Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Chance to change

Come to think of it, PM Abdullah Badawi should shake Anwar Ibrahim's hands as a gesture of gratitude for having 'humiliated' him in the last General Elections. For without him and the loose opposition coalition's success in wresting 4 states from the BN, Abdullah Badawi would not have been able to get rid of some dead wood in his old Cabinet and given him a chance today to reform his government, particularly those at the highest levels. I can imagine that all components parties in the BN will now be less quarelsome when it comes to the allocation of cabinet posts. Abdullah Badawi has a great opportunity to put good people in the proper places so that it would be easier for him to forward his agenda of fighting corruption and nepotism. He should stay put with the old gang left by his predecessor, Dr Mahathir.

The question is, would he do it? Or is his weakened authority and credibility going to force him to accept Tom, Dick and Harry that his stronger 'colleagues' in the BN, like Najib Tun Razak, and conceivably Mukhriz Mahathir, have in mind? If he cannot exert his authority, or what is left of it, in gathering a good team around himself - people who are interested in serving the country rather than themselves - then he may as well retire from politics today.

For clearly the next 5 years cannot be more of the same. Yes, he has articulated his position through the Wall Street Journal partly to calm the financial markets, but talk is still talk. Would he walk the talk, for example, in fighting corruption, which he listed as his third objective in the statement to the WSJ? We know he said that 5 years ago, but didn't follow up with enough concrete action to fulfill that promise. What gives anyone any confidence that he can do better in the next 5 years? Hopefully the factor will be the absence of imcompetent former ministers and leaders who may be more interested in building themselves palatial homes in an exclusive suburb in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur or fattening their Swiss bank accounts, if any exists. With a chastened BN, there is opportunity to do the right thing and not the old thing.

Hopefully, Ahmad Badawi will not fail his people this time. Or are the knives already out for his head?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Humble pie around the table

The writing was already on the wall. Riots, running inflation, perceived injustice suffered by the Indians, corruption at the highest places, religious bias in favour of the state religion, Islam, in a supposedly multi-racial multi-religious country - the results of the Malaysian Election are hardly unexpected, except the scale of the upset. Upset is perhaps too tame a word to use. Some called it a tsunami that knocked the incumbent BN off their pedestal, forcing them to eat humble pie this time around. The Barisan Nasional (BN), the ruling coalition led by PM Abdullah, lost a total of 5 states - Kedah (the home state of former PM Mahathir), Penang (the home state of sitting PM Abdullah Badawi), Selangor, Perak and Kelantan (retained by PAS). The BN even lost to lawyer Manoharan, a candidate who is still incarcerated in Malaysia's prisons under the Internal Security Act. Can it be any more humiliating than this? And for the first time perhaps, a blogger, Jeff Ooi, won against seasoned politicians.  

And they failed to retain their two-thirds majority. I don't understand why the two-thirds is a factor in the first place. Sure it allows the government to change the Constitution, but does anyone want to change the Constitution? Two-thirds is an important and indicative target because it shows the total confidence that the electorate has in the ruling party - confident enough to allow them to change the Constitution at will. But that confidence is no more.

Many of the bigwigs in BN either lost their seats or were returned with reduced majorities. For all the hype surrounding Khairy Jamaluddin, UMNO's Dpy Youth Chief, he won by a slim majority of 5,746 votes. The previous BN candidate had won by a margin of 18,656 in 2004. People just aren't comfortable with this young man. His work is cut out for him once his father-in-law exits the political stage sooner rather than later. 

Probably the only consolation the BN got was DPM Najib Razak's overwhelming victory in Pekan, Pahang - polling an increased 26,464-vote majority - in a constituency that he has held since he was 22 and before that, his father, Malaysia's second PM, Tun Abdul Razak. What can be said perhaps is that the electorate has kept faith with its favourite political family. Now, there is more reason for PM Najib to claim the Premiership from Abdullah Badawi, notwithstanding questions over his alleged involvement in the murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu. This case will now probably never see the light of day.

And of course, Malaysian's heeded their former PM Mahathir's instructions - dump Samy Vellu. Ironically, Mahathir is probably now a very happy person. First, he isn't the PM that suffered such as stunning loss. People apparently still listen to him. He will probably see PM Abdullah Badawi stand aside in favour of DPM Najib - something he has been very vocal about. His son, Mukhriz Mahathir won in Jerlun, Kedah, which used to be part of Kubang Pasu where his father was MP for 3 decades.

Anwar Ibrahim is probably also a very happy man. Both his wife and daughter won their Permatang Pauh and Lembah Pantai parliamentary seats respectively. Wan Azizah Ismail polled a vastly improved majority over her last election. Although Nurul's majority margin was only 2,895, she was up against a formidable and proven opponent. She wasn't even expected to win.

In hindsight, Mahathir should also take responsibility for this huge setback. He said Samy Vellu had overstayed his welcome, but he had kept him as a government Minister for all those many years he was the PM. The corruption, the rot, did not start with Abdullah Badawi. Mahathir may or may not be corrupt, but as the PM, he didn't have a hoot of an idea how to resolve the problem. History will have many negative things to say about the Mahathir years which may have contributed to today's sorry state of affairs.   

Truly, the political landscape has changed drastically with this latest elections. One only hopes that the BN will pay more attention and gain a greater urgency in resolving problems that have been festering for years.