Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Be ready for a snap Parliamentary election

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Malaysian politics is most interesting indeed, which is an understatement of sorts. And the winner amongst all this chaos and turmoil appears to be Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. And the longer Abdullah can hold on to power the more chance Khairy Jamaluddin has of becoming Prime Minister. If I were asked to rate the chances of who will become the next Prime Minister I would rate it as follows:

1. Khairy Jamaluddin
2. Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah
3. Muhyiddin Yassin
4. Anwar Ibrahim
5. Najib Tun Razak

This order of priority can of course change because the above is based on certain criterion and factors, which means if these criterion and factors change then the order of priority would change as well. Of course, this, again, would all depend on how long Abdullah can hold on to power. That is criteria number one. If he can hold on for another ten years or so, then Khairy is well-placed to take over. And since Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad held on for 22 years in spite of the many attempts to unseat him there is no reason to believe Abdullah cannot hold on for half that period.

One thing must be made very clear. Abdullah can be unseated only two ways. One would be that Barisan Nasional is kicked out of office. The other would be an internal revolt by his own party, Umno. Forget about a military take-over. That is one thing that can never happen and which will never be tolerated. It would be most dangerous to give the military the taste of power. Once they acquire that taste they might not want to relinquish power back to a civilian government. Anyway, such things are not within Malaysian culture.

Scenario one: Barisan Nasional is kicked out of office and Abdullah is ousted

This can happen in two ways. One would be come the next election the voters swing to Pakatan Rakyat in even bigger numbers -- which is Scenario 1A. But the swing must be really very large. On 8 March 2008, Barisan Nasional won about half the votes with the balance going to Pakatan Rakyat. In terms of Malay to non-Malay votes it was also almost balanced -- 51% of the Malay votes and 49% of the non-Malay votes went to Barisan Nasional.

In spite of getting only about half the votes, Barisan Nasional still won 140 seats against Pakatan Rakyat’s 82. Because of the gerrymandering system that Malaysia practices, half the votes do not translate to half the seats. Pakatan Rakyat would have to garner at least 60% of the votes to form the federal government. This would be easier said that done.

Anyway, the next general election could be in 2012 or 2013. That is too far away and many things can happen within four or five years. There is no guarantee the voters can maintain their anger with the ruling coalition. Voters appear to have this pendulum mentality. They swing one-way one election and the other the next. Look at what happened in 1999 against 2004 and again in 2008 against 2004. It looks like 2008 equals 1999 so there is reason to believe that 2012/2013 will equal 2004 -- which means Barisan Nasional could probably swing back with a large majority come the next election if it is held four or five years from now.

Therefore the next general election can’t wait. It has to be held now, while the voters are still ‘in the mood’. And since we do not have a general election scheduled just yet then one has to be triggered through a cross over -- which may then trigger a new Parliamentary election.

And that will bring us to Scenario 1B -- at least 30 Barisan Nasional Members of Parliament have to cross over to Pakatan Rakyat.

Anwar Ibrahim actually does have more than 30 Barisan Nasional Members of Parliament with him, 43 to be exact. But they are mostly from Sabah and Sarawak. This, however, raises another problem. And the problem is race politics. Umno is currently on a nation-wide campaign to explain to the Malays that the Malays have lost political power and that the Malay states have fallen into non-Malay hands. If the status quo is maintained, this propaganda and campaign of misinformation does not succeed. The Malays do not buy this argument. But if 30 or 40 Members of Parliament from Sabah and Sarawak cross over then this would ‘prove’ that Umno is telling the truth.

Currently there are a total of 122 Malay Members of Parliament against 100 non-Malays. 79 of the Malays are from Umno, 23 from PAS, and 20 from PKR. This makes it higher than even in 2004, Barisan Nasional’s best performance in Malaysian election history. The number of Malay Members of Parliament has never gone above 120. So 2008 makes it a new record.

Therefore Barisan Nasional is still Malay-dominated: 79 Malays against 61 non-Malays. And Pakatan Rakyat is also Malay-dominated: 43 Malays against 39 non-Malays. Whether you look at Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat, both are the same. The Malays outnumber the non-Malays. So Umno’s campaign of misinformation fails. The Malays have not lost political power. The Malays not only now have more Parliament seats but in both coalitions the Malays form the majority.

Say, however, 30 Ibans, Dayaks, Kadazans, Chinese, etc. -- basically all non-Malays and non-Muslims from Sabah and Sarawak -- leave Barisan Nasional and join Pakatan Rakyat. Pakatan Rakyat would now form the federal government with 43 Malay Members of Parliament and 69 non-Malay Members of Parliament. Now Umno would be proven correct. Political power has now shifted into the hands of the non-Malays, at least from Umno’s point of view -- which they will make sure will eventually be the Malay rakyat’s point of view as well.

