The Miraculous Resurrection of a Prime Minister


A winner’s smile

Partyforumseasia: What Malaysia’s incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak called the “mother of all elections” has turned out to be the end of his political career, unless he follows the winner, Mahathir Mohamad, who resigned in 2003 after 22 years in power and now comes back at the age of 92! If some politicians are worn down by the burden of office and age prematurely, others seem to be rejuvenated by campaigning. Mahathir does not look like a nonogenarian at all, and the crowds he was pulling in his relentless campaign during the last two weeks were already a signal that he might lead the opposition coalition to victory. This victory is certainly a world record.
That it was possible against all the odds and against the predictions of most political pundits  is more than remarkable. The incumbent Barisan Nasional (National Front, BN) had used all possible tricks and means to defend its majority. The latest were a sweeping gerrymandering exercise to make it even more difficult for the opposition, the election on a Wednesday with the expectation of a lower voter turnout, and a cornucopia of election goodies and promises for more after the election. Maybe the visible nervousness of PM Najib and the list of dirty tricks were helping the opposition to tip the scale. The victory is clear, in the national parliament as well as on the federal state level. The official results for the Federal Parliament are as follows:
Tan Sri Mohd Hashim Abdullah, chairman of the Election Commission,  announced at    4.40am on May 10, that BN won only 79 seats, down from 133, and won with only 47% of the popular vote. The Islamist PAS, suspected to be wiped out by many observers, survived with 18 seats. But even if PAS should coalesce with BN, they can’t form a government.  The former opposition coalition PKR has now 109 seats, the Parti Warisan Sabah eight, and with probably some more going to join, the victory is perfect. Mahathir is taking over the premiership again with a promise to hand it over to Anwar Ibrahim after he will be released from prison and pardoned by the king. July will end his prison term anyway which he is serving after a dubious conviction for alleged sodomy.

One of the main reasons for the landslide, called tsunami in the region, is the rising cost of living in a country rich in natural resources, and the all too obvious corruption in the BN system. What most observers had underestimated, but Mahathir managed to remind the voters of, was the dubious role of Najib Razak in the 1MDB scandal and the 682 million US$ in his private accounts. Few voters could believe his explanation that the money was a donation of the Saudi royal family for a wonderful Muslim ally in Southeast Asia. The future of Najib and the BN money cascade will be a very interesting case for follow-up research and comments. If it should help against the rampant political impunity, it will be good for the democratic development in the region.

 

 

Interesting Cash Flows in Malaysia


Partyforumseasia: Election campaigns are getting more expensive practically everywhere in competitive political systems. Ruling parties regularly enjoy a huge advantage because private donors from the business sector have enough incentives to support them for all the possible protection they can get in return. Legislation can change their competitiveness in many ways, and in many Southeast Asian countries, especially in Malaysia, licences and big public procurement orders are not necessarily given to supporters of the opposition.

The upcoming election in Malaysia, “GE 14” (14th general election), due latest by August this year, is highlighting the monetization trend in a very special dimension. Not that the generous distribution of “goodies” and further promises are anything new before elections, but the Barisan Nasional government’s cornucopia, or “horn of plenty” has never been as full as this time. Being a political symbol of sorts, offering the cornucopia has a long tradition, e.g. in the seal of North Carolina or – more bluntly with gold coins – in the coat of arms of the city of Copiapó in Chile:

 

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also the Finance Minister, explains the nature of the current cash flows as follows:
“ … the RM6.3 billion (USD 1.6 billion) worth of financial aid to be given to seven million people nationwide this year is a targeted subsidy scheme hatched by the central bank, not an effort to buy votes ahead of a general election due within months.”  (Straits Times, Singapore, 27 February 2018)

This amount is only meant for poorer people under the “1Malaysia People’s Aid Program” or BR1M. Other “cornucopia programs” have been implemented long before, RM 2.5 billion have already been paid since July 2017. Pay hikes and bonuses for the huge civil service which is dominated by the main voter target group, the Malays, and for another Malay vote bank, the farm land distributing organization FELDA. Discontent among the settlers seems to have been overcome with extra payments.

Prime Minister Najib dismisses criticism with his remarkable cold blood and straight face. When his challenger, veteran politician Mahathir Mohamad called the payments vote buying, Najib insisted that his government is truly concerned about the people and that the central bank suggested the latest round of payments, not the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN). The rising cost of living is one factor in the looming election campaign which is a possible danger for his re-election. The corrupt image of the BN- government and its cronies is another one. This is why there might be a sign of nervousness despite all the successful maneuvers to split and harass the opposition, with the biggest coup being the new closeness to the Islamic PAS party and the defamation of the Chinese dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) as anti-Malay and anti-Islam.

The Prime Minister keeps boasting about the fabulous economic development of Malaysia. The figures are indeed quite good, but could possibly be even better without some of the opaque political money flows, as a comparison with tiny Singapore illustrates. In 2016, the latter’s GDP was one billion USD higher than that of Malaysia, and the GDP per capita 5.5 times higher accordingly. The voters in Johor, Malaysia’s federal state bordering Singapore, know that very well, and the opposition tries to use their comparison with the rich neighbor to conquer Johor.