by Lee Shi-Ian
The Malaysian Insider
December 17, 2013
The May 5 general election results have set back democracy in Malaysia rather than advancing democratic change, as the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) has put more restrictive laws for politics, an analyst said in a Commonwealth magazine.
Professor William Case of the Hong Kong City University said Umno used the 13th general election results to instigate racial polarisation, which proved to be helpful in launching attacks on DAP and the Chinese community.
“If Umno elites had grown fractious after Malaysia’s 12th general election, they displayed new unity, even defiance, after Malaysia’s 13th general election (GE13). Thus, they perpetuated the ethnic suspicions of the Chinese that they had heightened during the campaigning; and they imposed new controls on opposition party leaders and organisers.
“Far from advancing democratic change, then, GE13 has served to roll democracy back,” Case said in the abstract of his analysis in the latest issue of The Round Table, the Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs.
In the general election, BN won 133 federal seats, seven fewer than in the elections in 2008. Pakatan Rakyat (PR) picked up the remaining 89 seats in Parliament.
Case noted that after the elections, Putrajaya had moved to reintroduce preventive detention, reversed its culture of tolerance towards the opposition when it had charged organisers of the Black 505 rallies under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, which was touted by Putrajaya as legislature that allowed for dissent to be expressed in public without much restriction.
Among those charged under the act included Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s communication director and Selangor assemblyman for Seri Setia, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad. He was arrested under the Peaceful Assembly Bill 2012 (PAA) for failing to give police 10 days’ notice prior to helping organise a rally in Kelana Jaya, Selangor.
The DAP assistant organising secretary and Ipoh Timur MP Thomas Su, PKR Perak secretary Mohammad Anuar Zakaria, Solidariti Anak Muda Malaysia chief Badrul Hisham Shaharin, best known by his blogger handle of “Chegubard”, were charged for the same offence after organising rallies in Ipoh and Petaling Jaya.
Four more PR officials in Penang, Negri Sembilan, Johor and Pahang were also charged.
Case also said the elected representatives’ future lay in the balance as the penalty on conviction under the PAA is a fine of up to RM10,000 and, hence, possible disqualification from elected office.
The PAA, once depicted as a reform measure, had become just another instrument of “draconian oppression”.
Case said the new Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, worked closely with Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, and seemed to confirm the notion of control, commenting: “I admit that the police are quite tough in handling any issue and activities that can tarnish the country’s sovereignty”.
On the perpetual Umno claim that DAP used PKR and PAS to advance its reach, he said the reverse was what had actually happened.
“While DAP has often been accused of making use of Parti Keadilan Rakyat and PAS in a bid for power, it is actually a case of Umno making use of DAP.”
A closer look at the results of GE13 showed that it was only DAP which fared the best, with PKR barely holding its own and PAS suffering setbacks.
For BN, although it won fewer seats because of the poor performance of MCA and Gerakan, Umno continued to forge ahead.
The American professor argued that Umno’s dominant narrative of shock over a Chinese betrayal and tsunami had a hollow ring as the Chinese votes had been lost all along.
“Most of Umno’s political rhetoric since 2004 as well as its electoral strategy in 2013 ensured this.”
He also noted bitterness remained raw among many Malays over the perceived “Chinese betrayal” and anxieties over threats to their special rights were being kept alive.
“But was it wise, then, for the Chinese to vote en masse in ways that unleashed this tirade, however disingenuous, in the hope of Pakatan’s winning an election that it could not?
“Perhaps Mahathir is right: it was not the Chinese who betrayed the Malays, but instead DAP that seriously misled the Chinese,” he said, referring to former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s assessment of the election results.
Case added that before the dust had settled on GE13, Umno leaders elected to vigorously re-communalise politics rather than introduce reforms to reengage the non-Malays and middle-class Malays.
He noted that Ahmad Zahid said if PR supporters were unhappy with the first-past-the-post system, they should migrate elsewhere.
Datuk Seri Noh Omar, Selangor deputy BN chief, also said those unhappy with Malaysia’s electoral system should live in the jungle. A group of Islamic non-government organisations, including the Muslim Consumers Society, had also demanded the Malay community boycott Chinese-owned companies which had contributed to PR’s campaign.
“Pro-Umno bloggers took up the call, invoking a ‘Buy Malay first! Buy Chinese last!’ campaign,” Case said.
He said that though all the dynamics eventually subsided, sullenness remained within the non-Malay community.
The magazine also quoted Professor James Chin from Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), who said while PR employed the correct strategies for the polls, it failed to overcome three main obstacles.
“Pakatan Rakyat could not overcome the three biggest hurdles for opposition politics in Malaysia, which are Sabah and Sarawak, rural Malay votes and a biased electoral system,” he said.
Chin, who is the guest editor of the journal, also examined the strategies employed by BN and PR in GE13.
“Both the ruling coalition and the opposition went into the polls with vastly different electoral strategies. Both of them also executed their strategies perfectly,” Chin said. “Barisan Nasional concentrated on (Datuk Seri) Najib (Razak), the 1 Malaysia concept, rural Malays, Sabah and Sarawak. Their move paid dividends as they formed the Government with a simple majority.”
Chin said although BN lost the popular vote, this was because rural and semi-rural constituencies had a much smaller pool of voters compared with urban ones.
“Pakatan Rakyat’s strategy of taking the fight to Barisan Nasional strongholds in Johor and Sabah and Sarawak was the correct move to make.
“However, PR failed badly in executing this strategy in Sabah and Sarawak. PAS was also not able to win over a significant number of rural voters to overcome Umno’s formidable rural machinery.”
PR’s only success was greater support from the urban population, sweeping the Chinese votes and breaking into Johor, he added.
Chin said if PR failed to overcome the hurdle of rural Malay votes and rural non-Malay seats in Sabah and Sarawak, the outcome of the 14th general election would likely remain the same. – December 17, 2013.