26 March, 2008

'MY BIGGEST MISTAKE'

Malaysian PM Abdullah admits underestimating Internet; now faces poison-pen campaign.

Ignored by government-linked mainstream media, Malaysia's opposition waged an aggressive online election campaign using blogs and news website

Yesterday, Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whose position has been considerably weakened after his coalition's drubbing at the polls, admitted that his ruling coalition made a blunder by underestimating the power of the Internet.
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"We made the biggest mistake in thinking that it was not important," he said. The coalition suffered its worst results ever in March 8 polls that left five states and a third of parliamentary seats in opposition hands.
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"We certainly lost the Internet war, the cyber war," Abdullah said in a speech to an investment conference. "It was a serious misjudgement. We thought that the newspapers, the print media and the television were supposed to be important, but the young people were looking at SMSes and blogs."
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His comments constitute a major about-face for the government, which had vilified bloggers, calling them liars and threatening them with detention without trial under draconian internal security laws.

Even as he spoke, his critics in the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), his power base, were moving to force him out of office. To make matters worse, Umno's 3.2 million members have also received a poison-pen letter listing his faults. It is not known if he was aware of these moves when he was making his speech.
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The poison-pen letter, which hopes to ignite hatred against Mr Abdullah, talks about the manipulations of the government by his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin and his associates, the PM's alleged willingness to appease Singapore and his inability to fight rising crime in the country.
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But in his speech, Abdullah said that in line with reform promises after the humiliating election results, the government would "respond effectively" and move to empower young Malaysians. "It was painful ... but it came at the right time, not too late," he said. The PM admitted that it was also his inability to push through reforms that earned voters' ire.

MALAYSIA'S hapless Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi got something right last week: he announced a radical reshuffle of his cabinet, which included dropping several ministers who had seemed untouchable. But what Abdullah got wrong was the timing.

The reshuffle is about two years too late. Had he done it then, his coalition Government would not have done so badly at this month's elections. He would not now be staring into the political abyss whereby it is almost a certainty he will not be Prime Minister at the next election. It is a possibility that his party will not even be in office.


Most interestingly, Abdullah appointed Muhammad Muhammad Taib as his Minister for Rural and Regional Development. What does such a minister do?

He travels to Malaysia's more far-flung parts and hands out money for development. What he really does is to hand out contracts to politicians, their families and friends to keep them onside.

This will be more important than ever now, as the ruling coalition does not have a majority of seats in Parliament drawn from peninsular Malaysia and can only rule with the support of the smaller, regionally based parties in Sarawak and Sabah states on the island of Borneo.


Muhammad Taib's job will be to fly to those states with suitcases of money to keep them onside. It's a role for which he's shown some talent.

In 1997, when chief minister of Selangor state, he was arrested at Brisbane International Airport with the equivalent of $1.26 million in currency in his luggage as he was about to board a plane for New Zealand.

Australian law requires that amounts above $5000 be declared. Muhammad Taib had no identifiable source of significant wealth and had been a lowly paid school teacher before entering politics. In addition to the cash, he and his wife were found to own property in Queensland and another six properties in New Zealand.
Read more here.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Tuesday pledged to push ahead with economic reforms after disastrous election results, and backed down on looming fuel price hikes.

“The result of the election was a strong message that I have not moved fast enough in pushing through with the reforms that I promised to undertake,” he said in a speech to an investment conference. “I thank the Malaysian people for this message: point well made and point taken.”

Abdullah said that despite plans to dismantle energy subsidies that are draining state coffers, he would maintain fuel prices at current levels to protect the interests of the poor.

“Whatever is the present price, we will have to live with it,” he said, adding that a policy on subsidies would be announced later.

Malaysia subsidises petrol, diesel and gas as well as 21 food items including milk, salt, wheat flour and rice, but the controls have triggered severe shortages and smuggling across its porous borders and long coastline.

Malaysians have been told time and again that there can only be political stability in the country as long as the status quo is defended.

This rather uninspiring message was, of course, delivered by none other than those who were already in power and who had every reason to wish to remain in power for as long as humanly possible.

Since it became independent in 1957 Malaysia has been ruled by the same coterie of right-of-centre Conservative-nationalist parties led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and its allies in the former Alliance coalition and now the National Front.

For more than half a century Malaysians were told that this was the natural order of things and that to even entertain the idea of there being a different government was tantamount to political heresy of sorts.....more.

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