COMMENT Today marks the one year anniversary of the historic 13th general election. This election was pivotal in the country’s history as the incumbent BN coalition held onto power, with the opposition calls for ‘change’ unfulfilled.
Scholars have highlighted the fundamental shifts in the power of Umno, the imbalance of the opposition parties, the rise in influence and political awakenings of East Malaysia and the electoral irregularities, among many profound structural changes.
In other ordinary ways, Malaysian politics has also changed, with greater cynicism, insecurities and anger more prominent in public life. This is across the political divide. News reports feature troubling reports of increased racial tensions, political polarisation and continued shortcomings in governance.
This article highlights some of the ongoing dynamics in contemporary Malaysian political life, which are both worrying and offer promise ahead.
There is no question the last year has been a difficult one for Malaysia. Globally, the country came under the full glare of the international spotlight in what arguably will be the story of the year – the loss of MH370. Now everyone in the world knows where Kuala Lumpur is, and the seas and oceans around it.
The persistence of this issue in international headlines for over two months is a reminder of the lack of closure for the families of love ones on board the missing plane and the country as a whole.
Malaysia has been blessed historically by a comparative lack of crises but MH370 shows the need for better preparation and the need to learn. What is of concern in the failure to properly release even the preliminary investigation report of the tragedy is an apparent unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes and strengthen the country’s responses in future.
The context of post-GE13 contributes to this childish stubbornness to embrace improvements. Political wrangling and insecurities are dominating the terrain, with those in power obsessed in staying there and those in the opposition myopically focused on getting there.
Even one year later, the country is still electioneering, with the focus on power rather than the people. This is perhaps one of the most serious losses of GE13 – a distancing of the interests of citizens and political leaders.
Even basic needs are being ignored, as evident by the water rationing. This issue is being used in a seemingly never-ending political game of blaming and one-upmanship. When will the federal and government leaders sit down and figure out a proper solution to the country’s water shortages? The sense one gets is: when the dams freeze over.
The impression is statesmanship is sorely lacking. It is not only MH370 that is missing. Some of this is a product of Prime Minister Najib Razak doing a disappearing act when a controversial issue emerges. When he reappears – usually well after an issue has evoked tensions and frustrations – his interventions are too little too late.
The Sessions Court today granted Seri Setia assemblyman Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad a discharge, not amounting to an acquittal, after he was charged for the second time with breaching the Peaceful Assembly Act.
The judge took the position that the lower court was bound by the decision of the Court of Appeal, which had earlier released Nik Nazmi, who is also Selangor Legislative Assembly deputy speaker.
Earlier today, Nik Nazmi was re-charged under Section 9 (1) of the PAA at the Petaling Jaya Sessions Court for his involvement in the Black 505 rally held at the Kelana Jaya stadium on May 8 last year.
On April 25, the Court of Appeal ruled that the charge against Nik Nazmi under Section 9(1) of the PAA for failure to give notice to the police before the rally be struck out.
The three-man Court of Appeal bench led by judge Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof had said that while the police could impose restriction on peaceful assembly, they could not penalise organisers and participants for non-compliance of the PAA.
The Court of Appeal also ruled that Section 9 (5) of the PAA – which provides for punishment for failure to give a 10-day notice to the authorities before a protest – as unconstitutional.
Today, when the charge was read out to Nik Nazmi, his counsel N. Surendran urged the court not to take a plea, as he wanted to submit that his client could not be tried again after the Court of Appeal had acquitted him, as provided for under Article 7 (2) of the Federal Constitution.
“Section 7 (2) is very clear. A person who has been convicted or acquitted shall not be tried again for the same offence except if the decision has been quashed by a superior court.
“You have no alternative but to discharge him immediately because you cannot try a person under a law that does not exist, as in the case of Section 9(5) of the PAA,” Surendran told the court.
He also said that to bring the charge against Nik Nazmi after he had been acquitted by the Cout of Appeal was tantamount to contempt of court.
He said the act by Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail to bring about the charge would effectively weaken the administration of justice and public confidence in the courts.
“The courts must not tolerate this kind of conduct by prosecution agencies,” Surendran said.
A legal team assembled to represent a Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) pilot in a military court charged with providing statements to the media regarding the indelible ink is mulling challenging the charges in a civil court.
PAS lawyer Mohamed Hanipa Maidin, who is leading the team, said he was considering filing a judicial review in the High Court as the charges framed against Major Zaidi Ahmad (pic) had violated his constitutional right.
“He is entitled to lodge a police report when a wrong has been done and framing charges against him runs contrary to Zaidi’s freedom of speech and expression,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
Hanipa, who is also Sepang MP, said Zaidi was also being harassed.
