GE13 Malaysia – Sonia Randhawa

By Greg Lopez
New Mandala
3 April 2013

Sonia Randhawa

1. What do you think will be the most important issue that the new government must address?

Whoever wins the next election there will be an urgent need to rebuild democratic institutions, whose credibility is being questioned by an increasing number of Malaysians, increasingly vocal. Should Barisan Nasional win, this will be a doubly urgent task – there seems to be a growing belief among Pakatan supporters that the only thing that will keep BN in power is fixing the election. I don’t agree with this conclusion, but it undermines BN’s legitimacy as a government from the outset. The two most urgent institutions in need of reform to ensure ongoing peace in the country are the police and the Election Commission. The police force needs urgent reform, given the perception of rising crime, the perception of police corruption and the inability of the force to engage in internal reform. The Election Commission will also need to be overhauled to ensure public support of the democratic process in Malaysia.

On top of these fundamentals, however, neither coalition appears to be addressing the increasingly urgent issue of climate change. Malaysia ranks among the highest climbers in terms of contributions to global warming, yet both coalitions prioritise the use of private cars, the need to sustain subsidies (including on sugar and petrol), and the importance of economic over ecological sustainability. Unless resilience to climate change is factored into political calculations, standards of living in Malaysia are likely to face increasing pressure in the medium- to long-term.

2. What do you think is Barisan Nasional’s greatest strength?

Barisan Nasional still controls the three Ms that have sustained it in power. It is losing the media war online, and with the advent of Radio Free Malaysia, it could lose control over the (radio) airwaves, but it would be a mistake to underestimate its ability to shape the debate and to undermine the credibility of Pakatan Rakyat. It controls a lot of money, from the traditional levers of patronage to the newer disbursements being used to attempt to sway public opinion. And it still has its party machinery. While Pakatan, particularly Pas, has learned from BN’s machinery, they do not have the same reach that BN has. BN is still perceived to pay the salaries of teachers, doctors and other community leaders, and with neither the majority of tax-payers nor the government itself drawing a distinction between party money and government money, this equates to a lot of people on the BN payroll.

3. What do you think is Barisan Nasional’s greatest weakness?

It seems unable to change. The Prime Minister knows that Umno, in particular, is in need of reform if it is to win back the Malay electorate it lost in 2008, and to gain ground among young voters. Many leading figures in the cabinet also recognise the need for reform. But with the voices of Mahathir and Perkasa ricocheting in the background, the murkiness surrounding Najib’s own dealings as Defence Minister (in particular his connection to Altantuya Shariibuu) and the BN’s reliance on money politics, change is glacial.

4. What do you think is Pakatan Rakyat’s greatest strength?

It is the underdog. Right now, a lot of people can sympathise with that – the cost of housing, particularly in the capital, is rising; the cost of food, electricity, water are all rising, and the rakyat are being told to tighten their belts, have been told to do so for at least seven years. And yet, the belt-tightening is a bottom-up exercise. The former, Pakatan chief minister of Perak uses a motorbike. While by all accounts this is a reflection of his humility, it is also good politics – BN ministers say they are with the people, but they seem to have little understanding of the hardships that are being faced at ground level, regardless of the party they represent.

5. What do you think is Pakatan Rakyat’s greatest weakness?

They have overcome a number of earlier weaknesses – they no longer seem to take public support as a moral right, which they did during the 2004 elections, but the ‘victory’ of 2008 has led supporters (if not leaders) to underestimate the power of the BN machinery, which could be a mistake. But the greatest weakness is that the electorate is still not sure what a PR government will look like. PR has governed very differently in Kelantan, Penang, Perak and Selangor, (ignoring Kedah which is beset by internal difficulties). This means there is still little precedent to show how the coalition will work once it is in power. This uncertainty means that they have to work harder than BN to convince fence sitters to give them a try.

6. What is your hope for Malaysia?

With the elections of 2008, Malaysia came a long way to overcoming the racialised politics that have dogged it since Independence – they put to bed the ghost of 1969. But ghosts have a tendency to resurrect, and this is an appropriate time of year to ensure they stay happily ensconced in the underworld.

Given that, my hope is that we can rise to the challenges of the next 50 years, which are going to be at least as difficult as the last fifty. We have squandered a lot of our natural wealth, and have to face the coming years without that buffer. We need a government that has the courage and imagination to lead Malaysia through these challenges – and the courage to help initiate bottom-up rather than top-down democratic initiatives.

Sonia Randhawa is a director for the Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia, and a PhD candidate in history and law at the University of Melbourne, looking at the role of women journalists in the 1990s.

New Mandala is asking Malaysians and Malaysianists worldwide their views on the two coalitions vying for power at the 13th general election in Malaysia. Their responses are published unedited.

