Malaysia: Reform of the Election Commission – Najib as ‘pontifex’ (bridge-builder)?


bridgePartyforumseasia:The narrow election victory of the Barisan Nasional coalition under PM Najib comes at a price which the PM has increased himself with the incautious (to say it mildly) remark about the “Chinese tsunami“. The campaign has cruelly exposed the political cleavages in Malaysia’s complex mix of ethnicity, religion, geography, and social stratification, some of them the result of long term government policies.
In this situation, the PM calls for unity and reconciliation which may sound a bit desperate for many critics of the ruling party. But inviting the opposition to participate in a reform of the controversial Election Commission is certainly a good move. It may only come a bit too early since the backlog of fraud complaints for the 5th May election has not even started to be cleared. Including the expected law suits it may take a year. And critics are not optimistic about the results of a mixed committee, the most prominent of them the leader of the election watchdog Bersih, Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan.

Malaysia After the Election: No Smooth Sailing for the Winner


UMNOPartyforumseasia: 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.

A “GE13-Autopsy” with Four Preliminary Conclusions


Popular vote

Source: http://malaysiasdilemma.wordpress.com 10 May 2013

Partyforumseasia:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Are Voters Stupid and Greedy or Smart and Wise?


Voters...Partyforumseasia: Tonight, 5 May, we will know more about the mindsets and the intentions of Malaysia’s 13.3 million voters. Are goodie bags and promises enough to convince them and produce a clear majority? Are the leading politicians and strategists reading the ground correctly? Are the pollsters more and more wrong like in most European countries? Will the first-past-the-post election system generate an outcome which does not reflect the majority of intentions and voter sentiments?

How the voters are being seen by candidates and partisans will depend on the outcome. Opposition voters are stupid if you are on the ruling party’s side and vice versa.

Churchill‘s famous quote that the best argument against democracy is a five-minute discussion with an average voter sounds more than arrogant today. Having a choice after more than five decades without a real choice is already a victory for the Malaysian voter.

Malaysiakini is suggesting the following websites which will carry the live results tonight:
http://www.malaysiakini.com
https://www.malaysiakini.com
http://m.malaysiakini.com
http://www.mkini.co

https://www.facebook.com/MalaysiaKini
https://twitter.com/malaysiakini
https://twitter.com/Yahoo_MY

http://www.kinitv.com
http://www.youtube.com/kinitv
https://www.facebook.com/kinitv
http://www.youtube.com/malaysiakini

http://live.undi.info
https://ge13.s3.amazonaws.com
http://bit.ly/ge13result

Malaysia’s UMNO: Leadership, Warlords, Members, and what keeps them together


Malaysia votesPartyforumseasia: Intense reporting about the election on 5 May brings up a rare glimpse into the structure and internal workings of the ruling party. Here is some information about a membership of more than three million, 20.000 branches etc., but also about the power of grassroot leaders, often called warlords in UMNO. See the revealing article of assistant foreign editor Reme Ahmad in the Straits Times of 3 May 2013.
Here are some key assessments:

“These warlords are a kind of pseudo-godfather…(…) The chiefs get financial allocations from the party and government. (…) In return, they deliver votes for Umno and its Barisan Nasional coalition…These warlords have to be kept happy (…) as they can otherwise sabotage candidates who are parachuted in.
In this election, the wrath of the warlords was on full display when Prime Minister Najib Razak shoehorned his own “winnable” candidates into many constituencies…(…)
In Umno, each of the 191 divisions has hundreds of branches, with total party membership at 3.2 million people. Keeping the branches loyal includes dishing out small projects, and this is where allegations of corruption and the overpricing of projects arise. (…) During the general election and by-elections, disaffected warlords have at times sabotaged their own party (…). Other warlords are known to have told supporters to vote for the other side. To reduce internal mischief, troublesome local leaders are often “given goodies”…
But UMNO is also reforming itself. Obviously in order to reduce money politics and vote buying in the internal elections, 100,000 members instead of the former 2,500 division delegates will elect the party chief later this year. Reme Ahmad comments: “The thinking is that it would be impossible to buy the loyalty of so many people.”
Partyforumseasia:

Party loyalty, of course, hardly comes without any material incentives, be it just power or all sorts of other perks. But the Southeast Asian practice of pork barrel politics has reached quite spectacular levels.
Umno structure 2013

Malaysia’s GE13: Any Economic Risk if the Opposition Wins?


