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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Protest vote of 2008 will not be repeated, politicians say

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 30 — A little over two years after the last general election, politicians across the divide agree the momentum built up by the political tsunami that rocked Malaysia has all but subsided.

Some pundits think Barisan Nasional, which had a disastrous outing in March 2008, has in fact gained ground since then while Pakatan Rakyat has squandered the goodwill of voters as its component parties grapple with various issues.

Political leaders told The Malaysian Insider the tsunami had sparked off an era of political maturity among voters who were now more discerning and critical of those they choose to govern the nation.

Many predicted that the “protest vote” of Elections 2008 would now become a “positive vote” that would no longer be affected by emotions or blind hatred towards either coalition.

They noted that while PR’s success in 2008 was bolstered by an all-consuming anger towards the ruling BN coalition which was further propelled by sentiments ignited during the infamous Hindraf and Bersih rallies in 2007, such emotive considerations would no longer be a factor in the next general election.

In the March 2008 general election, the opposition parties of PKR, DAP and PAS surprised even themselves when they trounced BN in five states and even denied the ruling coalition its customary two-thirds majority in Parliament.

The results changed the country’s political landscape and the aftermath saw the powerful BN coalition, led by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, scrambling to repair its image and regain the people’s confidence through a slew of inclusive transformative policies.

Khairy said in the coming polls, voters would weigh the strengths of both coalition pacts critically. — File pic
Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin told The Malaysian Insider that in the coming polls, voters would weigh the strengths of both coalition pacts critically as they are more discerning than they were pre-Elections 2008.

“It will be a discerning vote. It will depend on who is putting forward a better proposition and who can best execute their promises. We have reached that inflection point where we have gone past the protest issue and we are looking now for positive changes,” he said.

The Rembau MP even said that the weaknesses seen in PR parties, particularly in PKR, would not play a major contributing factor in BN’s strategies to regain support.

“I have always maintained that our enemies’ weaknesses are not our strengths and unless we address our own strengths and actually pull through with our reforms, it is not going to be any easier for us.

“We need to concentrate and ensure that there is traction from the people in responding to our strengths. That would be the positive sign. I do not believe that just because our enemies are doing badly, it is time for us to strike,” he said.

Umno’s Kota Belud MP Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahalan agreed with his colleague, adding that it was no longer feasible for the opposition to bank on petty accusations against its rivals to secure support.

“It is a level playing field and it should be that way. Let us fight it out in policy matters. PKR can no longer tell the people not to vote for BN because BN is evil.

“It is more about what I can do for you, not because I am saying that the other guy is corrupt and evil.

“It is about telling the people what your plan is, what is the alternative that you are giving to the people?” he said.

Abdul Rahman said there was presently a clear shift of support towards BN and claimed that even the opposition was aware of the sway.

He coyly pointed out that this was proven in how opposition backbenchers were no longer as vocal in Parliament as they were before, after the 2008 election.

“Go to Parliament now, you hardly see them shouting and getting angry. They are all sullen and sulking and slumped in their chairs. You do not see the feisty mood that was there before.

“This is an unscientific indication, no doubt, but I can feel it when I am there. After 2008, they were larger than life... now, they have just been downsized,” he said.

Abdul Rahman said this was partly due to the opposition’s own doing, citing the example of the just-concluded PKR direct elections, which was fraught with complaints of irregularities and malpractices.

“I have a lot of friends, I talk to them, people on the fence who are leaning to PR, and they are worried about giving the government to the opposition,” he claimed.

He noted that on the other hand, the ruling BN coalition had proven its worth and had weathered the storm since Elections 2008.

Najib’s policies, he said, were a major contributing factor to BN’s increasing momentum against PR.

“He brought stability, he is a reasonable man. He even deals with the opposition with decorum and respect and you hardly see him shooting from the hip.

“We have dealt with crime, corruption, the court system, our anti-corruption agency packs more bite now and we are even catching up in our communication methods,” he said.

Abdul Rahman admitted that in the previous election, BN had been “outnumbered, out-manoeuvred and out-strategised” in the use of communication tools to reach out to the younger voters.

“But now, we have addressed this and our campaign strategy has changed. There is now hope for the people,” he said.

MIC central working committee member S. Murugessan told The Malaysian Insider that a “good percentage” of those who opposed BN in 2008 were now willing to give the ruling coalition another chance.

“The 2008 election was an eye opener and was fuelled by events that occurred in late 2007. It was a shock for us and the people sent a clear signal to BN that they have to listen to the community and not sweep things under the carpet.

“But now, the people can see that BN and the prime minister are listening to the people. We hear you and we are ready to take changes,” he said.

He agreed that the tsunami of Elections 2008 had long dissipated but cautioned BN leaders against being over-confident.

“The wave has fallen but we should approach this with cautious confidence,” he said.

Murugessan added that the onslaught of racially-charged issues involving civil servants did not help boost BN’s popularity and urged the government to do everything it could to prevent such incidents from recurring.

MCA secretary-general Datuk Kong Cho Ha told The Malaysian Insider that the ruling BN coalition needed to concentrate on working for the people and not rely on the dissipation of the 2008 tsunami as a sign of voter support.

“There is a feel good factor for BN but that may not amount to the tsunami being totally over,” he cautioned.

PR lawmakers also agreed with their BN counterparts that the 2008 tsunami had lost its steam and that it had given birth to a more critical-minded electorate.

Dzulkefly said voters were now more ‘enlightened and informed’. — File pic
PAS’s Kuala Selangor MP Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad told The Malaysian Insider that the voters were now more “enlightened and informed” and were now willing to “punish” whomever came in the way of positive changes in the country.

“It does not matter whether it is from BN or PR. It is a time of new politics and the rakyat are telling us that they are the real stakeholders in Malaysia. They are saying that the political players will have to step up and subscribe to their demands, aspirations and expectations,” he said.

The contest in the 13th general election, he added, would be a test of the capabilities of both BN and PR as viable governments.

“This is a new, pro-change element that we are seeing. I do not subscribe to the whole tsunami phenomena as a propeller for PR. It is this pro-change and pro-reform wave that has been invoked... this is the wave that is currently holding the sway and influencing the entire politics of Malaysia,” he added.

Pua disagreed that BN had an edge above PR in the coming polls. — File pic
DAP’s Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua however disagreed with the notion that BN had an edge above PR in the coming polls, pointing out that many events like the flip-flopping of national policies had served to cancel out BN’s other transformative moves.

“Yes Najib is popular but for him, it’s a mixed bag. On some counts, he has done well but in others, he has also proven to be no different from the past in many aspects.

“If we were to draw up a report card for Najib, it would be a checkered one,” he said.

As such, the MP predicted a possible status quo in the political landscape come the next polls.

“It has been a period of digestion on the gains made by the respective parties. BN has not made significant changes and for PR, we have also not made significant headway in comparison. I do not think that the gains we made in the past will be lost.

“I agree that things have declined but it does not mean total reversal. So we will win in some and lose in some,” he said.

PKR’s Batu MP Chua Tian Chang predicted that the results of the next polls could be one of either two things — that it will be a contest of competency for BN and PR, or that status quo would be maintained as the people were happy that the opposition currently had a strong voice in Parliament.

“But this is BN’s greatest fear. Because for us, at worst, we stay put where we are and then BN will have to accept that this is a permanent trend in the country.

“I think that 80 per cent of our supporters want a strong opposition and they will continue to want this so if they somehow think that we are not yet matured enough to take on Putrajaya, they will maintain status quo,” he said. - Malaysian Insider

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