Five years ago, one day after the 11th General Election of 21 March 2004, I wrote this article which was published in the freeanwar.com website. That was five months before Malaysia Today was launched. Is what I wrote five years ago still relevant today? I will allow you to be the judge to that.
NO HOLDS BARRED
Raja Petra Kamarudin
The aftermath of Malaysia’s 11th General Elections: Where to now BA?
The opposition coalition, the Alterative Front (Barisan Alternatif or BA), will need a couple of days to recover from the shellshock before it regains its composure and decides where it goes from hereon. Yesterday, BA, in particular the National Justice Party (Parti Keadilan Nasional or keADILan) was wiped out in Malaysia’s 11th General Elections.
I am not about to go into a lengthy ‘I told you so’ piece. Nobody likes a ‘hindsight expert’. If you are so clever then why not talk with foresight, most would say. To offer your analysis after the event is easy. It is forecasting before the event that makes one an expert.
The fight has not ended
First of all, a defeat in an election is part and parcel of the game. Maybe keADILan has not seen itself massacred yet as, understandably, it is a new party and this is only its second election. It will need many more elections under its belt before it can learn how to handle both defeat and victory.
The Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS), though, is better at this as once before, in 1986, it was wiped out leaving it a solitary seat in Parliament. Since then, however, PAS revamped itself and went through a leadership change after which it bounced back stronger than ever -- until yesterday.
Now, PAS will have to do what it did in 1986. It will have to do some serious soul-searching and ask itself what went wrong. And what it discovers it is not going to like. But PAS will still need to address the matter. It will need to ask itself whether it is a missionary movement or a political party. It will need to ask itself whether it is in the business of propagating Islam or in the business of winning elections.
PAS is trying to be both. But it cannot, as it should by now have learnt. PAS wants to serve God and it conducts its business with this in mind -- the Islamic State Document (ISD) is but one proof of this. PAS must now understand that, to win elections, it must serve the voters’ interest. And if serving God is not what the voters want, is this then the political strategy to adopt?
I am not saying that serving God is wrong. What I am saying is PAS should ask the voters what it would like to see and structure itself, its policies and its strategies taking into account the voters’ sentiment. As it is now, PAS does things in isolation, detached from the voters, and this is not how a political party should be run. And all those who would like to serve God should leave the party and become fulltime preachers, leaving the ‘hardcore’ politicians the task of ‘mending’ the party.
KeADILan too will have to do its own soul-searching. Will it too need a leadership revamp? This will be for the party leadership to ponder upon. But keADILan will need to understand what it needs to do and change accordingly. If yesterday’s fiasco is the result of a bad leadership, then those responsible should gracefully stand aside and allow the party to be run by those who better understand politics.
If the party feels I have seriously erred and my role as the editor of the party newspaper, Seruan Keadilan, is a liability to the party, then I will be the first to tender my resignation and leave the scene without a whimper. I leave it to the party to decide my fate and I will accept whatever decision the party makes in the spirit of the betterment of the party.
I hope those others will do the same.
PAS’s 14-year cycle
PAS seems to suffer from a 14-year cycle, probably similar to what people call the ‘7-year itch’. In 1990 it won Kelantan State, which thereafter saw its performance going uphill the two elections following it in 1995 and 1999. Today, 14 years down the road, and it is back where it used to be prior to 1990.
Roughly 12 years prior to its success in the 1990 elections, Kelantan was under UMNO rule where in 1978 UMNO, with Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah leading the charge, knocked PAS out. 19 years before that, PAS was in control of Kelantan.
In short, every three elections or so, Kelantan changes hands from PAS to UMNO, back to PAS, then back to UMNO again. And now Kelantan may be back to UMNO again or, even if PAS can still retain Kelantan after the recount of about five or six seats today, it will only be able to rule the state with a simple majority. Whatever the outcome, no one is going to have a two-thirds majority in the Kelantan State Assembly.
The question now would be, will PAS require another 14 years or three general elections before it takes back the state from UMNO? This will mean it would be close to 2020 before PAS will see its fortunes change in Kelantan.
I remember way back in 1978 when UMNO managed to kick PAS out, one Kelantanese told me that every few elections they will give the state to UMNO so that they can get development. Then, when they feel they have been sufficiently developed, they will kick UMNO out and give the state back to PAS.
This sounds over-simplified, but if this is really the mentality of the Kelantanese, then expect Umno to be in power in Kelantan for the next three elections, or at least until the Kelantanese feel they have had enough development. Maybe UMNO would then now not over-develop the state to ensure that the people keep on feeling they still need more, which means Kelantan can perpetually remain under UMNO control.
