Asia Sentinel, Apr 27 2010
Najib's policies appear to be ratified by Malay
Malaysia's opposition Pakatan Rakyat has been defeated in a northeastern
Selangor by-election that had been billed as a referendum on Prime
Minister Najib Tun Razak's economic and social policies.
Zaid Ibrahim, a one-time justice minister turned possible successor to
the embattled Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim,
lost the seat to P Kalamanathan, a
Malaysian Indian Congress functionary by a relatively healthy 1,725
The Hulu Selangor race appears to have been the hardest fought and
perhaps most significant of the 10 by-elections since the opposition
Pakatan Rakyat broke the national coalition's two-thirds hold on the Dewan Rakyat,
or parliament in March 2008 national
elections and it has raised speculation that Najib believes his
strengthening coalition will be able to call national elections in 2011.
Most of the previous by-elections took place in safe constituencies
where the in*****bent had either died or resigned. In Hulu Selangor,
Zainal Abidin Ahmad, a Parti Keadilan Rakyat member of parliament, had
died on March 25.
While Kalamanathan's 1,725 margin reversed the previous defeat, however,
UMNO officials predicted a 6,000 vote margin, perhaps out of bravado.
In previous elections, the Barisan pulled victory margins of as much as
10,000 in the constituency. But a win is a win and probably an
indication of a rising trend.
Kalamanathan, who was personally selected by Najib against the wishes of
MIC head S. Samy Vellu, won 24,997 votes against Zaid's 23,272. The
result reduces the opposition's membership in the Dewan Rakyat to 76
against the Barisan Nasional's
138. It was the second straight
by-election win for the Barisan.
Voting was heavy early in the Hulu Selangor constituency, a variegated
district to the northeast of Kuala Lumpur,
with an eventual turnout of 75.8
percent, election officials said. The contest for the seat, in which
both sides have spent state funds heavily and often, and each accused
the other of such offences as drinking beer and faking college
credentials, was also viewed by analysts as a test of whether Najib has
been able to rebuild the scandal-wracked Barisan and whether the Pakatan
Rakyat's ability to rule the populous state it won in 2008 had found
resonance with the voters. Najib appeared three times in the
constituency to urge voters to return to the Barisan.
The central lesson of the race appears to have been the division of the
electorate along ethnic lines, with the Chinese, who make up 26 percent
of the electorate, going solidly for the opposition and Malays and
Indians swinging back to the Barisan Nasional, the national ruling
coalition. Zaid appeared to be leading initially as votes in the urban
areas -- Chinese strongholds -- were counted first. However, as the
ballots started to trickle in from rural Malay voters, the count swung
back to Kalamanathan.
Najib, who came into the premiership a year ago dogged by scandal and
with only a 44 percent approval rating, has now improved his numbers to
68 percent across the country. He has worked assiduously to heal the
fractured racial divisions in Malaysia, especially with the Indian
population, who make up about 8 percent of the electorate. His
1Malaysia campaign, as it is known, is aided by a US$23 million contract
with US public relations giant APCO. The Chinese remain largely
disaffected, turned off by factional political infighting and scandal in
the Malaysian Chinese Association.
Najib has been aided by a recovering economy, with rising exports
expected to push gross domestic product back to 4.5-5 percent in 2010.
Some analysts express concern that employment is rising only
marginally. However, his so-called New Economic Model, designed to
replace the 40-year-old New Economic Policy of affirmative action for
ethnic Malays, has stirred concern in the Malay community that they will
be forced to give up subsidies and other privileges to the wealthier
With Anwar caught in the coils of a long-drawn-out sexual abuse trial
that has been nicknamed Sodomy II, Zaid, a highly respected lawyer who
was appointed by former premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as a minister in
the prime minister's office to attempt to clean out Malaysia's
scandal-wracked judiciary, was perhaps the opposition's best hope to
lead if Anwar is convicted. As an UMNO cabinet official, Zaid stirred
the outrage of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad
by saying the government should
apologize for his firing of the Lord President
of the Supreme Court,
Tun Salleh Abbas, in 1988. After
criticizing the arrests of three individuals - Democratic Action Party
MP Teresa Kok, editor Raja Petra Kamaruddin and journalist Tan Hoon
Cheng under the Internal Security Act in September of 2008, Zaid was
forced to resign and he left the party soon after.
Lim Kit Siang, the head of the DAP, sought to put the best face on the
defeat, telling his supporters that the loss was narrower than expected
and that Zaid will live to fight again another day. Nonetheless, the
defeat still leaves the Pakatan Rakyat struggling to find a leader with
the charisma to replace Anwar if he goes to jail in the long-drawn-out
sexual abuse trial. Anwar spent six years in prison on similar charges
after a 1998 trial that was universally condemned as concocted to drive
him out of politics.