Yes, Anwar does have at least 30 Members of Parliament from Sabah and Sarawak waiting to cross over. But this is not good enough and Anwar can’t make his move yet lest the issue of political power shifting into the hands of the non-Malays becomes a ‘real’ issue, which can then be exploited by Umno to the hilt. Furthermore, the figure of 30 is too close to the bone. 30 gives Pakatan Rakyat a mere two-seat majority and if just one Member of Parliament, say someone like Ibrahim Ali, crosses over to Umno, then Malaysia would have a hung Parliament of 111 against 111. It would be better that Anwar gets 40 to cross over rather than 30. That would still be just a simple majority without a two-thirds in Parliament but at least there would be enough ‘surplus’ to withstand a counter-cross over of the likes of Ibrahim Ali.

This again means that the 40 must be at least 20 from Umno and 20 from the other non-Malay component parties of Barisan Nasional. So, if ten from Umno Sabah cross over, then Anwar would have to convince another ten Umno Malay Members of Parliament from West Malaysia to cross over as well. This would give Pakatan Rakyat 63 Malay Members of Parliament against 59 non-Malays. Umno would then not be able to allege that political power has shifted into the hands of the non-Malays and the racial overtures would be damped.

Okay, getting ten Umno Members of Parliament from Sabah to cross over is possible. But where would Anwar get the ten Members of Parliament from West Malaysia? That is the key to the whole thing. If Anwar can get ten Members of Parliament from Sabah, another ten from West Malaysia, and another 20 Dayaks, Ibans, Kadazans and Chinese, then he would have a done deal. If not then Pakatan Rakyat would just be taking over a government bogged down by racial strife. In that case better the present status is maintained.

And that, basically, is the crux to the whole matter and is what is causing the delay. Anwar can’t solve one problem by creating an even bigger problem, especially if it involves racial strife.

Anyway, while Anwar is busy planning and plotting the cross over, Umno has not quite been just twiddling its thumbs. In anticipation of this cross over, Umno is planning a snap election. Yes, that’s right, once at least 30 Barisan Nasional Members of Parliament cross over, Abdullah will request the Agong to dissolve Parliament and for a fresh Parliamentary election to be held. This will not involve the states though as there is no need to call for state elections as well.

But the prerogative to dissolve Parliament is the Agong’s. Abdullah can’t dissolve Parliament. He can only request for Parliament to be dissolved as the power to dissolve Parliament lies in the hands of the Agong. Whether the Agong will agree to the dissolution of Parliament is yet to be seen and would be the most interesting point to consider in this move to frustrate Pakatan Rakyat from forming the new federal government.

Abdullah believes that a snap Parliamentary election will work in his favour. First, he can use the election to get rid of all those thorns in his flesh. The election can be used as the means to not only purge Umno but the other Barisan Nasional component parties as well. It will be the best excuse to launch a spring-cleaning exercise.

Second, Abdullah believes that Pakatan Rakyat will not have the funds to finance another election so soon after the last one while Umno and Barisan Nasional is still flush with funds.

Third, Abdullah believes that the voters are now satisfied. They have already ‘punished’ Barisan Nasional on 8 March 2008 and the ‘message’ has been successfully delivered. The voters, this time around, will swing back to Barisan Nasional, so believes Abdullah.

But it will be the Agong and not Abdullah who will decide if a snap Parliamentary election is going to be held. Ironically, for once, the future of this country lies in the hands of the Agong. And will the Agong do what is best for Malaysia? I wish I knew the answer to that question.

Scenario two: Abdullah is ousted internally

This will depend entirely on Umno. Whoever wants to contest the post of party President and Deputy President would need nominations from at least 58 Umno divisions. That would include the incumbents. Abdullah and Najib as well as their prospective challengers would need not less than 58 nominations to qualify contesting the Presidency and Deputy Presidency and those who fail to get these 58 nominations would lose their right to contest the December party elections.

As it stands now, there is no reason to believe Abdullah or Najib would not get these 58 nominations. Whether Tengku Razaleigh, Muhyiddin, and anyone else who wish to make a bid for the two top posts will also receive enough nominations is the RM580 million question currently on everyone’s lips. If they can’t then it would be a walkover for Abdullah and Najib and they will both win without contest. But if anyone else also gets 58 nominations, then it would be the delegates to the December 2008 Umno general assembly who will decide the next Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia.

And if Abdullah stays on beyond December, then he will stay on for a long time to come and Khairy will be assured of a place in Malaysia’s hall of fame and the RAHMAN theory may be proved correct after all -- the ‘N’ of course being ‘Nori’s husband’.

As for Najib, well, he might not make it. There is a good chance that Muhyiddin may yet oust him come December. And if Muhyiddin makes it and becomes Abdullah’s new running mate then Khairy faces no obstacles to his career progression path. In fact, it would be better for Abdullah and Khairy if Muhyiddin manages to displace Najib. But then if Muyhiddin teams up with Tengku Razaleigh this would paint an entirely new scenario. Will Tengku Razaleigh and Muhyiddin combine forces against Abdullah and Najib? You will have to come back later to get the answer to that one -- that is if I feel like revealing whether a Razaleigh-Muhyiddin vs. Abdullah-Najib tag-team exists.

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