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Riding waves on the M’sian tsunami

 | May 11, 2013

BN and Pakatan need to go back to the drawing board, reassess their positions on important issues, and envisage new ways to improve their platforms.

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The mood was jubilant at the Kelana Jaya mass rally held on the evening of May 8, as some 50,000 to 70,000 participants filled the stadium and crowded the highway. The national anthem was sung, slogans were changed, flags were waved, and people dispersed peacefully.

I cannot recall witnessing any police presence at the event or along the highway. Participants honked horns and carried around placards that read “Save Malaysia”, “1Bangla”, and my personal favorite, “Bangla Nasional (BN)”.

For one thing, the multi-ethnic crowd was a testament to Najib’s misstep with the “Chinese Tsunami” statement.

The thrust of his statement isn’t incorrect; Chinese voters by and large abandoned BN and voted for the opposition.

Really, the outpouring of support for Pakatan reflects an “Urban & New-Media User Tsunami,” which doesn’t exactly role off the tongue, so better or for worse, let’s call it a “Malaysian Tsunami”.

The swathes of discontent (predominately) young and middle-aged participants at the rally are indicative of the massive trust deficit the BN is faced with.

While it’s evident that many have lost faith in the government and the electoral authorities, the vast majority of opposition supporters are hostile to legitimate criticism of the Pakatan coalition and unwilling to scrupulously scrutinize hearsay and social-media rumours.

As questionable pictures float around social-media purporting to show “foreigners” standing in line to vote as definitive proof of BN being engaged in fraud, the DAP has condemned social network users for spreading rumours and allegations that a massive blackout took place in Bentong during the tallying of votes, at which time EC officials brought in “dubious ballot boxes” that favoured BN.

The opposition leader’s claims of 40,000 foreign nationals being flown into Malaysia to vote for BN remain unsubstantiated.

Partially free and not fair

The thrust of the report issued by the IDEAS Institute detailing their assessments of the election results is more-or-less objective and balanced; it presents the legitimate grievances of the rally-goers and lays out the challenges facing the EC and BN.

Firstly, many voters are under the impression that the EC is a creation of the BN; the report corrects those assumptions.

The membership of the EC are appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (Federal Head of State) after consultation with the Conference of Malay Rulers, not the Prime Minister (Head of the Government).

The report noted how the EC made a “bold and laudable” move to accredit 17 organisations as domestic election observers; five in Peninsula Malaysia, nine in Sarawak, and three in Sabah, noting that “the EC did not interfere with the recruitment process of observers, and the organisations were given full autonomy to recruit, train and deploy their volunteers within the terms and conditions of their appointment.”

The report highlights how the EC continues to face criticism from many quarters as a result of the widespread perception that the EC is not politically independent.

The authors of the report attribute this to the EC’s failure to affectively appease public concerns (compounded by hundreds of cases of indelible ink washing off), as well as all EC officials being former civil servants.

The authors state “the EC is open to new ideas, but their weakness is that they can only work cordially with organisations that employ a non-confrontational approach.”

The report confirms what is an obvious truth, that the Malaysian mainstream-media environment is heavily dominated by BN-friendly coverage. The report notes how the BN government offered Pakatan a 10-minute, pre-recorded slot on RTM to air their manifesto. Pakatan rejected this offer on the basis that 10 minutes was insufficient compared to the coverage enjoyed by BN.

More troublingly, the report notes the repeated usage of government facilities, especially government schools, for BN campaigns, along with cases of political speeches being delivered in army camps.

It is fair to say that these instances created an uneven field as it allowed BN to campaign using government facilities paid for by taxpayers. The report cites concerns that the electoral roll contained multiple cases of voters sharing the same name and address, voters sharing the same IC number, mismatch between gender indicated by IC and data on EC database, voters with incomplete house addresses.

The authors stated their belief that popular suspicions would have not arisen if the integrity of the electoral roll were guaranteed, though it does not link these alleged discrepancies to any abuses that would have allowed BN to unfairly win the election.

Perhaps the most compelling discrepancy was that constituency electorate sizes were not delineated proportionately. The EC, not the government, is empowered to delineate constituencies every 10 years, and the last delineation exercise was done in 2003.

