A time of Gifts – The Economist

From the economist:

A time of gifts

The benefits of incumbency versus the lure of the unknown

Apr 13th 2013

SINCE Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957, the main question answered by general elections has been the size of the government’s majority. The poll that the election commission this week announced would be held on May 5th, is the first the government faces a real possibility of losing. Even if it does not—and the odds must still be in its favour—the election is likely to have a profound impact on Malaysian politics.

The ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional, is dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), whose leader, Najib Razak, is prime minister. He has never led the party through an election, having taken over in 2009 after the humiliation of his predecessor, Abdullah Badawi, in the election the previous year. For the first time, Barisan lost the two-thirds parliamentary majority that enabled it to change the constitution. Ever since, the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, a three-party alliance, has sniffed power. Its most prominent figure, Anwar Ibrahim, was once in line to lead UMNO.

Helped by a strong economy, Mr Najib has been doling out goodies: cash handouts for poorer families; pay rises for civil servants; and promises of affordable housing and new highways. A lot is at stake: simultaneous assembly elections will be held in 12 of the 13 states. In 2008, five elected opposition administrations. More largesse is promised in Barisan’s manifesto. Since its own is equally open-handed, Pakatan accuses its opponents of plagiarism.

The shape of the constituencies gives greater weight to more conservative, pro-government voters in the countryside who are predominantly Malay. To gain a parliamentary majority, the opposition would need to win considerably more than half the popular vote. Accusations of gerrymandering and rigged voter lists are common. But both Mr Najib and Mr Anwar have promised to honour the result.

Pakatan complains Barisan is abusing the perks of office to help its campaign. It is true it has been in power so long that the dividing line between party and government has become blurred. In fact Pakatan’s whole campaign is an onslaught on UMNO for its corruption, which is exacerbated by affirmative-action policies to benefit the Malays and other “indigenous” groups over the Chinese minority (25% of the population) and ethnic Indians (8%). These policies have been debased into vehicles for patronage and cronyism. Mr Najib has chipped away at some Malay privileges, but the strength of UMNO’s right wing has stopped him abolishing them altogether.

Barisan includes ethnic-Indian and Chinese parties, but wracked by scandals, they seem likely to do badly. Pakatan allies Mr Anwar’s multiracial party with a Malay Islamic party and one dominated by Chinese. Whatever the outcome of the election, Barisan’s claim that it represents all of Malaysia’s ethnic groups may become hard to sustain.

If Mr Najib scrapes home, he could still face a challenge from within UMNO. Its right wing would want him out. As for Mr Anwar, he has said that defeat would mark the end of his political career. A controversial but charismatic figure, he has managed to keep his improbable alliance together, but has no obvious successor.



5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. grkumar
    Apr 13, 2013 @ 14:23:56

    The Economist is engaging in its own form of plagiarism taking line by line from previously regurgitated populist unintelligent generalization covered in cliches.

    Firstly the humiliation faced by Badawi was not a humiliation of UMNO but of Badawi’s own leadership. The Indian minority spread amongst the marginal unpopular and “hanging by thread” government seats were driven by Badawi’s heavy handed actions against a peaceful demonstration on November 2007 by a group called Hindraf (short for Hindu Rights Action Force). Hindraf sought to present a petition to the British High Commissioner which demanded amongst other things reparation for the marginalization, pain and suffering of Indian indentured labourers left behind virtually stateless after independence from Britain.

    Badawi sent in the riot squad who attacked the demonstration. The media especially the Star Malaysia owned by a Chinese proprietor ran pages of condemnation of the Indians for their actions claiming that businesses had either suffered losses or would suffer because of the Indians. Anwar Ibrahim had been caught flat footed as did the DAP the main Chinese opposition party in Malaysia.

    Using their minority status at the ballot box in a carefully planned and strategically effective move they helped displace the marginalised Barisan members especially in the ethnic Indian coalition partner the MIC or Malaysian Indian Congress. The “Opposition” had nothing to do with that victory.

    Having then been denied proportionate representation in opposition parties like the DAP and the PKR the Indians gradually moved back to back the Barisan.

    Anwar Ibrahim has been a smorgasboard of political failures. he attracts unwanted attention to his private life, is sensationalist in his political strategy often suffering spectacular failures and has not produced any costed policies. Neither has the DAP. They are rich on promises and wish lists but short of substance.

    The Barisan did look bad for a while but have made upo much lost groupd. it is likely that their victories may be a lift from the 2008 drubbing at the hands of the Tamils. But not now.

    Anwar and Lim Guan Eng have made fatal mistakes in their planning by firstly placing nepotism above fair play. In the DAP the father the son and the holy Chinese rule the party machinery.

    In the Pakatan Anwar, his wife and daughter hold sway with a few Indian groupies from the legal fraternity in for good measure.

    Scandals that once only plagued the Barisan is now the stale of the opposition. Anwars sexcapades, his daughters and his wife’s alleged extra curricular activities which appear to follow the family around are a new distraction from the policy free zone they already are.

    Guan Eng apart from being unshamedly Chinese Chauvinist first and last have sidelined the Indians, forcibly moved poor squatters form their land handing these instead to wealthy Chinese developers. The DAP’s social and welfare policy.

    More recently of course Guan Eng and his Selangor state counterparts in government were found to have been diverting state monies without parliamentary knowledge or approval to a movement called Bersih. Bersih uses the funds to train people to disrupt elections. Their claim to fame has been two large demonstrations in the nations capital without proper approval attempting to emulate the Egyptian Tahrir Square affair. It failed but cost the state taxpayers dearly.

    More recently of course Guan Eng was caught out in a shady undersea tunnelling project with a Chinese developer which blew out of budget to the tune of several billions of dollars. Guan Eng attributed the blow out to what he called a “Typo”. As if that were not enough his deputy chief minister of Penang state was caught out having committed $360 million to a technology park in Wuhan province China also without parliamentary approval, debate or knowledge.

    The Malays who see this election as a defining moment of their rights and their position of primacy as the indigenous inhabitants of the country have fought back. They constitute 65% of the population. But as far as the number of those eligible to vote are concerned they constitute over 70%. Such is the demographic of the electorate.

    The irascible and controversial blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin once anti Barisan to the core has come home to his senses. Noticing the betrayal of the Chinese of their non Chinese followers he has hit at Anwar Ibrahim a one time ally and at the Chinese in the DAP distancing himself from each of them.

    And Raja Petra cannot be ignored. he is a blogger whom most of the Malaysian youth and alternative media customers visit and read. He has the highest circulation of any blogger in the region. He is influential and he carries a lot of weight. If RPK as he is known by his initials is anything to go by, there is a late shift back to the government.

    Opposition vandals who had been running defamation campaigns and race hate politics will find themselves holding the short end of a very long hard stick after the elections. The Chinese especially and Anwar of course will never ever be trusted. Once Anwar has lost the promise he once had, the Chinese will ditch him and his family as is custom for them to do.


  2. A true Malaysian
    Apr 13, 2013 @ 19:02:28


    By mentioning RPK being an ‘influential’ blogger, you failed to mention Dr. Hsu’s forum. But, the fact that you wrote a rather long comment, condemning Pakatan leaders showed how ‘influential’ this blog as well.

    Well, write all you like. Whether how ‘influential’ you comment on the readers of this blog, is another matter altogether. For me, after reading your comment above, my vote is simply ABU, for obvious reasons you chose to ignore.

    Sometime I just feel irritated how come some people can see the so-called ‘weak’ points of Pakatan leaders but just turned ‘blind’ the obvious and dubious abuses of you-know-who, like what we see in the comments of once admired and respected Hindraf leaders. Just hope you are not one of them in Hindraf.

    One thing flabbergasted me till now, why the exiled leader of Hindraf can walked in through the causeway into our country without hindrance. Mind you, he is a Hindraf leader, which were once feared most by the other side. Perhaps you know why.


  3. Phua Kai Lit
    Apr 13, 2013 @ 22:01:35

    The shameless and extravagant vote-buying is going to bankrupt our country and accelerate inflation.


  4. Simple Sense
    Apr 13, 2013 @ 23:53:36

    Being incumbent has the golden advantage of governance track record. BN ‘HAD’ the advantage to show how well it has served the Malaysian in the last 5, 10, 15,20, 50 years.
    There is a saying : when you produce results, your shit don’t stink. When you have no result, your bullshit don’t wash as well.
    Malaysians are no stupid and can see what BN has achieved in the last five years.
    Similarly, Malaysians can also witness what Pakatan has achieved in Selangor, Penang, Kelantan, Kedah.
    Pakatan is not an unknown, thanks to BN for its complacent up to the 2008 GE12.
    Unfortunately, some BN leaders continue to play racial threats, send in gangsters to beat people up…..BN should just show its achievements n Malaysians will vote BN in.
    Malaysians are not stupid. Do not treat us like stupid people.


  5. HY
    Apr 14, 2013 @ 11:43:08

    Rarely has someone said so little with so many words. The Econimist is creative and smart the moment they agree with trash? What sort of bastartise logic one learn from?

    Let’s read some glorify words of the influential blogger RPK, of course not by me:

    “RPK is an opportunist and self centered attention seeker.”

    “He likes his blind followers to believe he is egalitarian. He demands justice and freedom of expression whilst excising from his website appropriately titled Malaysia Today, any view that is even remotely contrarian to his absolute beliefs.”

    “RPK is also anti establishment as he claims to be. Although he is a creature of the establishment and a by product of some of its excesses, the unaccountable royalty, RPK will not jettison that title of his of Raja (from the Sanskrit which translates to Prince or ruler) because it is convenient a ‘fig leaf’ for him to retain. It allows him as he believes to punch above his weight. His intellectual weight that is, whilst affording himself some degree of protection his royal credentials would allow for.”

    “His failure to substantiate his claims which in essence in his latest outburst claims that Islam and the Prophet taught him to hate is further proof of the need for this man to be apprehended and to be tried then locked away for as long as is necessary.“

    I know I know, Petra make sense when he is with BN, and not if with PR, fantastic logic!


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