Regime change looms in Malaysia

— Liew Chin Tong
The Malaysian Insider
Aug 30, 2012

AUG 30 — A very young demographic profile, a high urbanisation rate, ever increasing access to the Internet and extreme longevity in power, among other factors, will be working against the ruling coalition in Malaysia’s coming election.

There are many reasons for the international community to be deeply cognisant of this fact, and to prepare for a regime change in that country for the first time since it gained independence in 1957.

Soon after the government suffered severe setbacks in elections held on March 8, 2008, the country went into a permanent campaign mode, and has remained that way ever since.

A general election have to be called soon, since the Malaysian Constitution requires that Parliament be dissolved by 28th April 2013 upon the completion of its five-year mandate.

It may be true that the government won 140 of 222 seats in the Lower House while the opposition managed to secure the remaining 82. But a closer look shows that the actual gap between the two coalitions to be much smaller.

The ruling Barisan Nasional actually won only 51.4 per cent of the votes while the opposition gained 48.6 per cent. Of the 7.9 million effective votes, BN and the three national opposition parties were separated by a mere 313,509 ballots.

As of the end of June 2012, there are 12.9 million Malaysians on the electoral roll. As many as 2.5 million of these — about 20 per cent — are first-time voters; and it is these who will decide the outcome of the election.

The 13-party ruling coalition — the BN — will be highlighting past achievements in its campaign and playing on the appeal of the status quo while the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, vows to improve governance in the country through radical policy changes.

The status quo message is however unlikely to have an impact on an almost Arab-spring demography: 48 per cent of Malaysia’s population are below 25 years old and 70 per cent are below 40 years old (though not all are voters).

The BN, especially its kingpin, Umno, has always relied heavily on a rural vote bank. It has therefore good grounds to worry since as many as 70 per cent of Malaysians now live in cities, compared to 11 per cent in 1957 and 35 per cent in 1980.

The young and urban are highly wired online as well. With 17.5 million internet users, Malaysia’s internet penetration rate is 61.7 per cent of the population and 81 per cent of the populated areas. On top of that, Malaysia is also one of the most active country on Facebook, with 12 million users, ranking 19th in the world.

The easy access to alternative information has undermined the efficacy of the control over the mainstream media exercised by the government, be it through licensing procedures, censorship or partisan ownership.

The BN has been ruling Malaysia ever since its earliest guise, The Alliance Party, won a self-government election under British auspices in 1955. It is now the longest serving elected ruling party in the world. The only longer serving ones, are the non-elected communist regimes in North Korea, China and Vietnam.

The many negative signs of this political longevity are all too visible to the increasingly sophisticated voters. Essentially, not only has the government over the years alienated non-Malay ethnic groups through its race-based politics, rampant corruption and intra-ethnic economic inequality, but have also driven Malay voters away.

BN had for quite a while styled itself as the moderating force in the ethnically charged population. However, after Umno began turning right in 2005 both in rhetoric and in action, it began losing ethnic Chinese and Indian support.

In 2008, significant numbers of ethnic Malays frustrated with corruption and cronyism joined this movement to vote against the government.

This sense of alienation has not diminished in the intervening years. On the contrary, more groups are showing open dissent against the central government. The Kadazan Dusun Murut group in the state of Sabah is strongly aroused and highly critical of the government’s handling of the long-standing citizenship-for-votes scandals that allegedly allow Umno to build up its support base in the state.

Umno strategists, using the party-controlled newspaper, Utusan Malaysia, and the affiliated right-wing group Perkasa, are working overtime to stop the dwindling of their Malay support base, and are doing all they can to portray the party as a fiercer ethnic champion than opposition Malay parties and leaders. So far, this seems to be alienating more middle-ground voters.

Across the board at the moment, what Malaysians seem to be seeking is greater economic equality as well as an open and clean government. And yet, Prime Minister Najib Razak continues with micro-level vote-buying measures such as giving cash handouts to strategic groups at a time when the country is in great need of macro-level reforms.

The long years in power has also seen the BN generate its own worst enemies. Many leaders in the opposition were formerly from the ruling coalition, including former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Their experience in government has been serving as a much-needed reassurance to voters that the opposition is ready to exercise power efficiently, while their personal networks within the system has brought valuable information and understanding of the system that had previously eluded the opposition.

Previous opposition coalitions (in 1990 and 1999) were hastily formed during election time and they easily collapsed soon after. An alternative coalition that has been tested for more than four years, with that has gained substantial administrative experience in governing four out of 13 states is in itself a novel — and critical — factor.

While all the built-in advantages that favour BN in an election have not disappeared and those that remain will be put to full use in the electoral contest that is to come, the factors that work against the government have been gaining strength as well. For the first time ever, it does look very possible that the old government will be voted out. — New Mandala

  1. #1 by yhsiew on Friday, 31 August 2012 - 5:59 am

    While a regime change is welcome by many, unfortunately we do not know whether electoral roll and anticipated vote tampering by BN would bring such change to naught.

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Friday, 31 August 2012 - 7:36 am

    Regime change will happen. The issue is will it be now or delayed. There is no way UMNO/BN can change/evolve to suit the aspiration of the changing Rakyat at some point. Its not just they don’t have the will, they don’t have the ability.

    The fact of the matter is its not hard for normal people with UMNO/BN advantages to stay in power – they only have to walk away from corruption and abuse of power – and its both, not just one of it. They can’t – they are simply addicted to it organisationally. Like a hard-core addict, they find it hard to walk away even just temporarily. Even the off-chance they can, like hard-core addict their chance of staying away for good is very very low. AND they have MULTIPLE addiction.