Partyforumseasia: A recommended background article from an economic and investor’s viewpoint. Not surprisingly, the BN campaign predicts economic decline and chaos if the opposition should win. That is a routine threat of incumbent governments world-wide if they feel that defeat is possible. The four opposition state governments since 2008 have not messed up the economy so far and the BN strategists know that the voters know that. But campaign strategists and party leaders always hope that threats can be as powerful as promises… And few Malaysians remember that nearly half of the federal budget comes from oil revenues and not from taxation.
Investor

Source / Link: Institutional Investor Magazine

Malaysia’s GE13: Cleaner Election With Indelible Ink?


Partyforumseasia: After decades of extremely predictable election results with more than two-thirds majorities for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, 2008 has changed the game. In the 5 May election BN is fighting for survival and continuing access to the huge spoils of power, the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition feels that victory is possible. Election campaigns in Malaysia have always been intense and costly with visible party propaganda like flags and posters all over the country. But this time the population is more divided and politicized than ever before. To calm down widespread suspicions after a long history of election anomalies, the Election Commission (EC) is introducing indelible ink for the first time. And the very first test run when 230.000 Army and Navy personnel came for advance voting on 30 April, immediately produced doubts about the durability of the ink – seven days according to the EC.
GE13ink

Source / Link: Straits Times 1 May 2013

Malaysia’s GE13: Of Frogs and Princes


Partyforumseasia: The ugly frog turned out to be a handsome prince, at least in the fairy tale. In a country where party switching has a long tradition (see national cartoonist Lat’s 1992 cartoon), turncoat politicians are not unknown, even welcome by other parties if they seem to be winnable candidates. But this universal feature, often accompanied by cash handouts, seems to be less acceptable with the Malaysian voters this time. The turncoats are now called katak = frog…

Lat 1
Partyforumseasia: One of the frogs has been nominated by PM Najib to the surprise of many. This rather controversial politician was with PAS first, then with PKR, and is now running as religious and Malay supremacy wild card for BN against a moderate from PAS… This pairing could hardly be more ironical.

Zulkifli

Source / Link: Straits Times 24.4.13

Malaysia’s GE 13: “Best Election Ever” and Sulking Dropped Candidates


GE13Partyforumseasia:   Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, chairman of the Election Commission (EC), announced 5 May as polling day and 15 days for the official campaign yesterday. Dismissing claims that it could be one of the dirtiest, he said: “We hope that this would be the best general election.” (Link: New Straits Times) Whether the 15 days are a sign of “healthy democracy”, as PM Najib says, may not be so important after nearly two years of unofficial campaigning. But the procedures organized by the EC have certainly improved, from indelible ink (colour still kept secret…) to more attention to the voter list and the possibility for voters to check it online.

Another feature, obviously less controversial in Malaysia and other countries in Southeast Asia, but at least questionable for a “healthy democracy” is the selection of candidates. As if elections inside the parties were not an option, party leaders decide among themselves on the most winnable candidates – under the risk of being sabotaged by the dropped hopefuls. For the Barisan Nasional this must be a tricky procedure given their attempt to renew the party with 40% fresh candidates. See also Straits Times, 11 April:
Candidate list

Malaysia’s GE 13: 1.5 million pensioner votes for BN?


Partyforumseasia: Older voters have been mobilized world wide under the assumption that they are conservative and vote for the ruling party. PM Najib, concerned about retired top civil servants joining the opposition PR, tries to woo the over 700.000 retired civil servants with the promise of increasing their pensions if they support his re-election. The calculation that the oldies can bring in their spouses’ votes as well and yield up to 1.5 million votes for BN may be too optimistic, though. And according to the Election Commission, 2.3 million or 21.69 % of Malaysia’s 13.29 million registered voters are young first timers. Will it be old BN suppporters against young opposition voters?
Retirees 1

Retirees 2

Source/Link: The Malaysian Insider, 8 April 2013

Malaysia GE 13: Less than 1% overseas voters registered


Partyforumseasia:  The most interesting changes to the organization of the voting process world wide are related to overseas and postal voting. With more citizens living abroad their participation in elections has become more important in several ways. The extremely narrow victory of George W. Bush in 2000 with 537 postal votes in Florida is unforgotten. If Malaysia’s Election Commission is disappointed with the low registration rate of the 700.000 Malaysians overseas, there may be, as in many other countries, the hope that this is a conservative voter group probably supporting the ruling coalition.

