©The Malaysian Insider
APRIL 13 – Many Barisan Nasional leaders are still confounded over the failure of the BN to wrest the Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau seats. I was in Bukit Gantang for over a week and had the privilege of witnessing the campaign first hand. The BN machinery was surprisingly well oiled and moved much better than at Permatang Pauh and Kuala Terengganu. In fact, I witnessed a kind of cohesiveness that many thought the BN was incapable of. However, there were still challenges.
On the Pakatan Rakyat side, PAS was as efficient as they could be; despite rumours of a split. It did not seem to affect the campaign as they moved in unison with victory clearly their ultimate aim. The BN campaign was segmented based on the ethnicity of the electorate. In Malay areas, the issue of Derhaka was driven to the hilt with banners and posters condemning Nizar Jamaluddin for going against the Sultan of Perak. He was also accused of being a stooge of the Perak DAP, especially of Nga Kor Ming and Ngeh Koo Ham.
When it came to the Chinese voters, Gerakan and MCA were given the task of explaining the change of government in Perak. The hostility of the Chinese community was evident and many were openly expressing support for Nizar. They felt the Pakatan state government was removed through unjust means and the final arbiters should have been the people. The major problem of the BN campaign was the segmentation of the campaign message backfired. The usual way of saying one thing to the Malays and another thing to the non-Malays may have worked in the past but this time it was counterproductive. The Chinese and Indians were put off by the constant characterisation of Nizar as stooge of the Nga-Ngeh cousins and invariably this was taken as meaning that Umno was trying to paint him as a puppet of the Chinese.
Some leaders even went to extent of exclaiming that the BN Government was more Malay than the PR Government. This was not only childish and immature but contradicted the BN’s claim that only they could ensure harmony and unity in Malaysia. As BN leaders accused PR of threatening national unity, many felt that it was the BN that was trading with sentiments. In fact, we even had BN leaders postulating that the people have now “repented” and will gladly return to the Barisan fold. This was a faux pas even for the staunchest of Barisan supporters. Many feel that it was the BN that needs to repent and adopt some level of earnestness when dealing with voters.
On the Pakatan side, Nizar had the same message for all communities. It was about justice, fairness and equity. He spoke with great conviction of his hopes for a more prosperous and equitable Malaysia. He explained that the special position of the Malays as guaranteed under the Constitution is at the heart of the Pakatan’s agenda; however he explained that the non-Malays must also have their rights under the constitution protected.
Nizar also explained how Pakatan will bring change to Malaysia through honest leadership. I concede it was a breath of fresh air. It was refreshing and full of hope thus giving everyone in the audience a sense of belonging. For once, we were not reminded of our ethnicity or differences but we were exhorted to unite and coalesce around the universal messages of truth and justice.
Malaysians in the Pakatan ceremahs were not told of the delicate social fabric or the fragile harmony but reminded of the similarities of communities and religions share. The Malays clapped and exclaimed that God was great, the Chinese roared in approval and the Indians cheered on as Nizar explained how he would like to see Malaysia and how he sees Malaysians. The end result was that the Malay support for the BN only rose by 5% but the non-Malay support for the BN plunged over 13%.
The result was a victory of almost 2,800 votes for PAS despite pulling out all the stops and even featuring former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on the weekend before the vote. Despite throwing all that they had, the BN could not dent the momentum of the PR. I can only speculate that the movement of change in Malaysia seems to have a life and momentum of its own. While Malaysians may be still ambivalent about who can bring about that change given the challenges within the PR itself; many have nonetheless decided that they want a radical shift in governance and policy.
If the BN cannot ride on the coattails of this movement, then they may have already surrendered the next election to the Pakatan Rakyat. The PAS bogeyman no longer seems to spook the non-Malays because in the months preceding the By-Election, PAS adopted a more conciliatory and tolerant approach as opposed to Umno. In the aftermath of by-election losses we had the usual blame game and after conflating expectations with reality, I am sure many within the BN knew it was an uphill battle to begin with and expected the result.
The moral is that in mixed seats like Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau which is pivotal to the BN’s survival, the divide and rule politics does not bring the desired result anymore. What is most upsetting is that over the weekend, Mingguan Malaysia has chosen to further aggravate this issue by commenting on the apparent wisdom of Chinese voters in their editorial. While it is nothing more than a snide attempt to remind the Chinese voters on where their allegiances ought to lie; it again as again part of the old politics that no longer holds water. Rather then reminding the Chinese and Indians where their loyalty should be, Mingguan Malaysia should have commissioned their own study to fin out why the Chinese and Indians are deserting the BN in droves.
The yearning for a cleaner, fairer and more just government is something that the BN must address. There is nothing racial or unreasonable about these demands, in fact is it non-racial and apolitical in nature and permeates all sections of society. Even the Deputy Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin seems puzzled by the aversion that Chinese and Indians voters seemed to have for the BN. He even claimed that the Chinese and Indians want to be kingmakers in Malaysian politics.
While I reject his notion as completely unsound and devoid of logic, I cannot help but feel that the BN still seems to wrapped in the old and outdated thinking, that material development is all that Malaysians want. The development argument is also a losing one because of the imbalanced development of Malaysia. I was told by an Indian voter in Bukit Gantang that he has lived in the same house his father was born in; and went on to ask why he should trust the BN? I looked at him completely befuddled and was unable to provide an answer. I told him, rather sheepishly, to follow his heart.
One Malaysia must be expounded upon and Malaysians must be given a reason to associate with this concept. While the agenda is laudable and entails everything from unity, fairness, justice and equality; the government must now make a serious attempt to give real bite and meaning to this concept.
Our Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, has asked that he be judged based on his actions and I feel it is a fair request. We must not allow emotions and personal feelings to cloud our judgment no matter how difficult it may be. Nonetheless, it is unfair for the government to ask Malaysians for infinite tolerance and to demand carte blanche authority to do as they please with complete disregard for the law, the sentiments and aspirations of Malaysians.
The age of government-knows-best has indeed ended rather ignominiously and the age of Rakyat-knows-best has begun with a bang and has been reinforced by four further bangs. The question on the minds of all Malaysians is, how many more bangs are needed before BN sees the change and rejuvenation that Malaysia desperately needs?
There is an urgent need for reforms especially economic reforms to lift us out of the economic troubles we find ourselves in; we need structural and legal reforms to remain competitive and continue to attract foreign direct investment (FDI); we need a bill of rights to defeat abuse and overreaching by the authorities; we need honest and ethical leadership to restore the trust of people in government; and crucially, we need our leaders to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.
The commonality of these ideals is a no-brainer. There is nothing Malay, Chinese and Indian about it, in fact it is very Malaysian and what our Constitution endeavoured to do after 1957. Fifty-two years is a long time, but it is still not too late to return to the original ideals this nation was founded upon.
* Ivanpal S. Grewal is an analyst with SEDAR Institute. The views reflected are a personal observation.