Monday, April 26, 2010

Kim Quek on Najib's "hollow victory"

Kim Quek's is by far the most lucid and eloquent analysis of the intense battle for Ulu Selangor which ended yesterday at 5:00PM...

The Malaysian Insider


Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak might have won the electoral battle at Hulu Selangor, but he sure has taken a giant step backwards in defending Putrajaya against the relentless advance of Pakatan Rakyat.

The orgy of election bribery indulged over those few days leading up to polling day on April 25 would have put any other pseudo-democracy to shame when comparing election excesses.

To induce votes, Najib and his colleagues made innumerable on-the-spot grants of cash and promises of goodies (many were conditional upon a BN win) that ran easily to hundreds of million of ringgit during that compact campaign period.

These include the construction of a university and several schools, an expressway interchange and many other infrastructures, several low cost housing projects, upgrading of mosques and temples, grants to community guilds and associations, and cash payments to individuals.

These election goodies were so many and so large that I doubt Najib and his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin can keep track of the number or total cost.

The single event that impacted most on the electoral outcome was perhaps the occasion of Najib himself handing over RM5 million cash to 100 Felda settlers in a highly trumpeted ceremony two days before polling. These settlers were among victims of a failed project committed to a private developer 15 years ago.

The greatest irony was that, amidst this spree, Najib made an impassioned last-minute plea to the electorate through an open letter bearing his signature, asking for another chance to institute 'change' in his administration so as to redeem BN's mistakes.

Was Najib not aware that this endless stream of impromptu election goodies constitutes a serious offence under Section 10 of the Election Offences Act 1954?

By committing these acts of corruption to such an unprecedented scale while simultaneously articulating his 'change' agenda, he was in effect telling the world: "This is what I mean by 'change' - I will not hesitate to escalate corrupt activities, and damn the laws, if my political interests so demand."

Reflecting on Najib's tenure since early last year, this philosophy of 'the end justifies the means' as exemplified by his conduct in the Hulu Selangor by-election seems to aptly explain the series of scandals that illustrate the ruling power's contempt for the constitution and the rule of law.

These include the unconstitutional power grab in Perak, the continuing persecution of Anwar Ibrahim via the Sodomy II trial, the awkward attempt to hide the real culprits in the show trial of Altantuya Shaariibuu's grisly murder and the tragic death of Teoh Beng Hock while in the custody of MACC and the subsequent inquest.

Disgraceful victory

In the aftermath of this sordid by-election, Najib and his cohorts have, as expected, hailed this disgraceful victory as the nation's endorsement of Najib's new policy and the shifting of support to BN.

However, removing the thin veneer of this pyrrhic victory, we find that the contrary is true. In fact, a cursory review of this by-election (many prefer to call it 'buy-election') has revealed trends and phenomena that should cause BN to be worried, very worried.

First, winning by 1,700 votes does not necessarily indicate an increase of support. On the contrary, it could mean a substantial drop of support, if we consider the fact that in the last general election in March 2008, BN's combined majority of the three state constituencies that made up the parliamentary constituency of Hulu Selangor was 6,300 votes.

If Umno can secure only a marginal victory (24,997 vs 23,272) after such heavy abuses of public funds and politically manipulated institutions, there is not the slightest chance that the same can be repeated in a general election, during which, Hulu Selangor will surely fall back to Pakatan, just as Ijok did previously.

Second, judging from the response of the electorate during the election campaign, Najib's 'lMalaysia' advocacy has failed to take root among BN supporters. This was prominently reflected in the respective finale of the two protagonists' election campaign on the eve of polling.

While the BN rally, estimated at 3,000, was attended almost exclusively by Malays, with a sprinkling of Indians; the 15,000 strong Pakatan rally was a colourful display of multi-racialism with a healthy proportion of the three races. It left one with the unmistakable impression that the coalition that has really succeeded in realising '1Malaysia' is Pakatan, not BN.

Third, the Chinese support to BN has dwindled to an even smaller minority (less than one third) despite the many carrots dangled before the community - particularly Najib's personal promise to grant a RM3 million grant to a Chinese school the very next day after polling, conditioned upon a BN win.

This indicates that the Chinese electorate has politically matured to the point that they are relatively immune to BN's election bribery. For them, nothing short of real reforms would do.

As Umno is not capable of instituting real reforms, this naturally spells the end of the political lifespan of the Chinese racial party MCA, and by corollary, that of Gerakan. With the Indian racial party MIC also having lost the support of Indians, the isolation of Umno in Peninsular Malaysia is complete.

Considering that they had been the bulwark of support to Umno in past elections, their eclipse means that Umno's political wings in the peninsula are clipped.

Eyes elsewhere

Hence, Umno's final grasp at power is now hinged to its relationship with the BN component parties in Sabah and Sarawak, which unfortunately are not in the best of terms with the Umno-dominated federal government.

Known for their strong regionalism and thrust to their king-maker position by the political tsunami of the 2008 general election, Sabah and Sarawak are now a hive of discontent and resentment against the exploitation and short-changing of their autonomous rights under the autocratic Umno-dominated BN leadership.

With a maimed Umno in the peninsula, and a resurgent Pakatan offering a just deal and restoration of autonomy to these two states, the people there for the first time have the real option of clinching the best political deal since the formation of Malaysia almost five decades ago.

Since the people in Sabah and Sarawak are less race-conscious than their peninsular counterparts and in fact rather irritated by the heavy racism practiced by Umno, for how long can Umno's race politics withstand the challenge for influence by the multi-racial Pakatan in these two territories, and by extension the political power over the entire country?

The Hulu Selangor by-election has given us a pointer, and it ain't looking good for Umno.

KIM QUEK is a retired accountant and PKR member.