The report notes how the difference in constituency electorate sizes was limited to a margin of 15% above or below the average constituency electorate at the time of independence. This rule was relaxed in the 1960s and was completely removed in 1973, allowing a political party to win the majority of seats through winning smaller constituencies, but without receiving the majority of popular votes, which is what happened in GE13.

This is by far the most glaring case of an institutional-slant in favour of BN.

The report states, “While the overall election process proceeded with no major incidences, we observed verbal and physical confrontations against several individuals who resembled foreigners. Despite the various technical issues, we found that the overall election process proceeded smoothly and the vast majority of the glitches were not major. Many of these issues were rectified by the EC officers on duty immediately. We also found most nomination and polling centres to be well organised. We also found the effectiveness of the indelible ink to be questionable, and the allegations of phantom voters to be plentiful. However, we were not able to verify if the alleged foreigners were indeed foreigners, or they were actually Malaysians who looked like foreigners.”

It should be noted that the Merdeka Centre, called “the country’s most respected polling organisation” by many international media outlets, criticised the IDEAS Institute report, saying it rejected some of the reports “accusations” because it believed they had gone beyond their scope of work.

The Merdeka Centre also accused the opposition of making a “host of unsubstantiated allegations about the elections”. Though the IDEAS report lays heavy focus on the BN’s control of mainstream media, it omits how Pakatan dominates social media and is able to reach millions through new-media applications, which would be entirely necessary to explain in such an assessment; it fails to do so.

It is also worth noting that Pakatan is not denied space on mainstream-media, it chose to refuse it because it was unhappy with the time allotments. Pakatan is also not prevented from using digital media and having print newspapers, not prevented from campaigning, and granted freedom of movement.

What is curious, is that the IDEAS Institute report hesitated to classify Pakatan’s claims as “unsubstantiated allegations”, even when it admitted it could not confirm their statements.

Moreover, it noted how “the overall election process proceeded smoothly” and that “the vast majority of the glitches were not major” lending credibility away from claims of that “massive fraud” took place.

The report does make sound recommendations on how to improve the functionality of the EC, which include: making members of the EC explicitly accountable to and appointed by a permanent and bipartisan special parliamentary committee, that EC members be recruited transparently from experts in the field, and most importantly, that the next constituency delineation exercise ensure equal representation of votes with a discrepancy is limited to no more than 15% from the average constituency in each state, in line with the original Malaysian constitution in 1957.

Pakatan should substantiate allegations

As reports assessing the electoral process and outcome continue to be released over the coming days, it is important for individuals be objective in their conclusions by looking at as many reports as possible to obtain a clear picture of what happened on the ground.

Grand allegations were made by opposition leaders alleging massive fraud, and as third party reports surface, the validity of those allegations lose ground as observes fail to corroborate them.

It is a big deal if the opposition leader’s claim resulted in the racial profiling and abuse of Indian Malaysian voters, and it is deeply disingenuous if the opposition leader continues to allege false or baseless allegations to packed-stadiums filled with people who have placed their trust in his words.

Failure to provide definitive evidence should not be forgotten by the opposition leader’s rank and file. Campaigning formally ended on May 4, but one coalition has continued.

PKR deputy president Azmin Ali recently called on the opposition leader to “accept the people’s choice. Move forward with policies that put them (the rakyat) first, not bully them using the country’s peace and stability,” criticising the rally.

In view of the IDEAS Institute report and other third-party assessments, although Malaysia’s electoral system is guilty of retaining structural biases that favour the BN in some areas, the 13th general election was free of major cases of outright fraud.

Both coalitions need to go back to the drawing board, reassess their positions on important issues, and envisage new ways to improve their platforms.

Najib is now in a delicate position, and he should make greater efforts to address the trust deficit that exists between the people and the Malaysian leadership, and focus on implementing reforms to the EC that are recommended by observer groups to ensure greater transparency; he must now focus on the most pressing and arduous task ahead of him – reestablishing trust with an angry, highly polarized and wary electorate.

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at [email protected].


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