It was on 8 March 2008, at Malaysia’s 12th General Election (12GE), that a “political tsunami” hit the Barisan Nasional (BN). It was totally unexpected – even for the opposition. Fifty one percent of the popular vote in Peninsular Malaysia went to the opposition along with the control of five state governments. History was also made when the opposition denied BN their customary 2/3 super majority for Parliamentary seats (read here).
How have the main protagonists –Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Rakyat and the people of Malaysia — fared over the past two years?
Prime Minister Najib Razak came in with heavy baggage and followed a simple formula – (i) consolidate power to himself, (ii) reinforce and/or form strategic alliances with the representatives of various communities directly – including select opposition members, (iii) please the Rakyat with goodies while attempting to curb a fiscal blow-out (read here and here) and (iv) attack the opposition coalition, especially Anwar Ibrahim relentlessly (read here) . Najib has now managed to overthrow a legitimately elected opposition government illegitimately (read here), and he has engineered the defection of four Parti Keadilan Rakyat Members of Parliament. It appears that Najib is adamant about getting back the two-third majority in Parliament to gerrymander the constituencies in preparation for the 13th general election (read here). More importantly, Najib has discarded his reformist plans for right wing extremism to shore-up his fading support in UMNO.
Despite the public show of “invincibility” — possible only because of Malaysia’s dysfunctional democracy — the Barisan Nasional is in disarray. The non-Malay component parties on the Peninsular were almost wiped out –surviving only on the goodwill of UMNO. However, intra-party leadership squabbles after the 12GE have made them irrelevant. The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the second most senior party in the BN, is currently without a President. The fight is essentially about the way the ex-President and Minister of Transport, Ong Tee Keat, has handled Malaysia’s largest scandal – the Port Klang Free Trade Zone (PKFZ). He has chosen to go public but vested interests in MCA and UMNO don’t agree.
The Malaysian Indian Congress has leadership problems as strongman Samy Velu’s nominee will not automatically be the next President. New and old blood fight for positions in a party that for all intents and purposes has been reduced to a welfare organisation (read here).
Then there is GERAKAN: formed by progressive Malaysians in the 60s, it was wiped out of its stronghold in Penang as the DAP formed government. It’s President, Koh Tsu Koon who lost in the election was given a Ministerial position via a Senatorial appointment, courtesy of UMNO. It’s long serving ex-President and current advisor indicated that GERAKAN’s days are over (read here and here).
The other party on the Peninsular worth mentioning is the People’s Progressive Party, which is also facing a leadership tussle. Its only representative in government has threatened to leave the party if an amicable solution is not found. He had earlier challenged the President of the party but failed (read here and here).
BN’s component parties in Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia are slightly more complex yet easier to manage. Political parties in East Malaysia are all regional except for Peninsular based parties such as UMNO, DAP, PAS and MCA and therefore not really concerned with issues on the Peninsular except for Federal-State relations. While the issues are far more complex than on the Peninsular, due to its tribal/parochial nature and the level of democratic development, it tends to be far easier to manage. BN only has to convince the local leadership by providing “benefits”. However, with 56 Parliamentary seats, East Malaysia is crucial to any coalition attempting to form government. On the surface, BN component parties in East Malaysia have aligned themselves to BN – but this could easily change, if Pakatan Rakyat provides a “better deal” to East Malaysia in terms of Federal – State relationship (Read here and here).
Pakatan Rakyat (PR) remains standing despite the relentless attack by BN. The fall of the PR Perak state government provided a lesson in vigilance: never ever underestimate the depth of deviousness that BN is prepared to entertain to retain power. PR itself as a coalition that is evolving with much difficulty, managing the notion of being in power. It has attempted to formalise itself into a “Grand Coalition” very much like BN (read here). Without doubt, PR will need to improve its choices of candidates, especially Keadilan – who Anwar himself admits is a weak link (read here and here). Its policies are still unclear with PAS having a “Welfare State” and the DAP has just launched “Middle Malaysia”. PR’s current slogan is “Save Malaysia.”
As for the people of Malaysia, 8 March 2008 brought both hope and fear. There was hope that Malaysia will return to being a democratic nation and fear that UMNO would use Malay and Islamic extremism to win back support. The country has also been paralysed with intense politicking among all parties while policymaking is now centralised in the Prime Minister’s Department as debates in Parliament become ever more theatrical. Although the economy has just come out of a recession, for most Malaysians, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Once again, only time will tell what will happen to Malaysia in the next few years.
There have been several other analyses on the second anniversary of the historic 12GE. Here is a useful selection:
- Ooi Kee Beng: Pakatan Rakyat’s glass is half full
- Kee Thuan Chye: March 8 Two Years After – What Gives?
- Pakatan Rakyat: Blowing its own trumpet?
- The New Straits Times (UMNO owned English language broadsheet): Are some frogs better than others and Young voters to call the shots
- The Star (MCA owned English language broadsheet): Two party system still elusive