The opposition does not exclude fraud and manipulation with the postal voting. See: The Malaysian Bar, 6 April 2013, reprinting an interview in the Sun of 27 March 2009 in which Anwar Ibrahim speaks about fraud with postal votes.

Find some comparative international information at the end of this post:

Overseas voters

See the full article in The Straits Times 6 April 2013
________________________________________________
International comparison:

Italy:
Nearly 3 million Italians abroad (.5 m in Germany) vote for 12 MPs in the National Parliament. Right of overseas voting since 2006.
Spain: 1.5 million Spanish citizens abroad, 870.000 in Latin America, 60% of them eligible. In the 2008 election PM Zapatero campaigned there for his Socialist Party.

Turkey: 2.5 million Turkish voters abroad, 1.5 m in Germany alone. Postal voting since 2008.

Germany: Postal voting since 1957, percentage in 2009: 21,4%. Overseas voting since 1985, 55.000 (approx. 10%) registered and voted in 2009.

World wide: E-voting in its infancy and still rather costly. With e-identification on its way for banking and business, e-voting may develop soon and result in tremendous savings for the organization of elections.

 

 

Malaysia: PAS Fields First Christian Candidate


Partyforumseasia: Since UMNO is competing for the same voter pool among rural and pious Malays, opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has tried for some time already to open up to non-Muslims, also showing at the same time that nobody should be frightened by its Sharia policies which would apply only to Muslims. Fielding for the first time a Christian candidate in the upcoming election is certainly a significant symbolic step. It is also in line with the Pakatan Rakyat and Parti Keadilan Rakyat line of multi-racial party development in Malaysia.
Link: Straits Times 5.4.2013
PAS 5.4.13

Malaysia: “Anything But UMNO” (ABU) serious about poll watching


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
ABU 5.4.13

Malaysia: How strong is ABU?


NajibAnwarPartyforumseasia: 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.

Link: Straits Times, 4 April 2013
Wan 4.4.13

Addendum to “Controlled media” vs. “Alternative media” in Malaysia


Partyforumseasia: If this is serious it is probably too late for a decisive impact on the GE13, but it is a rather dramatic introduction for the alternative broadcasting “Radio Free Malaysia”:
RFM

