APRIL 26 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak might have won the electoral battle at Hulu Selangor, but he sure has made a giant step of retreat in the defence of Putrajaya against the relentless advance of Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
The orgy of election bribery indulged over those few days leading up to polling day yesterday would have put any other pseudo democracy to shame when comparing election excesses.
To induce votes, Najib and his colleagues made innumerable on-the-spot grants of cash and promises of goodies (many were conditional upon a Barisan Nasional (BN) win) that run easily to hundreds of millions of ringgit during that compact campaign period.
These include the construction of a university and several schools, an expressway interchange and many other infrastructures, several low-cost housing projects, upgrading of mosques and temples, grants to community guilds and associations, cash payments to individuals, etc. These election goodies were so many and so large that I doubt Najib and his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin could keep track of their numbers or total costs.
The single event that impacted most on the electoral outcome was perhaps the occasion of Najib himself handing over RM5 million cash to 100 Felda settlers in a highly trumpeted ceremony two days before polling. These settlers were among victims of a failed project committed to a private developer 15 years ago.
The greatest irony was that amidst this election bribery spree, Najib made an impassioned last-minute plea to the electorate through an open letter bearing his signature, asking the electorate to give him another chance to institute “change” in his administration so as to redeem Barisan Nasional’s past mistakes. But was Najib not aware that this endless stream of impromptu election goodies constitutes serious offences under our Election Offences Act 1954 (section 10)? By committing these acts of corruption to such an unprecedented scale while simultaneously articulating his “change” agenda, he was in effect telling the world: “This is what I mean by ‘change’ — I will not hesitate to escalate corrupted activities and damn the laws, if my political interests so demand.”
Reflecting on Najib’s rule since taking effective control of the country in early 2009, this philosophy of “the end justifies the means” as exemplified by his conduct in the Hulu Selangor by-election seems to aptly explain the series of scandals that illustrated the ruling power’s contempt for the Constitution and the rule of law. These include the unconstitutional power grab in Perak, the continuing persecution of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim via the universally condemned phony sodomy trial II, the awkward attempt to hide the real culprits in the show trial of Altantuya’s grisly murder, and the tragic death of Teoh Beng Hock under custody of the MACC and the subsequent dubious inquest.
In the aftermath of this sordid by-election, Najib and his cohorts have expectedly hailed this disgraceful victory as the nation’s endorsement of Najib’s new policy and the shifting of support to BN. However, removing the thin veneer of this pyrrhic victory, we find that the contrary is true. In fact, a cursory review of this by-election (many prefer to call it “buy-election”) has revealed trends and phenomena that should cause BN to get worried, very worried.
First, winning by a majority of 1,700 votes does not necessarily indicate an increase of support. On the contrary, it could mean a substantial drop of support, if we consider the fact that in the last general election in March 2008, BN’s combined majority in the three state constituencies that made up the parliamentary constituency of Hulu Selangor was 6,300 votes.
If Umno can secure only a marginal victory (24,997 votes vs 23,272) after such heavy abuses of public funds and politically manipulated institutions, there is not the slightest chance that the same can be repeated in a general election, during which Hulu Selangor will surely fall back to PR, just as Ijok did previously.
Second, judging from the response of the electorate during the election campaign, Najib’s 1 Malaysia advocacy has failed to take root among BN’s supporters. This was prominently reflected in the respective finale of the two protagonists’ election campaign on the eve of polling. While the BN rally, estimated at 3,000, was attended almost exclusively by Malays, with a sprinkling of Indians; the 15,000 strong PR rally was a colourful display of multi-racialism with a healthy proportion of the three races of Malays, Chinese and Indians. It left one with the unmistakable impression that the coalition that has really succeeded in realising 1 Malaysia is PR, not BN.
Third, the Chinese support to BN has dwindled to an even smaller minority (less than one-third) despite the many carrots dangling in their faces — particularly Najib’s personal promise of a RM3 million grant to a Chinese school the very next day of polling, conditioned upon a BN win. This indicates that the Chinese electorate has politically matured to the point that they are relatively immune to BN’s election bribery. For them, nothing short of real reforms would do.
As Umno is not capable of instituting real reforms, this naturally spells the end of the political life span of the Chinese racial party MCA, and by corollary, that of Gerakan. With the Indian racial party MIC also having lost the support of Indians, the isolation of Umno in Peninsular Malaysia is complete, since these three parties are Umno’s only major partners in the peninsula. Considering that they had been the bulwark of support to Umno in past elections, their present eclipses mean that Umno’s political wings in the peninsula are clipped.
Hence, Umno’s final grasp at power is now hinged to its relationship with the BN component parties in Sabah and Sarawak, which unfortunately are not in the best of terms with the Umno-dominated federal government.
Known for their strong regionalism and thrust to their king-maker position by the political tsunami of the 2008 general election, Sabah and Sarawak are now a hive of discontent and resentment against the exploitation and short-changing of their autonomous rights under the autocratic Umno-dominated BN leadership.
With a maimed Umno in the peninsula, and a surging Pakatan Rakyat offering a just deal and restoration of autonomy to these two states, the people there for the first time have the real option of clinching the best political deal since the formation of Malaysia almost five decades ago.
Since the people in Sabah and Sarawak are less race-conscious than their peninsula counterparts and in fact rather irritated by the heavy racism practised by Umno, for how long can Umno’s race politics withstand the challenge for influence by the multi-racial Pakatan Rakyat in these two territories, and by extension the political power over the entire country?
The Hulu Selangor by-election has given us a pointer, and it isn’t look good for Umno.