi and Nelson Mandela but his alliance with the Muslim extremists should start to ring alarm bells in London and Washington.

Anwar’s Letter to Malaysia

Fellow Malaysians,

Assalamualaikum and warmest greetings,

The moment of truth is upon us. The 8th of March 2008 is the pivotal moment of our time - when the people of Malaysia have a choice between changing to a better, more wholesome Malaysia; or continuing to be trapped and shackled by 50 years of a chequered independence.

From day one on nomination day itself, fraud upon fraud has been the hallmark of Umno-BN, through their ever-willing puppet, the EC. The introduction of stamp duties, followed by its abrupt abolition; uneven campaigns and gangster-like threats towards opposition candidates; the EC’s admission that there are apparent 8, 666 votes above 100 years of age; un-secret postal votes; and most shockingly - the abolition of the use of indelible ink on the grounds of ‘public safety’.

These absurd frauds are clearly desperate attempts to maintain the rule of Umno-BN, even as they shiver in fear, seeing the readiness of the people to voice out their dissatisfaction across the length and breadth of the country. But what is truly sad is that it seems, from this endless series of trickery, that in the eyes of Umno-BN, the people of Malaysia are so easily manipulated and fooled with impunity.

That is what Umno-BN wants - for the people to shift their attention away from them, into a morass of deception and misplaced distrust. Dirty tactics are the order of the day, including the ‘import’ of phantom voters in certain areas, including Kelantan, Terengganu and not forgetting Pekan, Pahang. The opposition is blasted daily in the mainstream media, with barely an opportunity to respond to the allegations. I myself, supposedly ‘irrelevant’ in the arena of Malaysian politics, have been attacked mercilessly day in and day out with an array of libellous accusations. Ironically though, thousands seem to attend Opposition talks without ever needing the incentives of money or ‘entertainment’.

From North to South, I am glad to say that we have made the best out of our 13 days of opportunity. Alhamdulillah, I have been privileged enough to witness the people of Malaysia rise up across the country. Far from being a marginal struggle, this is a struggle for all our people, who have long wished to free themselves from the tyranny of UMNO-BN! The response given to our KeADILan candidates, as well as our comrades from PAS and DAP, has been nothing short of phenomenal, while Umno-BN looks increasingly desperate by the day. Even with their complete control of the mainstream media, they continue to be on the defensive - rather than engage with our manifestos, they have only managed to attack us blindly, stabbing in the dark with no real rhyme or reason.

My dear brothers and sisters,

Each and every Malaysian has the right to an opportunity for a better life. Malaysia has tremendous potential, but it has been worn down and suppressed by the vile political games of Umno-BN, who continue to poison our minds and bind our potential with narrow racial sentiments and the all-destroying ooze of corruption. The judiciary has become the marketplace of gambling kings; crime is endemic, with rape, snatch theft and murder all on the rise. The police have been taken away from their positions as guardians of public safety, and shunted instead to the useless surveillance of opposition figures. Inflation is spiralling out of control, even as wages shrink; and the people just keep on suffering. And what does BN tell us? That we should be thankful for what we have.

What you need to do on the 8th of March 2008 is to have the courage to change. KeADILan’s commitment is clear. The victory that you grant to us will translate into reduced petrol prices, a lid on inflation, a more sustained and credible effort at tackling crime, free education for all; and a government that is fair and just to all its people, regardles of race and religion.

KeADILan has given you a Manifesto titled A New Hope for Malaysia, which strikes at the heart of the basic problems that the average Malaysian faces today, and offers you solutions for tomorrow. The hope that KeADILan promises shall be realised by each and every one of our candidates, coming as they do to you from all sorts of different backgrounds, united by their shared credibility and calibre of the very highest degree.

KeADILan, PAS and DAP have played their roles in saving Malaysia from its current course of self-destruction, fanned by the greed and lust of the Umno-BN leadership and the gamblers of the nation’s future. Now, it is your time to make a choice. All our hopes and dreams for the nation are now but a step away from being realised - it is in your hands, as a citizen of Malaysia, endowed with dignity and the freedom of choice.

I firmly believe that the people of Malaysia are a mature and wise people, and I am confident that that wisdom will be translated into votes for KeADILan, PAS and DAP come this 8th of March 2008, in the name of saving our beloved Malaysia.

It is now time for Malaysia to tread the path towards a new future, armed with a New Hope, great and bright in its promise of glory. The choice is in your hands. And in God we trust.

I wish you all the very best, as you fulfil your civic duty tomorrow in bringing about a better Malaysia for all.


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