“He should not be penalised. The Armed Forces Council has the option to withdraw the charges and bring the matter to an end.”
He said even the Election Commission had conceded that there was a fiasco over the use of the indelible ink in last year’s general election.
Hanipa said Zaidi’s case did not come under the purview of the attorney general, who was also a public prosecutor.
“Usually we will write to the AG to drop the charges or file an application in court to strike out the charges. Since Zaidi is court martialled, we can only resort to a judicial review,” he said.
Hanipa said he had spoken to the council authorities to drop the charges but there had not been any indication of a positive outcome.
“We are running out of time as the military court will begin the three-day proceeding next Tuesday,” he said.
Election 2013 broke every rule in the book, Bersih panel finds
SUBANG JAYA, MARCH 25 — Every single principle governing the running of a free and fair election was breached during last year’s May 5 federal polls, Bersih’s People’s Tribunal concluded in its findings released today.
Panel member former United Nations Special Representative and constitutional law expert Yash Pal Ghai said Election 2013 had fallen short of every aspect of democracy and violated the standard of free and fair elections.
He agreed that the election had been free to some extent because those who were registered voters were not blocked from casting their ballots but said this freedom was more in a “narrow sense” of the word.
During Election 2013, the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) retained federal power with 133 seats to Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) 89 seats despite losing the popular vote contest to the federal opposition, garnering just 49 per cent of the total votes cast.
“We have found ourselves compelled to reach a conclusion that there were multiple failings in the way GE13 was conducted and that virtually every tenet of free election was violated at some place and at some time,” said Yash Pal, who headed the tribunal.
“There were so many breaches of law, disregard of procedures that we have to conclude that elections were not free and fair,” he said, reading out the verdict and recommendation of the five-person panel.
The recommendations, which included proposed amendments to the constitutions on electoral reforms, were concluded after the panel considered sworn statements from 75 witnesses.
Of the 75, 49 appeared personally during public hearings from September 18 to 21 last year.
The panel also proposed reduce the voting eligibility age from 21 to 18 years, and called for equal voting access for Malaysians living abroad.
Yash Pal said the various complaints from individuals who never registered as voters and those who were transferred out of their voting districts, indicate a “deliberate act of fraud”.
“Registering one or two people in the wrong constituency might be carelessness; registering those who have not sought registration is suspicious,” said Yash Pal, adding that it is hard to exonerate the Election Commission (EC) of collusion as identification cards are required upon registration.
Noting the difficulty in ensuring an electoral roll is completely void of discrepancies, another panel member, lawyer Datuk Azzat Kamaluddin, said political parties should establish a specific unit to check the voter registry.
This, he pointed out, is to prevent from a complainant running into legal constraints when it comes to challenging discrepancies in the roll. The Election Act 1958 provides no legal avenue to those who want to challenge a gazetted electoral roll.
On the first-past-the-post electoral system practiced by Malaysia, Yash Pal labelled it questionable as it relies heavily on the fairness of delineated electoral boundaries, which has been repeatedly questioned by federal opposition lawmakers and activists here.
“Individual voters will not be equally represented if they are in constituencies with significantly different number of voters and the actual outcome of overall results can severely be affected by moving boundaries.
“A witness gave evidence that, on average, a vote for BN was worth 1.6 times a vote for PR, because PR-leaning constituencies are on average larger,” he said, adding that it does not reflect “the principle of one person, one vote, one value”.
In order to reduce the glaring ratio, the panel proposed amendments to laws defining the criteria on the size of urban and rural constituencies, crucial to the delimitation process.
The Electoral Integrity Project (EIP), a study by University of Sydney and Harvard University, recently showed Malaysia’s electoral demarcations as the worst of 66 countries in terms of fairness and integrity of its electoral boundaries.
Why go after RMAF pilot and let big sharks get away, asks DAP
DAP leader Lim Kit Siang (pic) today questioned Putrajaya’s move to charge air force pilot Major Zaidi Ahmad for complaining about GE13’s indelible ink when it let “big sharks of corruption, who steal hundreds of millions of ringgit worth of properties and wealth, act with impunity as they enjoyed immunity”.
He said the government should be ashamed for behaving in “a mean and petty manner” against the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) pilot who had lodged a police report against the indelible ink used in the May 5 general election.
“Why is Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration so perverse that they prefer to charge Zaidi using a 40-year-old military law?” the Gelang Patah MP said in a statement today.
“Zaidi did what every Malaysian is expected to do, he spoke the truth about the indelible ink which was used in the last general election as it was quickly washable and removable.”
“The use of the Armed Forces Act 1972 on Zaidi shows that military leaders have no standing and took their cue from political leaders,” Lim said.
He also urged Najib and Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein to intervene and drop all charges against Zaidi, who faces two years in jail if found guilty.
