Partyforumseasia: Compromising after the bitterness of the GE 13 election last May cannot be easy for opposition leader Anwar nor for PM Najib, the latter even stabbed in the back by UMNO godfather Mahathir. And before a solution has been found it would not be clever to leak details one by one. A power-sharing solution won’t be easy to swallow for party members on both sides but would probably be conducive for the social cohesion of Malaysia. UMNO would be well advised to swallow its pride since it has to change dramatically if it wants to survive. A majority of the voters has given them a clear signal.
Partyforumseasia: Prime Minister Najib Razak is still more popular than his victorious National Front (BN) coalition. But the opposition, harping on their popular vote advantage of 51% (which is not decisive in a first-past-the-vote system), seems to touch the nerve of hundreds of thousands of citizens who understand the unfairness of the electoral system. And they feel outraged by Najib’s and the Election Commission’s calls for reconciliation and calm acceptance of the results. The protest rallies may go on, now that the official and final results are out, which is the start for formal complaints about election fraud and legal battles to come. The opposition is planning to challenge in court the election outcome for 41 seats won by BN at a narrow margin. Fraud is not easy to prove and rarely leads to reversed seat allocations. But the legal procedures may take many months and keep the hostile climate at the level of a war of accusations and counter accusations. This, in turn, will not help PM Najib to renew his party mandate as chairman later this year. Serious challengers are not yet visible but party politics sometimes has few choices except “support or topple”. Malaysia’s political climate remains volatile.
Majority of mandates and minority of the popular vote Barisan Nasional had to win this election at any cost and it did so, never mind the further eroding simple majority. It had to win it in order to keep its grip on the political power, its control of the administration, and the connected business networks which have oiled its machinery for decades. A victorious opposition with a probably cleaner and more transparent government style and consequently cutting the cronies off the pork barrels would have meant much too radical losses for the beneficiaries of the established system. And a losing Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition will certainly face problems to keep its ranks closed.Eventually, PM Najib’s strategy of an all-out campaign with a mix of threats and goodies, neglecting the short and long term costs for the taxpayer, was successful against the groundswell of opposition sentiment in the population. The much discussed popular vote majority for the opposition (50.9 against 47.4 % for BN) is rather irrelevant in terms of power politics as long as Malaysia does not change the British-heritage first-past-the-post system, though it affects the legitimacy and credibility of the continued BN-rule. So, for the next five years don’t expect changes to the electoral system. As Lee Kuan Yew from neighbouring Singapore once said, a ruling party cannot be expected to make it easier for the opposition.
A stolen victory?
If an incumbent ruling party or coalition has to win at any cost, at least some preparations for manipulation must be expected. And many Malaysians did expect it. What came up during election night and triggered the complaints of the opposition is probably haunting the BN as well and will continue to do so for a while. The congratulations from president Obama and the EU were urging PM Najib to carefully address the alleged fraud cases. That is a quite unusual diplomatic formulation which affects the international image of Malaysia. But in the face of a critical Bersih (Malay for clean) movement monitoring the elections with tens of thousands of local observers specially trained to detect attempts of fraud, the BN strategists and campaigners may have been prepared for very cautious procedures and for mudding the water after the end of the vote counting as well. More than a week after the election now, the EC chairman urges the opposition to accept being defeated. Opposition and Bersih, on the other hand, seem to be slow with presenting proof of fraud, saying they are still compiling evidence. But the EC by-laws give them ample time for that. Much material published online has disappeared from the internet, but as of 13 May the PKR Election Fraud Investigative Team is looking into 237 complaints, especially in cases with a winning margin under 5%. Future investigation by Election Commission (EC) and courts may bring up more evidence than we have so far. Nevertheless, the anger of hundreds of thousands of outraged protesters clad in black show the public sentiment and the lack of trust in government and EC. That is a difficult and dangerous situation showing quite brutally the cleavages in Malaysia’s society.
Reconciliation despite bitterness and mistrust? Fortunately, Malaysia has enjoyed many years of peaceful development without open conflicts. But unfortunately, political interference, like preferential treatment for Malays, housing and settlement policies, the crony-networks, and the religious undertones in the UMNO-PAS competition about who has the better Muslim credentials, have created and intensified resentment and critical opposition to the decades of BN-rule in growing sectors of the population, nota bene including urban Malays. This is why PM Najib’s first reaction in disappointment and anger, holding a “Chinese tsunami” responsible for his lacklustre victory was a serious mistake. All his calls for reconciliation and unity sound hollow after this, and may cost him the leadership of UMNO eventually.
On the other hand, the world political history of the last few years is full of narrow and dubious election outcomes with opposition protests fizzling out sooner or later. In the Malaysian case, the final price for the May 5th narrow victory may turn out to be costly for UMNO. Much depends on Anwar’s and Bersih’s perseverance in questioning the results. But even if their protest dies down sooner or later, the BN administration will have to continue to pamper its supporters with material goodies or risk being let down even further. This type of indirect and thus not illegal vote buying will turn out to be more and more costly, after the outrageously costly campaign we have seen already.
4. Toward a two-party system? During the last few weeks many commentators were talking about an upcoming two-party system. We can safely assume that the heavy losses of BN’s component parties are gradually pushing UMNO into admitting that it is more or less alone in charge. MCA and Gerakan have been kept alive with the financial and logistic support of UMNO and both have relied too much on this relationship. This political miscalculation has been punished on May 5th and may lead to their dissolution sooner or later.
On the opposition side it is rather difficult to see any tendency toward a merger. As long as Anwar Ibrahim does not retire from politics and joins academia, as he had announced (or threatened?) for the case of losing the election, PKR will remain a strong player. Whether PKR or DAP is the more stable and stronger party is not clear despite the better results of DAP. Merger tendencies or even merger talks between the two have not been published so far, and a merger of any of them with PAS is even more improbable. Racial issues, the urban-rural divide and its gerrymandering advantages, as well as religious preferences will continue to create high barriers against the formation of a united opposition party. But in the longer perspective it may be possible with a new leader even more charismatic than Anwar and who can galvanise the resistance against the prolonged BN rule even more successfully. With the popular vote already on the side of the opposition, the BN strategists cannot lean back and rule as usual. They will try to divide the PR parties as much as possible, but this may backfire with the growing number of voters who suspect UMNO of working more for their own survival than for the progress of the country.
Partyforumseasia: Election fever is on the rise since Prime Minister Najib Razak was expected to dissolve the Malaysian Parliament nearly two years ago but hesitated to do so. Now that the election date is near, the temperature is rising even higher. For outsiders the wording of ABU leader Haris Ibrahim may sound exaggerated, but knowing how much is at stake for supporters and cronies if UMNO should lose this election, fears of manipulation don’t seem to be baseless. The Malaysian Insider (link) reports:
5 April 2013
Partyforumseasia: In many democracies the ruling parties have to face dropping popularity and voter support. That is quite normal and tends to get worse with the years in power. Malaysia, today, is deeply divided, given the general information available about arrogance of power, money politics, corruption scandals and election manipulation seen as typical for UMNO which is ruling the country since independence. In an article for the Straits Times, Singapore, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, head of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) in Kuala Lumpur, remains cautious about an opposition victory, but points out the average voters’ frustration with UMNO: the “Anything But UMNO” or ABU sentiment. Combined with the opposition strategy of attacking long term strongholds of the ruling coalition like Johor, Pahang, Sabah and Sarawak and doubts about the cleanliness of the upcoming election, ABU may tip the scale for the Pakatan Rakyat.