Malaysia: Malaysia: Najib’s Pyrrhic Victory and the Demise of 1Malaysia

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Malaysia: Malaysia: Najib’s Pyrrhic Victory and the Demise of 1Malaysia
  Southeast Asian Affairs 2014 MALAYSIANajib’s Pyrrhic Victory and the Demise of 1Malaysia James Chin The Barisan National (BN) and the Opposition Pakatan Raykat (PR) contested the long-awaited general elections (GE) in 2013. The results and consequences of the GE were felt through the year. It was as if the entire country was consumed by the electoral results. All the major political events in 2013 were, in one way or another, connected to the 13th GE. The 13th GE: No Popular Vote and the Increased Importance of East Malaysia The much anticipated GE was held on 5 May 2013. This was the first time in Malaysia’s electoral history that a GE was held beyond the five-year term of the government, which had ended on 8 March 2008. After an intense two-week campaign period, the results were: 133 BN and 89 PR in the 222-seat parliament. The result represented a net loss of 7 seats for the BN compared to the 2008 GE. Nevertheless, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) performed better, winning 88 out of BN’s 133 victorious seats compared with only 79 out of BN’s 140 seats in 2008. 1  All the states, with the exception of Sarawak, held simultaneous state elections. BN performed better at the state level this time. In the 2008 GE, the opposition PR captured five states (Selangor, Penang, Kelantan, Perak and Kedah). In 2013, the opposition only managed to keep three (Selangor, Penang and Kelantan) while Perak and Kedah returned to BN. In general BN lost the Chinese vote and large sections of the urban vote. BN was able to win because of gerrymandering, rural votes and votes from East Malaysia. J AMES  C HIN  is Head, School of Arts and Social Sciences at Monash University, Malaysia campus. 06a James.indd 1753/31/14 1:35:29 PM  Two of the more important matters arising from the GE were the popular vote and the increased electoral importance for BN of East Malaysia. In the 2013 GE, BN only managed to get 47.5 per cent of the popular vote while PR achieved 50.9 per cent of the popular vote. This not only dented the government’s claim to political legitimacy but caused months of political uncertainty when Anwar Ibrahim and PR decided to mount the “Black 505” campaign. This campaign alleged that the GE had been stolen from PR through systematic fraud and the BN had no legitimacy without the popular vote, and demanded fresh polls. PR organized fifteen rallies throughout major towns in peninsular Malaysia from May until the end of June. Both PR and BN also filed more than fifty election petitions to overturn individual results. Almost all the petitions to the Election Court were dismissed on technical grounds. What was disturbing were the costs ordered by the court against the failed petitioner. In many instances, the amount exceed RM100,000, the highest ever amount in Malaysia’s history to be awarded without a full trial. 2  Politically more serious, Najib and UMNO were suddenly confronted with a rise of East Malaysian BN parties. The BN parties in East Malaysia contributed a total of 47 of BN’s 133 seats, or 35 per cent. In other words, without East Malaysia, UMNO and BN would have lost the federal government. 3  This fact was not lost on Najib and when the new cabinet was unveiled, more than twenty ministers and deputy ministers came from East Malaysia. In addition, the speaker of parliament and both his deputies were from East Malaysia. The rise of East Malaysian influence was especially beneficial to Taib Mahmud, Malaysia’s longest serving chief minister. After thirty-three years as Chief Minister, he was widely seen as being even more powerful than before. Sarawak BN had 25 seats in the Federal parliament while Najib’s majority was only 21 seats, making Najib more dependent on Taib. Sarawak had been problematic for Najib and UMNO — it was the only state in Malaysia without any UMNO branch. During his rule, Taib kept UMNO (and other peninsular BN parties) out of Sarawak. The political problem was Taib Mahmud himself, widely believed to be the richest politician in Malaysia. In the past year there were credible reports of his financial misdeeds. In March 2013, barely two months before polling, Global Witness, an NGO in London, released a short video entitled “Inside Malaysia’s Shadow State”. The video revealed how the Taib family had leased state lands and sold them off at huge profits, using front companies inside and outside Sarawak. In addition, a group of activists in London started Radio Free Sarawak and a website, Sarawak Report, which detailed Taib’s massive wealth overseas. Earlier, in 2011, there was speculation that Najib had tried to 176 James Chin 06a James.indd 1763/31/14 1:35:29 PM  pressure Taib to retire but was unsuccessful. In the 2011 Sarawak state election, Taib won handsomely and kept his two-thirds majority in the Sarawak assembly. The 2013 GE strengthened his position and any public conversation about his future seemed to fade away. Reward and Punish: Bumiputera Economic Empowerment Agenda Najib was fairly secure in UMNO despite rumours that Mahathir might back Muhyiddin Yassin, the deputy president of UMNO and deputy prime minister, as a candidate for the UMNO presidency. Najib strengthened his position by announcing the Bumiputra Economic Empowerment (BEE) a week before nomination day for the UMNO party polls. The BEE was “big money” — a direct injection of RM31 billion (US$10.1 billion) into Bumiputera-only business contracts and government subsidies to the Bumiputera community. The BEE announcement served to demonstrate that Najib was not neglecting UMNO and the bumiputeras. Any talk that UMNO was not rewarding its voting base or that Najib was neglecting the Malays disappeared as Najib suddenly transformed himself into a Malay champion. Any internal UMNO challenger would find it almost impossible to mount a challenge against a “Malay champion” especially one potentially controlling RM31 billion worth of patronage. The BEE was unmistakeably also sending a blunt message to the Chinese community: since you voted for the opposition, you can expect the UMNO government to favour the Bumiputera even more. Mukhriz Mahathir, the torchbearer of the Mahathir faction in UMNO, asserted his Malay-champion status, telling the press that he would “not entertain” any requests from the Chinese community in Kedah where he was menteri besar  (chief minister). 