The clock has been turned back 30 years
All Malaysians must understand the impact of yesterday’s general election. I am not talking with the advantage of hindsight here as I have said this even as early as last year during the launch of Party Keadilan Rakyat and what I said then drew a lot of flak from the non-Malays, in particular the Chinese supporters of the Democratic Action Party (DAP).
What happened yesterday is we have turned the clock back 30 years, back to the days leading to the 13 May 1969 racial riots infamously known as ‘May 13’. Then, when we utter the word “opposition” it is meant “Chinese” and when we say “government” we mean “Malay”. Today, we are back where we were in the days of the 1960s.
In this scenario who loses? What we managed to achieve in 1999, 42 years after independence or Merdeka, has just been demolished. In 1999, after 42 years of sweat and toil, both the ruling party and opposition were transformed into a multi-racial mix. No longer could you say that Chinese oppose while Malays support. Today that is again what it is.
This situation is bad for the Chinese as it is now so easy to play the racial card. When the Chinese go against the government it can easy be manipulated as they are against the Malays. Every policy the Chinese opposition oppose can be bandied as they are trying to undermine the Malays.
UMNO, which in 1999 lost the right to claim it was a party representing Malay interests, has regained that right. The opposition, in particular keADILan, which claims to represent all races and fights for equality for all races can no longer claim so.
In short, the line has been redrawn to Chinese opposing Malay interests. And with keADILan out of the picture this claim would have credibility.
I have said this before, and that is the opposition must not be reduced to Chinese only and the ruling party as all Malay. My saying so drew accusations that I am a racist. But what I feared most has happened. I also said if this happens then the Chinese have only themselves to blame as kicking out keADILan would mean Malaysian politics would be again reduced to Malays on one side and Chinese on another.
And is this not what happened yesterday? And does this not now put the Chinese at a great disadvantage? Every time the Chinese opposition opens its mouth the ruling party will scream that it is anti-Malay. And since the opposition is all-Chinese, and there is no real Malay opposition to speak off, will this not sound true?
It’s all about worldly desires
Before this, one could only speculate that the Malays are religious and that the ‘Islamic values’ tagline would work with them. PAS’ success in the Malay heartland of Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah was touted as proof of this.
Opinion polls done over the last two years, however, revealed the stark reality that money was the motivating factor for the Malays and not rewards in the afterlife. 1999 was a unique situation and should not be used as an indication that the Malays have finally ‘seen the light’ and have rediscovered Islam. The Malays are still basically the same. They have not changed much and money and development is still what the Malays seek
What was most puzzling is the Malays’ sense of ‘values’. The Malays seem to be torn between two opposing values. For example, more than 80% of the respondents in the poll feel that the Internal Security Act (ISA) is undemocratic as detention without trial go against the very grain of democracy. These same respondents, however, though they pray, fast, perform their Hajj (pilgrimage) and so on -- in short display signs of being pious Muslims -- are not able to equate the ISA to Islam teachings.
In other words, those 80% Malays who feel the ISA is wrong feel so with the spirit of ‘western’ democracy and not because detention without trial goes against Islamic teachings. In short, Islam is farthest from their minds in their opposition to the ISA.
Then, when the issue of security is discussed, these same people feel that the ISA is necessary to protect the security of this nation. How can they feel that the ISA is undemocratic yet feel it is required to guarantee the peace and stability of Malaysia? They agree that the ISA is evil but is a necessary evil.
This is where the Malays demonstrate an extremely confused state of mind and I have said this before in a piece where I said the Malays are a difficult race to understand whom even the Malays themselves do not understand, let alone a non-Malay.
What, therefore, do the Malays really want? A good afterlife is certainly not one of them! What they want is a good life right here on earth. And the Malays will chose secure jobs, a home, a couple of cars in their driveway, and money in the pocket, over guarantees of heaven after death. And if the ISA is required to guarantee them all this then the ISA shall remain, though in the same breath they may agree it is an undemocratic law.
In short, forget about “give me liberty or give me death”. To the Malays it is, “to hell with democracy but give me property”. And to hell with Islam as well if I have to sacrifice my comfort here on earth.
The Putrajaya experience
Which brings me to what happened in Putrajaya where the keADILan candidate, Abdul Rahman Othman, not only lost but lost his deposit as well. This, in fact, had been predicted, by no less than the Umno candidate, Adnan Mansor, who repeated time and time again that this would happen.
But how did Adnan know? How could be so boldly predict this without fear that he would embarrassingly be proven wrong? Because he knew he would be proven right and he knew why.