“If Zaidi is sent to prison, both Najib and Hishammuddin should be ashamed and embarrassed in the eyes of the world. But they appear to be numb and insensitive,” he said.
Lim said when Zaidi lodged a police report over the indelible ink fiasco, he was acting in his capacity as a Malaysian voter and citizen.
“He was not lodging a police report in his capacity as a RMAF pilot,” Lim said.
“Which has the higher calling, loyalty to the Federal Constitution or to the bureaucratic rules and regulations of the military services?”
He added that if Putrajaya was not prepared to drop all charges against Zaidi, then he would raise the issue when Parliament reconvenes on March 10.
Zaidi lodged a police report after the indelible ink on his finger washed off only hours after voting in the 13th general election in May last year.
Caution to Malaysia’s minority groups: beware of a government bearing promises and agreements before an election.
Several analysts interviewed by The Malaysian Insider said that this was one of the lessons to take away from P. Waytha Moorthy’s resignation from the Najib administration and Putrajaya’s inability to make good a 10-point solution with Christians over Malay Bibles and the use of the word “Allah”.
While they agreed that the Hindraf (Hindu Rights Action Force) leader was equally to blame for his hasty move to sign a pact with Putrajaya days before the May 5 elections and for accepting a deputy minister’s post after Barisan Nasional’s (BN) victory, it was an obvious case of broken promises by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
“Should Hindraf decide to engage in a public campaign to denounce the PM and government agencies for their cynical disregard of the Indian electorate after making use of them during the recent elections, the damage to Najib personally and BN as a whole could be considerable and long lasting,” said political analyst Dr Lim Teck Ghee.
He said that apart from Indians, other minority groups, especially in Sabah and Sarawak, had also been monitoring the progress of the Hindraf agreement with Najib.
Hindraf had said Putrajaya had been “dragging its feet” in delivering its promises to aid the poor Indian Malaysians in return for their support in the elections.
Waytha himself has been silent on his resignation and has not answered calls from the media. Najib, however, yesterday said he was disheartened by Waytha’s resignation, adding that the Hindraf leader should have tried to work with the administration and with colleagues to implement Putrajaya’s projects that would fulfil his cause.
In a statement, Najib had said: “I would like to stress that in line with my dream to form a more approachable government that always gives help to those who need it, we will implement socio-economic development programmes for the Indian community, as well as the other races”.
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak political analyst Dr Jeniri Amir agreed with Dr Lim, saying Putrajaya was bound to face challenges when making promises in future elections.
He said this was also applicable to the 10-point solution reached just before the Sarawak elections in April 2011 with the Christians over the import and distribution of Malay Bibles.
“Sometimes, perception is more real than reality, so it does not reflect well on PM Najib and BN that they did not deliver on their promises,” he said.
I am sure many Malaysians, especially the Chinese, will have shared my acute discomfort and embarrassment after hearing the news that the MCA central delegates has approved a resolution for the party to accept government posts at all levels. According to reports, a total of 1,973 out of the 1,982, or 99.5% present, at the extraordinary general meeting at Wisma MCA on Sunday voted for the resolution by a show of hands. This means that only 9 of those present voted either to abstain or against the resolution.
It is important to note that the party had passed a resolution in 2011 and 2012 not to accept any government post if the party’s performance in the 13th general election was worse than that of the 12th general election. According to the election results, the MCA won a total of 18 seats in the 13th general election against 46 in the 12th general election.
Presumably the great majority of those voting for this resolution were the same people who had passed the earlier resolution. Have these people, especially the President and his deputies, no sense of shame, honour or dignity at all? After making the solemn promise not to accept any government post, they are not only doing a complete flip-flop but apparently will be asking for at least three ministerial positions and several deputy minister-ships as well as various other federal and state-high positions.
Why the change in party position
Now what has happened during these past few months which makes this extraordinary volte-face justifiable? If we examine the events of the past few months, we can see that racial and religious conflict and tension is reaching a peak with the Prime Minister and Umno leaders doing little about it. Not only has the MCA remained largely mum and when the party comes out with a press statement, it tries to put the blame on the opposition, instead of pointing the fingers at the extremist groups which have Umno supporters at their core.
So weak, unresponsive and dishonest has been the top leadership that even Waytha Moorthy of Hindraf who joined the cabinet recently has given up and resigned. I suppose his resignation means that there is one more minor position that the MCA can begin grovelling for!
A party resolution should not be like a decision arrived at in a kopitiam or during a teh tarik session. It is the highest level of decision making. Any resolution put forward and adopted should be binding as it carries with it short and long term ramifications and significance. But apparently, resolutions in the MCA’s coffee shop are different as they can be made and unmade with no consequence or sense of culpability.