07 March, 2009

Political tsunami still making waves in Malaysia

Malaysians called it a political tsunami when public discontent loosened the government's five-decade grip on power in elections a year ago. The period since has been likened to a circus.

The National Front coalition remains in power, and main opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has had to back off claims that he would topple the government within months.

But normally predictable Malaysian politics is increasingly less so, as new cracks keep opening up in the ruling coalition.

The prime minister is being forced out by an open revolt in his own party. The National Front lost two special elections to fill parliamentary vacancies, an unimaginable result in the past. And the government's attempt to oust an opposition-led state government has wound up in deadlock, with both sides claiming to be in charge.

Malaysians realized for the first time that "there can be alternative governments ... that the power to shape opinions and decisions comes from them," said Tricia Yeoh, a political analyst who advises the opposition.

"This translates into a more demanding public, holding governments accountable to standards higher than they themselves would have imagined prior to March 8th, 2008," she said.

Razaleigh Hamzah, a respected ruling party official, said Najib's ascent "will not magically set us on the path to restoration."

Najib spearheaded campaigns for the two special elections, but the ruling coalition lost both.

Much of the voter anger stems from the government's empty pledges to curb corruption and cronyism, especially in awarding public contracts.

The ruling coalition has also failed to resolve racial and religious grievances of ethnic Indian and Chinese minorities in this Malay-majority nation, including alleged police killings of Indian suspects.

Fears that Malaysia may tumble into its first recession since 1998 have increased disquiet. The economy grew just 0.1 percent in the final three months of 2008, and 22,000 people have lost their jobs since October.

The National Front's sole success was in wresting back control of the northern state of Perak, which it had lost in the March 2008 elections. But even that may have backfired.

It coaxed three lawmakers to leave the rival People's Alliance coalition, tipping the balance in the Perak legislature in its favor.

But instead of waiting for a vote by lawmakers, the National Front got the state's sultan to appoint a new chief minister from its coalition. The move was condemned as unconstitutional, and the People's Alliance and the national lawyers' association are demanding elections to end the deadlock. The National Front has refused.

When PKR surprisingly won the highest number of seats among the opposition parties, it was evident that the party would face problems managing its success as party leaders scrambled for positions and rewards.

Even before the formation of the PKR-led Selangor state government last year, party leaders and activists made a beeline to meet de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to lobby for senatorships, government contracts and even city councillor posts.

Some even openly demanded more opportunities and greater roles in Pakatan Rakyat-controlled states.

At the PKR Youth congress late last year, the topic of government rewards and contracts dominated the policy speech and the debate.

But on the eve of the first anniversary of March 8, the Opposition Leader issued a stern warning to leaders who asked to be rewarded after the party’s impressive performance.

“I had a special session with party stalwarts last weekend and we acknowledge there is a danger of complacency and lethargy creeping in and there is a need to rejuvenate and probably without dubious elements like those who consider Pakatan Rakyat governments as the means for them to reap benefits.

"So we made it categorically clear we cannot condone such excesses. We were given a mandate to serve with a clear agenda, we cannot depart from that,” said Anwar when met at Parliament last week.

He even challenged members who threatened to quit the party if their demands are not fulfilled to leave.

“There is a danger of complacency and people trying to resort to ultimatums or demands which I consider unreasonable.

The immediate challenge faced by Anwar and his coalition is what he claimed to be the continuous attempts made by Barisan Nasional leaders to topple PR governments by resorting to “kidnappings and threats”, which resulted in the collapsed of the Perak government.

“In Perak, they managed to kidnap two and threatened them and you can see there is a stalemate. We want to go back to the people for a fresh mandate but they refused.

"We want to convene a special assembly and they have also rejected, so it is very odd for this country not to agree to have a fresh mandate from the people or to disallow us from having a proper sitting of the assembly,” said Anwar.

He did not rule out speculation that Kedah and Selangor have become BN’s targets after former Bukit Selambau representative V. Arumugam was forced to resign and the swift action by the newly-formed Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in investigating Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim over the purchase of cattle and maintenance of his personal car.

“This means they have not given up on draconian methods to seize power,” said Anwar.

Meanwhile, watch and see the " celaka " in action !



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