The Putrajaya constituency is 100% civil servants and 95% Malay. And they all live in government quarters, homes they do not own, at the grace of the government. Abdul Rahman knew this and he knew this would be the trump card Adnan could use against the Putrajaya voters. And he did.
Adnan met the civil servants face-to-face in their offices, though this was not allowed, and told them in very clear terms that they risk being kicked out of their government quarters if they voted for the opposition.
The voters were also told that their votes could be detected. All the ballot papers are numbered. The voters too have serial numbers. Once the ballot paper is torn from the book, the voter’s serial number is recorded on the counterfoil that has corresponding numbers to the ballot papers.
All they have to do is to check the ballot papers of the opposition votes and match its serial number against that on the counterfoil to know who voted for the opposition. When the voter goes into the polling station, his serial number is shouted out for all to hear and everyone in the room records it.
Many civil servants personally told Abdul Rahman that they strongly believe their votes are not a secret and that the government can detect whom they voted for. Abdul Rahman tried his best to assure the voters that this is not so and that their votes are definitely confidential but the fear factor was just to high, and in the short space of seven days it was impossible to change their minds on this.
Abdul Rahman, in fact, brought this matter to the attention of the Election Commission (EC) and requested them to make an official statement to clear the air. But it was not done and the Putrajaya voters who went to the polls on 21 March 2004 believed that their votes are not a secret and that it is not worth the risk of voting for the opposition and getting kicked out of their government quarters.
Two days before Polling Day, I discussed this fear factor with Abdul Rahman. We both believed that even if we cannot win we can still garner about 2,000 votes, an impressive enough performance against 5,000 voters, and not lose our deposit. But the fear factor was still very high and we had not been able to overcome it yet. If we could not do it the following 48 hours then we may yet prove Adnan’s prediction right.
We also discussed the ‘Scud missile’ that Adnan would probably use against us. We believed that a ‘Scud missile’ was waiting to be fired, and this should be in the wee hours of the eve of Polling Day. But we just did not know what. There was no question of not getting hit with something ‘big’. We even knew the timing. But we were groping in the dark wondering as to what it was going to be.
We decided to embark on a last round ‘polishing’ exercise of our own to counter whatever Adnan had waiting for us. Abdul Rahman himself prepared the ammunition. But on the last night we were stuck in our operations centre, unable to move. Every time we sent a team out the UMNO army surrounded it and locked it in. We phoned the police but got no help from them and this is not surprising considering this has been the scenario the entire week.
I phoned the head of the Putrajaya Special Branch, ASP Ibrahim, and shouted at him. I accused him of being an UMNO tool. I went berserk. I also sent him a nasty SMS message, which he saved on his hand phone, probably to use against me the next time they (again) detain me under the ISA.
While we were under siege on that last night, the UMNO army did their rounds popping VCDs into every letterbox of the 5,000 Putrajaya voters. The VCDs was a documentary of Lokman Noor Adam, the onetime Executive Secretary of the keADILan Youth Movement, ‘revealing’ amongst others that keADILan was being funded by the Jewish currency trader, George Soros, “the man instrumental in wrecking Malaysia’s economy”, that the keADILan leaders misappropriate the money received from supporters and donors for personal use to build lavish homes and buy luxury cars, and so on and so forth.
In short, keADILan was portrayed as a party backed by an enemy of Islam and Malaysia and its leaders but a bunch of corrupt, immoral and dishonest crooks. And this expose was made by non other than its Youth Secretary. And the VCDs showed the so-called ‘documentary evidence’ such as bank statements, etc. Whatever little support Abdul Rahman had was totally demolished.
What is frustrating about this whole thing is we knew it was coming and even knew when. We even planned our own counter-operation. But we were stuck at base and had to just helplessly watch the UMNO boys tear us down piece by piece. We knew we had lost even before the race started. We were outnumbered, outgunned and outmanoeuvred. And the UMNO boys laughed at us while they destroyed us in our very face.
We saw it coming
Putrajaya is not the only place we saw it coming but were forced to stand by helplessly and watch everything crumble before our very eyes. I frequently joke that PAS was built on love while keADILan was built on hate. PAS was built on love for Islam while keADILan was built on hate for Dr Mahathir.
This may have been said in jest but, as they say, many a true word is said in jest.
On the second day of Ramadan, a two-day conference was held in Melaka to discuss our political strategy for the 11th General Election. The number one issue that was agreed by all is that, now that Dr Mahathir has left the scene and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has taken over, keADILan has lost the concept of enemy.