    So the issue really is whether the people or rakyat has the will to overpower the money and power-diseased addicts of UMNO/BN now. They are close for sure and even already won if the game was fair. But dealing with crazed-addicts is not about a fair game, its about will-power..

  3. #3 by drngsc on Friday, 31 August 2012 - 7:53 am

    I was at Dataran Merdeka with my friends again last night. It is obvious that the government is totally out of sync with the people and the people no longer trust or like this government. A part from whole scale cheating and other un-democratic measures, a regime change is inevitable.
    All races, of all ages, gathered at and around Dataran Merdeka, in carnival mood blowing the loud vudivela, taking pictures with all kinds of cameras. Where I was, more non-yellow than yellows. It does not matter. We got together to usher in Merdeka, in defiance of the Police, we want a “New Merdeka”, a fulfillment of a promise of democracy.

    Nothing personal Jib-gor, we want BN/UMNO out.

    We must change the tenant at Putrajaya. After Janji Demokrasi, we go for GE 13, then to Putrajaya.

    Change we must. Change we can. Change we will.

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Friday, 31 August 2012 - 9:09 am

    Much of what writer Liew says (on macro trends) is true but I’m not sure his conclusions of “looming regime change” -though devoutly wished for by many- are entirely objective without adulteration of hopes. For eg. Liew says (correctly) BN/UMNO relies heavily on a rural vote bank but he may not be right to either imply or conclude that by reason of rural urban drift of esp. the young educated & internet savvy to urban areas, UMNO/BN will necessarily lose its advantage. UMNO/BN will not lose advantage because seats are not based on head counts of voters alone but seats based on constituencies where rural constituencies are given weightage of (say) 1 rural vote being equivalent to more than 6 urban votes. So the fact that 70% Malaysians now live in cities, compared to 11% in 1957, 35% in 1980 and many urbanites take part in Bersih 3.0 or ‘Janji Demokrasi’ – will not necessarily imply/translate to UMNO/BN’s electoral disadvantage if the majority of 30% in rural seats continue support UMNO/BN! As there are more rural than urban seats, majority of rural seats supporting UMNO/BN could assure it at least a simple majority in Parliament. That’s why UMNO goes on the race/religious card thinking it can win based on majority of Malay votes alone. Its only nemesis is PAS – how much it can take away from UMNO/BN the rural votes, where urban votes are likely going to Pakatan.

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Friday, 31 August 2012 - 9:40 am

    UMNO could remain thus far the longest serving elected ruling party in the world because of the weightage sanctioned by constitution given to rural seats, given 6-1 weightage over urban seats, and the fact that majority of these seats (in Peninsula) are rural Malay voters where race and religion are assumed to still count above any other competing considerations. The game changer is how much PAS can make inroads and take away rural votes from UMNO based on religion that makes UMNO’s appeal to race subordinate. The other game changer is whether the rural voters in Sarawak and Sabah have since 308 “awakened” based on parochial factors against Federal dominance, and also the extent 900,000 Christian voters there are alienated. What is untested on flip side is the efficacy of Najib’s personal diligence to go to the ground, massive use of public relations methods and throwing money on “I help you, you help me”. The other thing is “Mahathir” factor. In 2008, he was actively undermining the then UMNO’s president as compared to present Najib to Umno’s relief – but whether Mahathir is more popular than unpopular representing a plus or minus in electoral equation for UMNO/BN remains to be seen. Also unlike 2008 UMNO is going all out to win based on appeal to Malay votes without caring too much negative effect on its subordinate BN component parties. Whether this works more for or against UMNO/BN again remains moot. The coming GE promises to be the most interesting. It is not easy to be sure of the outcome at this juncture as its not easy to assess which of the new factors in this GE (absent in the last) will prove pivotal to decide the outcome..

  6. #6 by Godfather on Friday, 31 August 2012 - 11:14 am

    Even those who have been squatting under the rambutan tree are talking of regime change. Ask Cintanegara.

  7. #7 by sotong on Friday, 31 August 2012 - 11:53 am

    A change of government will place BN in the political wilderness for a long long time….and may be its eventual breakup to end BN.

    This is their greatest fear.

  8. #8 by yhsiew on Friday, 31 August 2012 - 1:42 pm

    Regime change is for real as 10,000 who defied ban for ‘Janji Demokrasi’ turned out at Dataran Merdeka last night.

  9. #9 by monsterball on Friday, 31 August 2012 - 7:56 pm

    Young voters want change from 55 year old to new one.
    Older voters want change to get rid of corruptions and race politics.
    Working class….tax payers in commercial firms are sick of dirty politics …UMNO b arrogance…mentalities and behaviors….inspite of the fact they are proven rouges and thieves.
    They are sick of the fact Mahathir took RM1.2 billion from EPF to save his son.
    But voting made easy recently when Mahathir admit his UMNO b politicians are devils.
    Najib buying time to the last day to be a free man.

  10. #10 by Loh on Friday, 31 August 2012 - 8:17 pm

    ///The ruling Barisan Nasional actually won only 51.4 per cent of the votes while the opposition gained 48.6 per cent. Of the 7.9 million effective votes, BN and the three national opposition parties were separated by a mere 313,509 ballots.

    As of the end of June 2012, there are 12.9 million Malaysians on the electoral roll. As many as 2.5 million of these — about 20 per cent — are first-time voters; and it is these who will decide the outcome of the election.///–the author

    Of the 2.5 million voters, only 1.5 million or 60% would vote. Among them 300,000 are government servants who would want status quo. Of the remaining 1.2 million Pakatan Rakyat will need 75% of them to support it to break even. The outcome would depend on whether new voters are more against corruption to racial favoritism or the other way round. The decision determines the future of Malaysia.

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