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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hulu Selangor and the unstoppable wave of new politics - Harakahdaily

Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad  

For the plethora of events that have recently unfolded, my silence has, perhaps, been deafening. Few have called in to say ‘hello’ while old friends have jokingly insinuated that I may be contemplating to cross over after Pakatan’s defeat in the Hulu Selangor (HS) by-election. One is now challenged to come out with a commentary on HS.
First let me clarify my position on writing a ‘post-mortem’ of sorts. I have almost decided to only read post-mortems. It may be best that way. Why? If you insist to know, I will tell you. The reason is simple. A post-mortem is done on the dead. A pathologist is almost always right but he is also always 24 hours late.
On the other hand, a traumatologist’s acumen, working in the A&E Department, is critical to save the lives of poisoned or traumatized patients/victims as he manages them in those most critical moments. Rather than simply explaining why someone died, a traumatologist if successful will help survive the ordeal.
I would prefer to assume the role of rescuer. Better still, is to be amongst those who practise ‘preventive medicine’. They strategise for better health care for the community because it is their job to understand causes of mortality or morbidity as to proactively and preemptively provide measures to enhance health-care and well-being. A pathologist is nonetheless still important in medical practice.
I hope this clarifies my reluctance, especially for a by-election that was predictable before 'death' and where those in the position to do something about it, could not or did not do much to avert the pitfall.
Beyond numbers and figures
Now, almost two weeks after HS, I want to revisit the by-election, but not by looking down at numbers and trends, so many have already done that and the typical reactions abound, but more importantly to comment on the political trajectory of endearing Malaysia with a vibrant functional democracy.
Driving back from Hulu Selangor to Shah Alam on the night of April 25, I was asked by two prominent colleagues from Singapore about the outcome. I reproduce those discussions here verbatim for your perusal as it truly reflected my emotion and rationale then and more so now.
“Frankly, I like the results so that it humbles us to be battle ready for the next GE. We can’t win on goodwill alone, while our machineries are nowhere near battle ready…"
Constrained by space, the narrative has to be selective and it is meant to serve the writer’s intention.
The two main take-aways from the Hulu Selangor contest, from the writer’s perspective are the following:
1. The current political environment in Malaysia no longer allows BN to assume power with impunity. Reversion perhaps retrogression to ‘normality’ i.e. unbridled power of the BN pre-12 GE is not no longer an option for the rakyat.
2. Although BN no longer has assurances of sailing to victory, neither does Pakatan Rakyat, and while BN seems to be aware of the work cut out for them, Pakatan, amazingly, seems to think they now have the status that BN previously had.
The recent contest has shed light on the strengthening of democracy in Malaysia and it is heartening for the people.
A full-fledged democracy requires fulfillment of three essential conditions: extensive political contestation based policy advocacy (not smear campaign or character assignation), guaranteed civil and political liberties of the voters including the exclusion of intimidation and fear and equitable access to the media for contesting parties/candidates.
What 'referendum'?
It must now be overwhelmingly evident to Najib and his deputy, that neither the brute force and the entire fire-power of the BN’s machinery, media and money nor cajoling of the electorates with tag-lines like “BN Mampu Berubah – BN Could Change” could ever reverse Malaysian political topography to ‘normality’.
It is not without reasons that Muhyiddin Yassin wanted the BN to win by 6,000 votes. He reminisces and cherishes the days of old when BN could win big, as in a landslide and usually hands-down. The three seats won by BN’s state assemblymen in HS had a total majority of 6167 votes in the March 2008 GE.
Assuming the majority of 198 won by the late PKR member of parliament was almost like ‘personal-to-holder’, he wanted the entire 6,000 votes to return to the BN.
On the back of that optimism, Najib dubbed the by-election a ‘referendum’. What referendum? That surely must be his 1-Malaysia, of his many APCO-manufactured reform-gimmicks and perhaps his newly minted but least understood New Economic Model.
Was that achieved? No. Najib’s BN does not quite understand the dynamics and mechanics of the contestation of the New Politics. Yes the BN candidate P.Kamalanathan has won. Not by 6,000 though but a mere 2.6% or 1725. That was on the back of an increased turnout of almost 2,000 voters. Simply put, 1,800 went to the BN and the rest to PR’s Zaid Ibrahim.
A lot could be said of ethnic shifts and swings with respect to polling stations and streams. But for this narration, those findings are not quite pertinent. Taken as a whole though, PKR retained 36% of Malay vote, 45% of Indian votes and almost had 77% of Chinese votes. You can’t really read and extrapolate too much into it.
Admittedly by all, it was not a small feat for Zaid to have gotten 48% of the votes especially when Najib threw RM100 million into the ring. Zaid and later the Pakatan’s machineries mounted a gallant fight back despite all the smear campaign, allegation of numerous electoral offences and enormous odds staked against him from day 1.
'Hulu' but not gullible
The results are arguably very consoling and reassuring for the well-wishers of democracy and particularly the advocates of the two-party system. After the setback in Bagan Pinang, another difficult constituency for the New Politics, the nation is assured that the rakyat’s commitment to reform is here to stay and has indeed been reinforced.
A thrashing or a thumping victory of the BN, would have time-tunneled us into believing that the one powerful party state of the Old Politics is back. And mind you this is ‘Hulu’, meaning ‘remote’ Selangor or should I say all the more that it is Hulu Selangor - quite like Batang Air (Sarawak) - the more ‘gullible’ and ‘information-deficient’ sections of the rakyat with an Indian-estate, Malay-Felda settlement and pockets of semi-urban settings with perhaps a more ‘informed’ middle-ground electorates.
Even in HS, no semblance of a return to the hegemonic power of the Umno/BN is allowed by the electorates. If there is one thing that gives me great consolation, this is it. Never mind the wake-up call for the Pakatan and all those aspirations for a regime change in the next GE.
To the writer, that could not be more important than observing the fact that if Hulu Selangor and perhaps Kuala Selangor, Hulu Langat, Kuala Langat and all other ‘Hulus and Kualas’ throughout the Selangor State and the entire nation like Hulu Terengganu and Kuala Kerai etc, are amenable to embrace the New Politics of Reason, the future for a vibrant and functional democracy is something within reach and may see the light of the day.
No amount of money, goodies and strong-arm tactics of the old Politics of Fear, will now ever be able to dismantle and demolish that landscape of the New Malaysian Politics. The ‘division’ of Malaysian electorates has never been more pronounced.
New Polity
That is almost a prerequisite for the establishment of a New Polity, i.e. the existence of  ‘well-informed citizenry’, to paraphrase Al Gore, that will serve as the ultimate check and balance for a truly functional democracy, especially when critical democratic institutions of the nation like the Judiciary, EC, Suhakam, MACC, MCMC etc are dysfunctional, severely compromised and endlessly subverted.
Viewed from this perspective, the slow but sure emergence of a two-party system should be welcomed by all. The quest for a vibrant democracy will bring with it an enhanced integrity and a truly responsible government, be it the government of the BN or PR.  It is this that would propel and leap-frog us to a developed nation status.
The sooner Najib and his administration understand these new realities the better it is for the nation. While Najib will surely oppose the rise of Pakatan, as it is most expected of a zero-sum politics, Najib’s BN must not prolong the subversion of the birth of a functional democracy that will pave way for a New Malaysia.


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