Tenang residents are not bothered about their future generation BUT selfish people of no hope for a better Malaysia

With BN’s Tenang win, Malaysia far from being Tunisia, Egypt

January 31, 2011

BN leaders and Azahar (in songkok) raise their arms in victory in the Tenang by-election last night, January 30, 2011. — Picture by Choo Choy May
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 31 — Will Malaysia become like Egypt and Tunisia?

This is a question which many Malaysians are asking in the wake of people power and street demonstrations which have rocked several Muslim countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan.

Barisan Nasional’s (BN) 3,707-vote majority win in Tenang within its Johor stronghold shows that the ruling coalition remains popular among the electorate although it has failed to regain the Chinese vote, a major block in most urban areas.

However, opposition politicians like to believe that the conditions are ripe for a similar style uprising here, citing repressive practices and endemic corruption by the BN government.

On the flip side, government leaders say that the situation in Tunisia, Egypt and Malaysia is as different as night and day, noting that the Southeast Asian nation has full employment, with the people having full stomachs and the country is a democracy with regular elections.

A protester shouts during a demonstration in Cairo yesterday, January 30, 2011. — Reuters pic
For now, BN leaders are correct. And Azahar Ibrahim’s 6,699 votes against PAS’s Normala Sudirman’s 2,992 in the country’s 14th by-election since Election 2008 show that the ruling coalition has the policies that keep attracting support.

But there are similarities between what is happening in Tunis and Cairo, and the authorities will be well advised to watch and learn and avoid the same pitfalls. These include:

• Turning a blind eye to endemic corruption, especially among ministers, government politicians, royals and those connected to the leadership.

Because this is a rich country, Malaysians generally do not go beyond complaining when they wonder how ministers and politicians can own a fleet of luxury cars, own luxury homes in London, afford to put their children in boarding schools and have their wives decked in million ringgit jewels when their monthly salary is not more than RM15,000 a month.

For now, the Malaysian reaction is a mixture of amazement, frustration and envy. But as the events in Tunisia show, pent-up anger over endemic corruption can push ordinary people to do drastic things.

• President Hosni Mubarak has ruled Egypt with a strong hand, supported by secret police and the military. He has refused to give any democratic space and frustration has built up to explosion point because many Egyptians believe that the system is stacked against them.

Elections are rigged, opposition politicians are threatened and the religious class persecuted.

Mubarak has weakened all the institutions and bent it according to his will. The situation in Malaysia is a long way from Cairo but this situation will only continue if the government understands that rules of fair play and justice must be adhered to by institutions, whether it is the judiciary, police, MACC, Election Commission and other institutions.

Mubarak believed that as long as he had the military might behind him he could run Egypt as his fiefdom. The point is that tolerance has its breaking point.

The turmoil, in which more than 100 people have died, has sent shock waves through the Middle East where other autocratic rulers may face similar challenges, and unsettled financial markets around the globe as well as Egypt’s allies in the West.

The final straw seems to have been parliamentary elections in November last year, which observers said authorities rigged to exclude the opposition and secure Mubarak’s ruling party a rubber-stamp Parliament.

The military response to the crisis has been ambivalent. Troops now guard key buildings after police lost control of the streets, but have neglected to enforce a curfew, often fraternising with protesters rather than confronting them.

It also remains to be seen if the armed forces will keep Mubarak in power, or decide he is a liability to Egypt’s national interests, and their own. It was also unclear if Mubarak had decided to talk with the generals or if he was summoned by them.

It was Tunisian generals who persuaded former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee last month after weeks of protests.

A crowd gathers around Egyptian soldiers standing on top of a tank in Cairo yesterday, January 30, 2011. — Reuters pic
That has not happened in Malaysia, even in 1998 at the height of the Reformasi protests against the sacking of then-Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

A series of desertions and a sacking from Anwar’s PKR have shown that the de facto PKR and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leader has still to come to grips with controlling his party rather than challenging Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak for Putrajaya.

The latest polls result from Tenang appears to reflect that BN is regaining most of its support from the Malays, who deserted the ruling coalition in 2008, and the Indians who appear to have benefited from the Hindraf march in November 2007.

However, it has yet to receive more support from the Chinese, the country’s second-biggest community but the most dominant in business.

An editorial in Umno-owned Mingguan Malaysia weekly yesterday urged the government to curry favour with the Chinese to ensure continued support in the next general election amid concern that the situation in the Middle East could find its way to Malaysia.

With BN now winning six out of 14 by-elections since Election 2008, all eyes will be on the 15th by-election in Merlimau on March 6, two days to three years since the last general election, to see if the ruling coalition can maintain their momentum and win the Malacca seat.

Growing support for the Najib administration in the past few by-elections will help assure the government that Tunisia and Egypt will not happen in the country in the near future.

It will also keep the opposition in check but the Najib administration will have to continue with its reforms to ensure it remains in power. Otherwise, it will be a matter of time before protests grow like in Tunisia or Egypt and even in Indonesia more than a decade ago.

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