Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Malays join others in moving away from racial politics

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Malays join others in moving away from racial politics
IN the 1999 general election, Malay voters swung against the Barisan Nasional (BN), especially Umno, amid the reformasi movement following the sacking of former deputy premier Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Their protest votes, however, were not translated into massive seats for the opposition parties. The Chinese and Indians in that election threw their weight behind BN.

Days before polling on Saturday, while political pundits expected the Chinese and Indian voters to swing significantly against the ruling coalition parties, there was no indication of a substantial swing of Malay votes against the BN.

The rising prices of goods and crime were the main reasons the Malays voted against the BN, said Universiti Utara Malaysia political science lecturer Associate Prof Dr Ariffin Omar.

“People began to think that BN was not serving the interest of the people, be they Malays or non-Malays. The issue of rising prices was very serious but the BN government pretended they did not know about it and kept on saying that this was a global trend. Many of the BN leaders are wealthy, so who is suffering? That’s why the anger is there.”

Wong Chin Huat, who is completing his PhD in University of Essex on the electoral system and party politics in Malaysia, concurred.

“Economy, crime and the loss of legitimacy in the (BN) government over such matters as the electoral process, judiciary and corruption are the pull and push factors of the Malay support for the Opposition,” he said.

Anwar Ibrahim, the de facto leader for Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), is a catalyst for the Malays to opt for a change.

“Anwar has provided confidence to the Malays that they should take part,” said Wong.
A political observer said BN’s intense and direct attacks on Anwar towards the end of the 13-day campaign period also backfired.

BN’s reading that Anwar’s political influence and charisma had waned – based on the by-election defeats in Machap (Malacca) and Ijok (Selangor) – was grossly flawed.

After all, BN won comfortably in Machap and Ijok, even with Anwar’s presence in the by-elections.

Ariffin pointed out that the biggest enemy of the BN, particularly in Umno in this election, were the infighting and backstabbing in the party.

“There was infighting in Umno and BN coalition parties. There were so many factions within Umno who are juggling for power,” he said, referring to the choice of BN and Umno candidates in the election.

“Those who are not selected as candidates took revenge and sabotaged the party. So this is not because of the Opposition, but themselves (that caused the defeats). It’s the disunity within Umno and BN.”

Ariffin said the Malays were also clearly agitated by the fact that the bumiputra’s policy has only benefited several individuals.

“The special Malay rights is just a beautiful word. Who enjoys (the privilege)? Not the deserving Malays. I don’t think Malays questioned the policy but how it’s implemented,” he said.

The racial card which had been used conveniently in the country’s political landscape in previous elections could not find a prominent place in this election.

“The Malays, Chinese and Indians have reached a stage where they move away from the ethnic policy,” said Ariffin.

On the same note, Wong said in previous elections, when a particular ethnic group swung to one direction, another ethnic group would swing to the opposite direction.

“While the Malays are not comfortable with Hindraf (Hindu Rights Action Force) it was not enough to convince them to continue supporting Umno,” he said.

He cited the victories of PAS and PKR in Titiwangsa and Lembah Pantai parliamentary seats as a clear indication that Malaysians have moved away from racial politics.

PAS’s Dr Lo’ Lo’ Mohd Ghazali defeated Datuk Aziz Jamaluddin Md Tahir (BN-Umno) in Titiwangsa which consists 63.9% Malays, 23.9% Chinese and 11.2% Indians.

Anwar’s eldest daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar unseated incumbent Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil in Lembah Pantai which has a racial breakdown of 53.2% Malays, 25.7% Chinese and 20.1% Indians

Probable Source: Malaysiakini

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