Once a pushover, Pakatan sniffs power

By Dan Martin
January 30, 2013

Speculation is rife that Pakatan could win enough in the polls to lure ruling coalition defectors and form a government.

KUALA LUMPUR: After bloodying the government’s nose in 2008 elections, a more experienced and organised Malaysian opposition is eyeing the once-unthinkable: toppling one of the world’s longest-serving governments.

Malaysians vote soon with the formerly hapless opposition buoyed by a new track record of state-level government, signs of growing voter support, and what its leader Anwar Ibrahim calls a sense of history in the making.

“I am convinced, Inshallah (God willing), that we will win government,” Anwar told AFP, evoking the winds of change that powered the “Arab Spring” elsewhere in the Muslim world.

“Of course we call it a ‘Malaysian Spring’, but our method is elections (not uprisings).”

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak is expected to call a fresh vote in weeks, pitting his Malay-dominated Barisan Nasional coalition against Anwar’s multi-ethnic opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat.

The 57-year-old ruling bloc enjoys deep pockets, mainstream media control, an electoral system the opposition says is rigged, and a record of decades of economic growth under its authoritarian template.

Few expect the opposition to win the 112 parliamentary seats needed to take power. The three-party alliance won 82 seats in the 2008 polls, up from 21, stunning the BN with its biggest-ever setback.

But speculation is rife that Pakatan could win enough in the polls — which must be held by late June — to lure ruling coalition defectors and form a government.

“Before this year, many were in denial about Pakatan’s potential. Today, we see society beginning to accept that the possibility (of a BN defeat) is real,” said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who runs the independent Malaysian think tank IDEAS.

The country’s stock market has trembled recently over the uncertainty as opinion polls suggest the vote will be tight. One recent survey put Najib and Anwar neck-and-neck as prime ministerial candidates.

In a Jan 12 show of force, the opposition held a rally that drew clsoe to 100,000 people.

“I think it’s very close, and the party that makes the least mistakes will be the party that wins,” said S Ambiga, , head of Bersih, an NGO coalition that has organised large public rallies for electoral reform.

Pakatan’s promise

Pakatan attacks the ruling coalition, and particularly its dominant partner Umno, as corrupt, repressive and lacking a long-term vision for Malaysia.

Anwar says Pakatan would end authoritarianism and free the media.

It would lure foreign investment by attacking rampant graft and reforming the system of preferences for Malays that is blamed for harming national econonomic competitiveness and stoking resentment among minority Chinese and Indians.

“The people are committed to reform. There is a legitimate expectation among the public for them to see that reforms do take place,” Anwar said.

Anwar, who was acquitted a year ago on sodomy charges he called a bogus Umno attempt to ruin him politically, has been integral to the opposition’s revival.

The former BN heir-apparent’s spectacular 1998 ouster in a power struggle with then-premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad gifted the opposition a charismatic leader with top government experience to rally around.

The loose alliance of 2008 is stronger today, having since agreed on a common manifesto, and has shown it can govern in four states won five years ago, the most ever in opposition hands. Malaysia has 13 states.

“Cooperation between the parties is much stronger than 2008. They have done more to prepare the ground for new voters,” said leading political pollster Ibrahim Suffian.

Concerns linger over Pakatan’s ability to govern nationally.

Besides Anwar’s multi-racial PKR, it includes PAS representing Muslim ethnic Malays, and the secular DAP dominated by ethnic Chinese.

PAS’s calls for an Islamic state are a source of alliance squabbling, but Anwar dismisses any concern, saying PAS realises the goal is a non-starter in the diverse nation.

Economists, meanwhile, warn that populist Pakatan promises such as free primary-to-university education could sink Malaysia into debt, while noting ever-larger public handouts by Najib’s government also posed a risk.

Najib took office in 2009 and has portrayed himself as a reformer but surveys suggest BN is still viewed as a corruption-plagued, status-quo force.

Eroding minority support, particularly Chinese, that hurt the coalition in 2008 appears to be accelerating, independent polls show, while first-time voters estimated to number up to three million are a question mark.

One top Umno official told AFP that party officials fear the coalition could lose 20 more seats — it now has 140 — raising the spectre of a Pakatan power play.

“All said, Najib still has the advantage, but an opposition victory is clearly possible,” said Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asian politics expert at Singapore Management University.

  1. #1 by yhsiew on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 - 1:20 pm

    PAS should replace the term,”Islamic State”, with “Welfare State” in order to lure first time young voters.

  2. #2 by sheriff singh on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 - 1:35 pm

    BN will continue to rule whatever the outcome of the 13th GE. Why?

    Whether BN or PR wins, it will definitely be very marginal.

    A PR marginal win means it will win 20 -30 seats from East Malaysia and we all know the East Malaysians have frog DNA and are prone to jumping to where they benefit most. The BN has vast amounts of money, dirty and clean, which they will use (as in 1994 in Sabah) to entice the frogs to jump over to them. This will mean BN will gain power again by dirty means (remember Perak?).

    Similarly, a marginal BN win will also see money and contracts being used to bolster their rank numbers with East Malaysian frogs and history has shown that there will be many takers.

    So a PR win will be very short-lived.

    PR must win decisively in West Malaysia and be sure their MPs don’t jump ship or fight among themselves.

  3. #3 by Bigjoe on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 - 1:55 pm

    Close is UNACCEPTABLE for PR.. We all know going in that it was going to be unfair and would only get worst, much worst at the end. The goal was never to be close. The goal was to overwhelming so that even cheating would not help UMNO/BN i.e., force them to chose to lose or be TRAITORS to their nation. We knew there was a limit because as they were greedy and dirty, they were too much a coward to risk possibly DEATH to be clear traitors without excuses.

  4. #4 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 - 1:59 pm

    Basically we hv enough of umno monkeying about. Besides, a two party system is the way to go. It gives the electoral process of selecting our-government-of-choice a real meaning and a true significance. We cant be casting our votes every five yrs without any realistic hope of making a change. But in future (under the two party system), we certainly can.

    So I see great days ahead under a new band of people in government. For now for and for this to work, booting umno out is an absolute necessity. Umno has made a great great mess of the country. Amongst other equally grave misdeeds, umno has committed treason by giving away citizenship to unqualified people in exchange for votes. And after 55yrs of so-called development, we seem to have gone nowhere. Soon, burma, vietnam, thailand and indonesia would overtake us.

    Come on ppl. Get rid of umno. Make it happen. ABU.

  5. #5 by lauksnatlks on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 - 2:01 pm

    Can we flush out the frogs before the election ? PR ought to start thinking about this NOW. ABU ABU ….

  6. #6 by Winston on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 - 9:12 pm

    “I think it’s very close, and the party that makes the least mistakes will be the party that wins,” said S Ambiga, , head of Bersih, an NGO coalition that has organised large public rallies for electoral reform. – End of quote

    Judging by the above standard, UMNO/BN is a dead duck!!!
    It not only makes mistakes!
    It did far worse!
    Their way of governing is to give Malaysians scams and scandals 24/7!!!!

  7. #7 by boh-liao on Thursday, 31 January 2013 - 12:20 am

    PR sniffs POWER, sure correct 1 aaaah? Not sniffs handbags n diamond rings meh?

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