It would, in fact, have been better if Dr Mahathir had stayed on. We could have held our ground or maybe even perform better if Dr Mahathir was still the Prime Minister. Now that Pak Lah is in charge, the concept of enemy has disappeared and this spells bad news for keADILan.
It was further agreed that keADILan would need to quickly reinvent the enemy or else face irrelevancy. If it fails to do so, then the need for keADILan will disappear. KeADILan is only required so far as to kick Dr Mahathir out of office. Once this has been achieved, then who needs keADILan anymore? Our political strategists, however, were not able to come up with this new ‘enemy’, or maybe they did not see the need for one. Whatever it may be, the prediction resulting from the Melaka conference was fulfilled.
Pak Lah walks down the same road as Dr Mahathir
Over the last couple of months I was asked by the foreign media, on more than one occasion, what I felt about the 11th General Elections and what was my prediction of the outcome. I replied that one must look back to the 1982 General Election soon after Dr Mahathir took over as Prime Minister. Then, Dr Mahathir was in his ‘honeymoon’ period and he performed well, as he did in the election after that in 1986. But, by the third election in 1990, his fortunes started to change and he lost Kelantan.
But Dr Mahathir lost Kelantan not because PAS, who at that time had teamed up with Tengku Razaleigh’s Semangat 46, was strong, but because the Kelantanese just hated Dr Mahathir’s guts.
If Dr Mahathir had stayed for just two terms, he would have retired at the top. But he stayed beyond that and, thereafter, Dr Mahathir was never able to recapture his ‘honeymoon’ period performance of 1982 and 1986 when PAS was practically wiped out.
Pak Lah, I replied, just like Dr Mahathir in 1982, is now also in his ‘honeymoon’ period. He, just like Dr Mahathir in 1982, is going to perform well this election. And he will continue to do so in the following election as well in 2009, just like Dr Mahathir did in 1986. It will have to be in the third election in 2014 (Malaysia’s 13 General Election) before Pak Lah can be brought to his knees.
If Pak Lah is smart, I added, he should retire around 2013 or 2014, just before the 13th General Election. Then he will retire at the top, something Dr Mahathir did not do. This will make Pak Lah the best performing prime minister in Malaysia history. If, however, just like Dr Mahathir, he tries to take Malaysia into his third election as Prime Minister, then he would face the same humiliation Dr Mahathir suffered.
In short, the opposition can expect humiliation in the 11th General Election, plus in the 12th as well. The opposition will then have to hope that Pak Lah becomes ‘greedy’ and clings to power, which means its fortunes will change in the 13th General Election. If, however, Pak Lah very cleverly bails out and hands the country to his deputy just before that, this would be bad news for the opposition as then it may never recover.
‘Show me the money’
I know this prediction does not augur well for the opposition. But when the Malaysian opposition parties can only win by default, win when the ruling party makes mistakes, then what can it expect? You just need to listen to the opposition speeches. The opposition leaders speak about the mistakes made by the government. It talks about the excesses and abuses. It talks about the corruption and mismanagement. In spite of all this, the country’s economy grows and Malaysians see development.
The opposition fails, or refuses, to understand what the voters want. They want the security and comfort of a good life and the ruling party has shown it can guarantee this. They want peace and stability and the freedom to get rich and the ruling party offers this. They want education and good jobs and the ruling party provides this.
Agreed, to get all this Malaysians must sacrifice a little freedom and democracy. Granted, while the voters are free to get rich, the ministers too help themselves to some of the money. Maybe, there is no real equality but the Chinese still prosper in spite of the Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) policy.
Malaysia offers the voters a win-win solution. Get rich, prosper, get a good education, get good jobs, live in beautiful homes, drive nice cars, but just do not question what the government does or criticise it. This is acceptable to two-thirds of the voting population. The balance one-third disgruntled voting population can support the opposition if it so wishes. But in the ‘first past the post’ election system that Malaysia practices, the one-third is of no consequence.
And yesterday’s 11th General Election has proven this point.
The voters have not heard how the opposition can better develop Malaysia. The voters have not been told how they would get even richer than now if the opposition were to come to power. In fact, Kelantan and Terengganu have proven the reverse; the people get poorer with the opposition running these two states. And this is all that counts. And this is something the opposition does not seem to understand.
Do I hear someone say this is a most unIslamic stand to take? Do I hear someone say that principles cannot be compromised and exchanged for worldly desires? Don’t tell me, tell the voters, they don’t seem to think so as yesterday’s message from them has very loudly and clearly shown.
And the message from the voters is, “Show me the money!”