RADIO FREE MALAYSIA  Press release: Sunday 24th March 2013

Malaysia’s newest independent radio station begins broadcasting on Monday night. Radio Free Malaysia will be available on Medium Wave at 1359kHz each night between 9pm and 11pm local Malaysia time. The highlight of the first show will be a full-length exclusive interview with the PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim, who, like other opposition figures, has been largely excluded from Malaysia’s mainstream media so far. RFM represents a ground breaking venture, because it will be transmitted from outside of Malaysia and therefore is not subject to licencing by the federal government. The station therefore aims to be free of the political interferences that have caused Malaysia’s media to become recognised as one of the most restrictive in the world. “RFM will be free of political censorship by the ruling BN coalition and plans to provide a platform for alternative ideas and viewpoints”, explains founder Clare Rewcastle Brown, who is basing the programme out of the UK.
“It is well known that all press and broadcast media currently operating in Malaysia are forced to unquestioningly support and promote the ruling BN coalition and to denigrate the opposition parties, while excluding them from the chance to put their own policies and agendas before the people”.
“It is unacceptable that Malaysia poses to the world as a democracy and is about to hold a general election, and yet it is only members of the ruling coalition (in power for the entire 50 years since independence) who are allowed to have their voices heard by the people”.Radio Free Malaysia is a sister station of the existing short wave programme Radio Free Sarawak, which broadcasts on shortwave for the benefit of indigenous communities in East Malaysia. However, the new nightly programme will operate completely independently on the more accessible Medium Wave band and use only Bahasa.“A separate team has come together to run this show and their remit is to provide two hours a day of the sort of programming that people have been unable to find on any other mainstream radio or TV in Malaysia”, says Rewcastle Brown. “Just a few days ago one independent station was forced to withdraw an interview with Anwar Ibrahim from broadcast owing to political pressures [http://www.theedgemalaysia.com/political-news/232472-bfm-anwar-interview-not-aired-due-to-regulatory-concerns.html.We do not intend to be bullied in this way and now we can bring people the interview that the authorities have tried to ban”
“Anyone wanting to find out what the opposition policies and arguments actually are will now be able to tune in to our show, which can be accessed on any radio set in Malaysia and find out. At last people without access to the internet will have the opportunity to make a more informed choice at the ballot box.It is has also been of widespread concern that mainstream media outlets are being used by BN to spread politically motivated slanders and allegations about opposition figures and their policies, while at the same time refusing to allow them the space to answer the allegations or defend themselves in any way.
“Our short two hour programme provides a very limited opportunity for people who have been attacked in the media to exercise their right to reply. It is not much, but it is better than nothing and I anticipate that people from all over Malaysia will be intrigued to be able to tune in for the first time to the opposition’s response to the barrage of attacks they have been subjected to. We intend to punch above our weight, because we are providing a much needed service unavailable elsewhere”, said Rewcastle Brown.The programme will also focus on stories, which have so far been the subject of a disgraceful blackout in the regular media, because they are judged inconvenient to BN. Only the more free on-line news platforms have been allowed to give proper coverage to such matters as the Scorpene submarine contract scandal; the corruption scandals involving the Chief Ministers of Sabah and Sarawak; the murder of the model Altantuya; the so-called ‘cowgate’ scandal and numerous other cases of corruption and controversy involving those close to the BN government.These matters are waiting to find a place on Radio Free Malaysia, so that a wider public can be made aware of the issues that have been suppressed in their regular newspapers and broadcasts, which are subjected to total censorship by ‘News Controllers’ answerable to the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture, say the producers.“We would certainly be very pleased to also do interviews with any BN figures of significance who are willing to appear on our show”, confirms Rewcastle Brown. “However, they will not be getting the deliberate soft ride they are always accustomed to from the licenced media. We will ask tough questions about tough subjects, which as the people in charge of making decisions for the country they ought to be answering”.Rewcastle Brown confirms that she will not be determining content. “There is a team of Malaysian producers and presenters who will be running Radio Free Malaysia, we are merely operating out of the UK in order to avoid censorship.”.Radio Free Malaysia will also be operating a call in line so that listeners can take part in the show the toll free number is 1-800-815-309 and callers will be able to leave messages and their number at any time of the day.The Radio Show will also be accessible on-line via podcast at its website http://www.radiofreemalaysia.org/.The station, which is operating independently of major donors, has launched a drive for donations via its website. We will not be able to maintain the project unless enough members of the public come to our help to support our costs. However, we are hopeful and confident that the millions of Malaysians, who are longing for a more free and open media will support us and keep us afloat.

Radio Free Malaysia (RFM)AM/MW 1359 kHz, 2100-2300 nightly

Also: http://www.radiofreemalaysia.org/ Toll free number: 1-800-815-309

Email: info@radiofreemalaysia.org

Date: Sun, 24 Mar 2013 11:42:24 +0000

Subject: Please circulate Widely

From: info@sarawakreport.orgTo: info@radiofreemalaysia.org

And remind people that teething challenges may make for a rough and ready start, but we will improve each day!

Malaysia election: “Controlled Media” vs. “Alternative Media”


MediaPartyforumseasia: One of the most controversial items in the “level playing field” debate is the Barisan Nasional government’s monopoly on the official media landscape in Malaysia. Will this traditional advantage for the ruling coalition continue to tip the scale in the upcoming election? In an article published by the Straits Times, Singapore, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Chief Executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) in Kuala Lumpur, looks into the chances of the “Alternative Media” to catch up:
Media plays a crucial role
By Wan Saiful Wan Jan, also published in Singapore’s Straits Times 22 March 2013

