Malaysia Goes to the Polls

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Times are exciting, and terrifying, for the Malaysian electorate.  The voters will be going to the polls to consider the prospects of uncertain change or a continued embrace of the status quo, which resembles a decaying carcass of ill-promise.  There are no dates in the pipeline as yet.

No election in Malaysia is ordinary, even if the result has always been the same ruling party – Barisan Nasional joined to the hip with the Malay-dominated Umno. Theatre is inevitable.  Corruption is mandatory, confirmed in such studies as the Bribe Payers Survey conducted by Transparent International, which found in 2012 that Malaysian companies were the most likely in the world of business to take a bribe (Hindustan Times, Dec 13, 2012).  Second in the study was Mexico.

Promise is dangled only to be withdrawn, leaving a politically stunted electorate confused.  It has always been the same story – the ruling national front coalition threatened at stages but never overturned.  But things are changing, and the minders of the status quo are worried.  The People’s Alliance, led by Anwar Ibrahim, hovers with menacing promise after garnering a third of the Parliament’s seats in the 2008 polls.  “For the first time in the country since 1957,” observes academic Clive Kessler of the University of New South Wales, “the prime minister and his government are fighting for political survival, for their political lives” (Lim Kit Siang for Malaysia, Blog, Apr 7)

It is fitting that Anwar Ibrahim, a man deemed by opinion and law a sodomite, a treasonous official who was the admired deputy for so long during the reign of Prime Minister Mahathir, should now pose a threat to the position he believes was made for him.  Time is returning its favours to the party that not only disowned and betrayed him, but sought to destroy him.

True to form, Anwar’s enemies have decided to bring sex to the fore again.  A video supposedly featuring a man resembling Anwar has been distributed across various blogs. “This is a disgusting political gimmick executed by Umno” (The Star Online, Mar 16).  So far, the story has lacked sufficient political purchase.

Another theory in circulation is that Anwar was himself behind the destabilising conflict in Sabah, aiding the Sultan of Sulu. “Anwar Ibrahim wanted Sabahans and Malaysians to understand how lethargic our defences are that he persuaded a ragtag army to enter Malaysia and occupy the land” (Malaysian Insider, Mar 2).  Of course, the usual jaundiced commentary applies – Anwar being an “agent for the U.S. and Zionists” and sharing “a bloodline with the Sultan of Sulu”.

This explains the sheer desperation of the BN.  The party’s manifesto is blatant – a vote for the BN is an incentive to get more cash in hand.  As an afterthought, the ruling party is promising cheaper homes and cars.  Naturally, it promises to deal with the very same corruption that sustains it.  On Saturday, Prime Minister Najib Razak promised electors better transportation, a better education policy and better health care.

The poorly patched words used by the prime minister are tinged by a degree of panic.  “This mandate that I seek is about continuity and sustainability against disruption and stagnation, about moving forward versus regressing.  We have to safeguard what we have already achieved.  We cannot put at risk what we have, we cannot gamble away our future.”

A few figures are worth recalling.  Najib’s manifesto promises to raise annual handouts for poor households from 500 ringgit ($164) to 1,200 ringgit ($392) while building 1 million new low cost homes (Associated Press, Apr 7).  Numbers are plucked out of thin air – a promise to bring in 1.3 trillion ringgit ($425 billion) in investment by 2020 and the creation of 3.3 million jobs.

This crystal ball gazing has been the government’s program for decades.  Subsidies to rural voters have been targeted, for it’s in the countryside that the BN stands to retain power.  Constituencies have also been hostage to a gerrymandering campaign to keep the rural voters onside.  While pandering to a welfare model for poorer Malays, the BN-Umno group has been transferring tens of billions of ringgit from the public purse.  Promises of heaven on earth are supplemented by a staggering program of self-enrichment.

The only glaring problem here is that the platform seems identical to that embraced by Anwar’s People’s Alliance.   We are talking less about policy than exorbitant rhetoric.  They too, are promising cheaper cars, better education and a lower cost of living.  “This election is a race to be more populist,” observed Wan Saiful Wan Jan of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs.  “It is about which coalition can promise to give more to Malaysians” (AP, Apr 7).  This election is starting to look very much like a choice between the bad and the worse.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire