Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lessons from Hulu Selangor by-elections

The voters of Hulu Selangor (HS) have spoken and all parties must respect their verdict whether they like it or not. It is also time for them to fulfill their promises made during the campaign.

According to the Election Commission (EC) the voter turnout was 75.87 % which works out to a total of 48,935 votes. Off that the Barisan Nasional (BN)candidate obtained 24,997 votes(51%) and the Pakatan Rakyat(PR) 23,272 votes(48%),with the former winning by a majority of 1,725votes. It was interesting that both coalitions improved slightly on their votes obtained at the last polls but the BN managed to increase more than the PR.

The BN managed to get more of the Malay and Indian votes, although not up to its pre-March 8 levels, but its share of the Chinese votes seems to have dropped. The BN may have won the HS seat by a majority of 1,725 votes but that does not seem to reflect a change in the feelings of the people on the ground. There appears to be equal support for both BN and PR despite the advantage the former had as the ruling party.

As usual the winner rejoices and loser finds excuses to justify its loss.The PR says that the BN had spent about RM160 million to secure its victory in the Hulu Selangor which means it had to fork out an average of RM65,000 per voter. The people may be entitled to the money but must it be given out during by-elections when the government has five years to do so?Isn’t it a form of corruption? The PR further claims that it had to work against an unfair EC which failed to ensure free and fair election, police intimidation, attempts to prevent voters from voting freely without fear and a blatantly biased mainstream media.

Elections are the fundamentals for a democracy to thrive and if they cannot be conducted in a manner fair to all parties then it defeats the very purpose of democracy itself. As such he EC must seriously investigate these allegations and come clean of its role in conducting the by-elections, which the opposition claims, was unfair to it.

The number of untoward incidents during the by-elections was also higher than usual. According to the police 37 people were held, 215 reports lodged during by-election and there were a number of those who sustained injuries and had to be treated at the hospitals. These are dangerous precedents that must never be tolerated as that would only become a major problem in the future like in many countries. The people must be educated on the importance of a healthy contest and violence of any sorts must not be condoned for any reason. A highly professional and independent conduct of the EC and police will go a long way to prevent unnecessary provocations and violence during the elections.

The BN may have won the by-election with increased support from the rural Malay and Indian voters but the increase is far from what the BN leaders expected. Moreover the much needed Chinese support has dwindled from 37% to 28%. Despite the massive campaign, the large amount of money spent and grants approved and promised, the BN did not get the landslide victory as expected. This calls for a thorough soul-searching review of its operation and system of governance.

Instead of punishing those, especially the Chinese, who have not voted for it as advocated by certain extremist’s quarters, the BN must find better means to reach out to those who rejected it. It must accept the stark reality of the increasing maturity of the voters of all races who are not going to be influenced by money politics, unrealistic promises and political slogans that remain as mere rhetoric. Character assassination, racism, bribery and brute force may help to win one or two by-elections now, but there are already signs that more and more Malaysians are not going to be hoodwinked by these antics in the future.

Racial politics of the past are increasingly being rejected by the people of all races as they are beginning to realize that they are all here to stay and have to adapt to live side by side in harmony for long term peace, prosperity and progress. Nothing less than concrete policy changes to ensure fairer opportunities and treatment of all races will bring back the non-Malay vote. In this regards Umno, as the backbone of the BN, must distance itself from extremist groups to show that it is sincere about its 1Malaysia policy.

The people now want genuine development in all areas - social, economic, political and moral. Bread and butter issues are not going to be the defining factors like they used to be before but rather sophisticated national issues regarding economic prudence, transparency, social justice, corruption and a fairer distribution of the wealth of the country among the people.

On the other hand the PR, in particular PKR which has lost significant support from the Malays and Indians especially from the rural areas must also conduct a no holds- barred session to see where they have gone wrong. They should not take the people’s support for granted but work to attract the people for its own merits not be contented with the gains from the demerits of the BN as they are doing now.

The PR’s consistent multiracial platform, its unrelenting stand against corruption, power abuse and more equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth based on a person’s needs and merits rather than his ethnicity or political affiliation have all been well received by the people of all races. The PR must continue to build on the support of the people by focusing on bigger a national agenda and not allow petty squabble among its members to sidetrack its resolute in achieving its goals.

The HS voters have indicated that the people will not hesitate to reject the PR if it continues with its internal squabbles. The partners of the PR may be ideologically diverse but should be united by a common aim that should transcend all differences among them. It must move more swiftly in forging a stronger and more cohesive coalition that the people can rely on as an alternate government.

The PKR may be glue that seals the members of PR but it is the weakest link that is threatening to give way to its disruption. The defections of its members are a serious problem which its leaders must not take lightly. There must be stringent control in the admission of new members into its fold especially those who cross over from BN.The fact these people can cross over from another party reflects poorly on their integrity and loyalty. Its politically publicized practice of mass admissions must be stopped. Members of BN parties applying to join PKR must be placed on a probationary period, so as to give time to gauge their loyalty, before they can be admitted as permanent members.

The MIC candidate may have won the by-election but it in no way alleviates the woes of the Indian community as his win was mainly due to Umno supporters. Many of the urban and younger generation of Indians do not support the MIC. Unless the party undergoes a major revamp whereby the present leadership is willing to make way for new blood that would introduce more relevant strategies to meet the many complex challenges of the new millennium, the party that was the sole undisputed representative of the Indian community for 50 years may finally meet its demise in the near future.

The Indian community must realise that being a minority it cannot survive fighting along racial lines as that will only result in the community being continually being marginalized. It future lies in a multiracial Malaysia where the Indians, like the other races, are given due recognition as legitimate citizens.

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