Prime Minister Najib Razak presented his “annual report” last Tuesday evening, informing the country how good his administration has been in achieving key targets under the economic and government transformation programmes. Indeed he has done well.  Most of the targets have been achieved. According to Najib’s projection, if everything goes to plan, Malaysia would qualify as a high-income nation before 2020.
Right on cue, mainstream media in Malaysia went into overdrive to report what Najib said.  The frenzy surrounding Najib’s latest announcement would probably continue for at least a few more days. Good news like this will not be allowed to fade.  After all, several TV channels continue to broadcast clips highlighting promises made by the government in their national budget announcement back in October last year, just to make sure voters don’t forget how “generous” the BN government is.
On the other hand, the alternative media is also in overdrive.  There are quite a few outlets who would call themselves alternative media and they do have a  sizeable following.  In the quest to present the “other” side of the news, they inevitably end up publishing reports that are seen as mainly against BN.  In fact, since Tuesday evening, many have been working hard to show how Najib is wrong, arguing that things are not as rosy as portrayed in his speech.

This is the reality of the Malaysian media.  The way some media outlets report news is completely predictable.  Although thanks to positive steps taken by the government the Malaysian media is not as shackled as they used to be, partisanship is still in excess supply.
Of course there are exceptions and there are several media outlets that are relatively exemplary.  But that is exactly the problem – serious independent journalism are exceptions rather than the rule.
As the country inches closer to general election, the media becomes even more crucial.  Their extensive reach makes the media an extremely influential tool to persuade voters.  And Malaysian politicians know this. Some Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders clearly have good media advisors. Their use of the media to influence public perception has been very effective lately.
The Lahad Datu incursion is a good example.  In this case, BN’s strategy in handling the media is outstanding.  It is so effective to the extent that almost no one is able to debate the big elephant in the room, which is the government’s incompetence that resulted in complete failure to protect Malaysia’s borders from armed invaders. This is not at all debated in the Malaysian media.
Instead, anyone who questions the authorities will immediately be labelled unpatriotic and disloyal.  Discussions about the root cause of the incursion and which minister should be sacked do not get any space.  It seems like a senior media advisor has decided that Lahad Datu must not be allowed to damage the government, and all media reports must focus on certain aspects on the tragedy only.
Pakatan Rakyat (PR) is severely disadvantaged because every time someone from their side tries to raise pertinent questions, the media will jump into labelling them as traitors.  Admittedly it is distasteful to suggest that there may be political benefits from the Lahad Datu incursion.  But it must be stated that BN’s media strategy is so good, they are monopolising such benefits if there is any.  PR is completely blocked from taking even a small pinch.
Nevertheless PR is not angelic either.  Their strategy is exactly the same in media outlets that they control.  Pro-PR media does not report any of BN’s good deeds.  So, while pro-BN media spews allegations of PR corruptions and weaknesses, pro-PR media simply take the reverse position.
This situation is far from healthy.  But in a democracy, partisanship among media outlets is, in principle, not wrong.  The hallmark of a free society is when people have the freedom to speak and write what they want.  If a particular media outlet chooses to be partisan, then a free society would accept and defend their right to be so. Individuals exercise their freedom by deciding which media they want to read or watch.
Thus in a country facing an impending general election, if a Malaysian wants to listen to more than one side, all he has to do is simply buy more than one newspaper or watch more than one TV channel.  At least that’s the theory.
The challenge faced by Malaysians today is the uneven playing field. BN has almost complete access to mainstream media, be it broadcast or print.  In fact, when it comes to broadcast media, BN has almost complete domination to the extent that even a taxpayer-funded government agency could be turned into a partisan propaganda machinery.
PR’s media reach is severely limited.  There may not be written rules banning opposition politicians from the media.  But media practitioners and editors exercise self-censorship to reduce the risk of actions from authorities.  As a result, the opposition is disadvantaged in their campaign.
The real victims are the citizens.  Access to reliable information is extremely important to ensure voters vote based on knowledge.  In the case of Malaysia, the print and broadcast media are the only platforms with sufficient reach for this purpose.  The online media may be growing as an industry, but their reach is still limited.
True democracies would facilitate politicians’ access to media.  A government that truly believes in democracy would ensure the total ecosystem is one that allows for different ideas to reach the public. This general election is a test of the Najib administration’s resolve in creating this healthy environment.