Wednesday, June 3, 2009

One by-election too many?

By Elections In Malaysia
The Electric New Paper, Singapore
MON 01 JUNE 2009 - Tan May Ping

THERE have been seven by-elections in Malaysia since the March 2008 general election in which the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) won a close battle against Mr Anwar Ibrahim's Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition, comprising PKR, PAS and DAP.

Some Malaysians are already calling 2009 'a year of by-elections', especially since the last parliamentary term from 2004 to 2008 saw only six by-elections - or an average of 1.5 a year.

The New Paper on Sunday spoke to three analysts about the 'by-election effect'.

They are Dr Ooi Kee Beng, fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore; Professor James Chin, political science professor at Monash University in Malaysia, and Dr Ahmad Nidzammudin Sulaiman, University Kebangsaan Malaysia's political science head.

How do the by-elections affect the Malaysian psyche?

Dr Ooi: They add to the feeling that changes will not come easily and that they are in for a long period of political battles.

Prof Chin: Voters are unhappy that so much money is wasted on by-elections.

Dr Ahmad: Overall, Malaysians have no problem and look forward to them.

How do they affect the Malaysian economy?

Dr Ooi: Minimally. What does affect the economy are federal policies and federal postures vis-a-vis the opposition states, which happen to be the most industrialised states that the national economy is dependent on.

Prof Chin: Nothing direct, but overall it creates an atmosphere of political instability.

Dr Ahmad: Not much. There are many other factors like the current global economic slump. Elections in Malaysia are safely run and I don't think foreign investors are overly worried.

How do they affect the political situation in Malaysia?

Dr Ooi: Malaysian politics will be kept in a 'campaigning mode' for too long. This affects how changes will take place, and defensiveness and offensiveness will become the mode of thought more than 'nation-building'.

Prof Chin: Political parties come alive during elections so it's good for them.

Dr Ahmad: Since March 2008, Malaysia has been in a transition period into more open, competitive new politics. These elections heighten politicking among parties. They, however, do not disrupt the overall political system.

Do they strengthen the opposition hand as opposed to the BN?

Dr Ooi: Yes, they favour the opposition for now. But they do tell the BN that they cannot win if they do not change fast enough.

The pressure is on the opposition to get its act together, to deliver on reforms where they can and to improve the quality of their rank-and-file.

Prof Chin: Yes and no. For Perak, it strengthens the PR.

Dr Ahmad: The current position of the opposition does strengthen since the common interest of the members to knock down BN is still intact. Conflicting ideologies are put aside for the sake of this common interest.

On the other hand, BN cohesion looks a little shaken as a few component parties have threatened to pull out.

Going forward, what is the best strategy for BN?

Dr Ooi: Turning the economy around, and improving international trade relations. BN component parties have to respond to the demands of the times. This is where they are at a loss. I suspect BN will have to lose power in order to become a healthy organisation again.

Prof Chin: As the incumbent in power since Independence, they must fight for every seat, even in hopeless cases. They cannot allow the PR and Anwar momentum.

Dr Ahmad: There is no short-cut remedy for 50 years of blunders they have made. People are demanding good governance, transparency, accountability and open society. They have to sacrifice a lot to regain public confidence.

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