4 On nomination day, Najib and Muhyiddin won their respective party positions unchallenged. The contest was at the next level — the three vice-president positions. The incumbents, Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Shafie Apdal and Hishammuddin Hussein (Najib’s cousin), were challenged by Mukhriz, Isa Samad and Mohd Ali Rustam. Mukhriz was of course the proxy for the Mahathir faction. Mahathir was instrumental in getting Mukhriz appointed the menteri besar   (Chief Minister) of Kedah state but to get a future shot at the prime ministership, Mukhriz had to win one of the vice-president slots. Among the three incumbents, Hishammuddin was the weakest while Shafie and Zahid Hamidi were fairly secure. Najib sent a clear message to the delegates that he wanted to maintain the status quo, in other words, keep the present top leadership. Malaysia: Najib’s Pyrrhic Victory and the Demise of 1Malaysia 177 06a James.indd 1773/31/14 1:35:29 PM  The three incumbent VPs, meanwhile, announced that they would campaign as a “team”. Although Zahid and Shafie had no real reason to help Hishammuddin, they probably went along with Najib’s plan in order to stop Mukhriz. If Mukhriz had won one of the three vice-president positions by defeating Hishammuddin, it might have been possible for him to leapfrog over Shafie and Zahid in the event of a change in leadership at the president and deputy president level. Mahathir, UMNO’s longest serving president, told a reporter on the eve of the polls, “I find that in Umno, the delegates choose the person who is perceived to be the president’s choice. Like in my time, those who oppose me cannot win … (Mukhriz’s) chance is 50–50, or even less than 50 percent. He’s not the chosen one …”. 5  Najib’s faction also managed to keep the status quo with the re-election of incumbent Wanita chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil and Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin. Chinese Opera and Wayang Kulit   (Shadow Play) Politics The GE results also caused significant leadership changes in BN component parties, especially in the Malaysian Chinese Associaton (MCA) and Gerakan. MCA, the second most important party in the BN coalition, suffered the same electoral fate as Gerakan. It won only 7 parliamentary seats, down from 15 in the 2013 GE. The blame was placed on MCA President Chua Soi Lek. Chua had been elected under controversial circumstances in 2010. He was previously Minister of Health until he resigned in disgrace when his internal MCA opponents released a video of him having sex with his mistress in a hotel room. In a possibly deft political move, he admitted he was the “porn star” and resigned from all government and party posts in January 2008. This move won him many admirers in the party who saw in him a leader with “guts”. Fortunately for Chua, then MCA president Ong Tee Keat, damaged his own political base by exposing corruption in the MCA-controlled Port Klang Free Zone. In the 2010 party elections, Chua Soi Lek surprised many people by winning the MCA presidency against the incumbent Ong Tee Keat and Ong Ka Ting, another former MCA president.Despite being eligible as MCA president, Chua Soi Lek did not stand as a candidate in the 2013 GE. He calculated correctly that his “porn star” status would distract the entire MCA campaign. Moreover, the urban mood was strongly against the BN. Instead he focused on controlling the party in the post-GE political fallout. Immediately after the GE results were announced, he gave an ambiguous reply to a question on the upcoming MCA party polls as to 178 James Chin 06a James.indd 1783/31/14 1:35:29 PM  whether he would stand for re-election as MCA president. The deputy president of MCA, Liow Tiong Lai, one of only seven MCA MPs who survived the GE, announced that he would contest the presidency. Chua had other plans and decided that Liow had to be stopped. He held a press conference accusing Liow of being “weak” and not suitable to be the next MCA president. He added that he would step down as president voluntarily if Liow followed suit.In a special Extraordinary General Meeting held on 20 October, Chua’s faction put forward four resolutions. The first was to censure Liow for dereliction of duty as chairman of the GE preparation committee, disobedience and disloyalty to the party. The other three resolutions were to revoke earlier party resolutions forbidding party members from taking federal cabinet post, government-linked companies and state positions respectively if MCA performed worse in GE 2013 than in GE 2008. It was clear that the first resolution was designed to kill off Liow’s candidacy for the MCA presidency. However the MCA delegates defeated the first and second resolutions while the third and fourth resolutions were passed. In other words, the delegates refused to censure Liow and wanted him to contest the presidency. They also did not want the MCA to take up positions in the federal cabinet while supporting MCA accepting appointments outside the federal government such as senatorships. The delegates supported the fourth resolution for the party to accept appointments at the state level, including state executive councillors. The fight between Chua Soi Lek and Liow Tiong Lai then moved to the party polls held on 21 December. The candidates for the MCA presidency were: Ong Tee Keat (former president), Liow Tiong Lai (incumbent deputy president) and Gan Ping Sieu (incumbent vice-president). Liow won by the slimmest of margins — less than one per cent. He obtained 1,186 votes, beating his closest contender, vice-president Gan Ping Sieu, who received 1,000 votes. The third candidate, former president Ong Tee Keat only managed 160 votes. Gan was Chua Soi Lek’s proxy and the results suggest that Chua still had significant support among party delegates.Gerakan, which was almost wiped out in the GE (winning only one parliamentary seat), elected Mah Siew Keong as its new leader, replacing acting president Chang Ko Youn. The party president, Koh Tsu Koon, was widely seen as a weak and ineffective figure unable to stand up to UMNO. He had stepped down immediately after the general elections to take responsibility for the massive defeat. Mah Siew Keong was widely seen as a stopgap leader; in fact, most Malaysians had never heard of him. The bigger problem was that Gerakan no longer had a political base. Its previous base of Penang was firmly under the control of the Malaysia: Najib’s Pyrrhic Victory and the Demise of 1Malaysia 179 06a James.indd 1793/31/14 1:35:29 PM
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