  1. #1 by monsterball on Wednesday, 3 April 2013 - 8:32 am

    Who disunited Malaysians and made us what we are today?
    Who keep stealing with no fear?
    Who jailing and killing anyone opposing them?
    Yes democracy is dead.
    People Power was born after 12th GE.

  2. #2 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Wednesday, 3 April 2013 - 8:55 am

    We need an undertaking from the umno gobermen that after GE13, they will not destroy documents in their offices like what they did in selangor and penang.

  3. #3 by bruno on Wednesday, 3 April 2013 - 9:33 am

    Whoever wins what the rakyat wants are independent public institutions,not political stooges commonly known as political white elephants as this encourages cronism and rampant corruption.But even a fool will know that this will never happen under an Umno/BN regime.That is the reason that there will be a new incoming administration after GE 13th.

  4. #4 by HJ Angus on Wednesday, 3 April 2013 - 9:41 am

    The most pressing concern must be CORRUPTION, the cancer that has invaded all the organs of government.

  5. #5 by yhsiew on Wednesday, 3 April 2013 - 9:49 am

    I can’t think of any credible BN leader who is able to lead Malaysia through the next five years let alone fifty years.

  6. #6 by Bigjoe on Wednesday, 3 April 2013 - 10:16 am

    Just came over the tweet – Najib to dissolve Parliament at 11:30.

    My word to Hindraf – WHAT SECOND MEETING YOU FOOLS!!

    My word to Sabahan & Sarawakian – don’t be like Hindraf…

  7. #7 by balance88 on Wednesday, 3 April 2013 - 10:20 am

    This is an election about reforming the democratic institutions of the country. With BN, there will be farcical reform with some theatrical attempts to reform and the end result, most likely we will see “re-bottling of old wine in new bottles” and with fanstastic names to go along with it. Remember the MACC name change from ACA but operates just like the old ACA. And along the way, some crony probably made a lot of money just from supplying stationeries to effect the name change.

    With Pakatan, coming in fresh and probably careful not to fail, we have a chance with reform. For once, we can hope for change whereas with BN, we know from historical facts, the chances of reform is almost nil unless BN undergoes a thorough personnel change.

    But the BN machinery cannot be underestimated. The author’s disagreement that BN will only retain power if it fixes the election is wrong and very naive. There have incidents of phantom voters and most of all, postal votes to swing results in closely contested seats. As with everything in Malaysia, all such incidents are suppressed and no proof can be forthcoming. We have not even gotten into the issue of area alignment with rural areas commanding more parliamentary seats with smaller population then urban areas.

  8. #8 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Wednesday, 3 April 2013 - 2:10 pm

    To all malaysians, wherever you are, come home and vote umno out of putrajaya. Help to build a better country and future for all of us.

  9. #9 by cseng on Wednesday, 3 April 2013 - 2:15 pm

    For the next few weeks till election day (which probably will be the fastest in record), spread the words around…

    “Ini Kali lah”, point the finger as Najib did, you have to lift-up while pointing, it is ROCKET! we did that in Penang last GE, and ROCKET flied.

  10. #10 by Ildevos on Wednesday, 3 April 2013 - 4:52 pm

    Many people (even intellectuals) have missed the most important fact. I don’t know exactly why. Even think-tanks miss the fact. Let me state my fact in a nutshell here. Get ready for the incisive straight-to-the-point FACT.

    The fact is corruption is an ugly reality everywhere (read this word again) in the world; and it is not the real problem. The real problem is a non-solution to corruption. There can be many reasons for the non-solution — from an incorrigible inertia among the relevant authorities; a dragging-of-feet; deliberate interventions from powers of the inner corridors; cronyism, absolute greed, etc — and even if these ‘lawless’ reasons help shore up the non-solution, there SHOULD BE a solution, and there should be a solution to knuckle down the non-solution. After all the rakyat has to have a say in correcting the bureaucracy of the governance which is always prone to be cleverly manipulated to keep the criminalization of the governance.

    The independent people among the rakyat with sensibilities, intellectualism, etc should be called upon to ensure the governance — whom the rakyat elected to represent them — do not think they can do whatever they want.

    There has to be a solution and it is not so complex as it seems.

    Real democracy is about a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Unless this is adhere to WHAT THEN IS DEMOCRACY????

    There should be an in-built system in democracy which is TRULY independent to ensure the dark shadows of criminal tendencies rot the bone-marrow of a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Fullstop.

  11. #11 by chengho on Wednesday, 3 April 2013 - 10:27 pm

    in Democracy majority rule , BN having the Malay behind them , so easy to analyse . That why MCA is so smart in partnership Umno . Dapter Partner Pas Taliban , u sure u do not eat fire later . For Indian they have to manage their caste problem

  12. #12 by Noble House on Thursday, 4 April 2013 - 2:22 am

    In need of more reasons? Here’s one for the taking:

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