Hollow Victory and Unfinished Business

Kee Thuan Chye

By Kee Thuan Chye

The Election Commission (EC) has declared Barisan Nasional (BN) the winner of the 13th general election and Najib Razak has been sworn in as prime minister, but many people, including the leaders of Pakatan Rakyat, consider it unfinished business.

Claiming electoral fraud in various forms, they are questioning the legitimacy of the election result.

One of their central concerns is whether Pakatan Rakyat could have won more than the 89 parliament seats that the EC officially says it has.

According to Sivarasa Rasiah, vice-president of Pakatan component party PKR, the coalition disputes the results of about 30 other seats that it lost by narrow margins.

One could think of seats for parliament in which noted personalities contested, like those in Labis where the MCA’s Chua Tee Yong won by only 399 votes, and Cameron Highlands where the MIC’s G. Palanivel scraped through with a margin of 462.

In Kuala Selangor, the defeat of popular Dzulkefly Ahmad of PAS came as a surprise, by only 460 votes, and in Sungai Besar, BN won by a slim margin of 399.

The defeat that has drawn much speculation is that of the DAP’s Wong Tack in Bentong, in which Liow Tiong Lai triumphed by 379 votes, although Wong was reportedly leading by about 4,000 votes 45 minutes before the counting ended.

To all intents and purposes, the BN winners may have won fairly, but the fact that Tee Yong is the son of MCA President Chua Soi Lek, Liow is the party’s deputy president and Palanivel the MIC’s president only serves to fuel the speculation.

Furthermore, Liow’s successful defence of Bentong saves caretaker menteri besar Adnan Yaakob from having his ears cut off, even if the slim margin of victory may be enough to at least embarrass him.

But deeper than all this, it is the public distrust of the EC in its conduct of the general election and the loss of belief in BN playing fair that is the main issue.

Throughout the campaign period and even before that, BN engaged in money politics that went beyond decent limits. The BR1M (Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia) handouts, the promise of more BR1M if BN won again, the announcement of salary increases to the civil service, the army and the police, the granting of bonuses to employees of numerous government-linked corporations – these amounted to vote-buying.

And after the dissolution of Parliament, when Najib became merely caretaker prime minister, he was still announcing projects when he was not supposed to any more. His coalition made use of state resources like RTM for its own campaigning, totally shutting out the Opposition as it has always done. Mainstream newspapers, mostly BN-owned, went against their professional ethics and campaigned for their political masters with negative spins against the Opposition in news reports, analyses and columns. They also ran political advertisements that offended the sensibilities of industry professionals.

In Penang, there was a concerted campaign to vote out the Pakatan state government including its caretaker chief minister with the help of underworld tactics like offering substantial bribes to voters to solicit their cooperation.

BN’s victory is therefore not something it can be proud of. To put it bluntly and appropriately, it was a hollow victory.

Besides, despite its unsavoury tactics and vote-buying, BN had its majority reduced from what it got in the 2008 general election. It has seven seats fewer this time, with a total of 133.

Even more telling is the popular vote. Although Pakatan won only 89 seats, it garnered 5.623 million votes against BN’s 5.237 million. This works out to 50.1 per cent against 46.7 per cent. By extrapolation, it signifies that half the population reject BN.

Indeed, if not for the gerrymandering that makes it inordinately harder for the Opposition to win the federal government, Pakatan should have been the victor.

Given that it is the numerical loser (albeit seats dominator), BN starts its new term in government on a shaky footing. And with the ongoing doubts of its legitimacy, it’s safe to say that BN is now hated all the more for winning with dubious honour.

Najib blames BN’s poorer showing on what he calls the “Chinese tsunami”, a devastating rejection of the coalition by Chinese voters. Although the Chinese have often been cited as a convenient scapegoat whenever BN does badly, Najib has got it wrong.

If it had been a Chinese tsunami, the DAP would not have won the seats it did in Johor. Although they were Chinese-majority seats, the party still needed Malay support to carry the day. In Selangor, if it had not been for the Malays, Pakatan would not have retained it. But more than that, it went on to secure a two-thirds majority.

In Kelantan too, where the electorate is predominantly Malay, Pakatan has also been returned with a two-thirds majority, which is an improvement on its 2008 achievement. The same indication can be seen in also predominantly Malay Terengganu, where Pakatan came close to winning the state.

Najib blames Pakatan for playing racial politics to influence the massive Chinese swing, but here again, he is wrong. The people who played the racial card – and to the hilt – were his own BN compatriots, chief of whom was ex-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Since the last few years, Umno, especially, has been concocting all kinds of rubbish about the threat of the DAP and a so-called Chinese takeover of the government. Some of the spin came from Mahathir, who also irresponsibly warned that if the DAP’s Lim Kit Siang were to win the Gelang Patah seat, there would be racial conflict.

Kit Siang has indeed won it, but no untoward incidents have arisen.

The truth about the Chinese rejecting BN – if Najib doesn’t already know it – is that they can no longer tolerate a government that is corrupt, practises cronyism, abuses its power, chooses as and when not to follow the rule of law and treats different citizens differently. In short, the Chinese don’t want a government that has mismanaged the country for decades.

The same goes for Malaysians of other races, including Malays, who want a better government.

Another major factor that Najib has not dared to admit is the voting pattern of the young. This time, the young make up a huge percentage of the electorate, some of them as first-time voters. And it is this group that has also hurt BN in a big way.

Electoral returns have shown that in many polling stations, those who were in streams 4 and above, the streams that represent the young, by and large voted for Pakatan. This is not surprising, because even before election day, many of the calls for change came from young people.

Now that change has not happened, many of them feel cheated by how the result came about. Some have expressed their disappointment by suggesting they will leave instead of tolerate another five years of cheating, lies and misgovernance. This could enhance the brain drain that would ultimately hurt the country.

So, on the whole, BN’s victory is nothing to celebrate. Indeed, if the government that is formed from it does not bring about real reform, we will all experience further strife and harder times.

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, and the latest volume, Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More!