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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ban on 1 Malaysia in Selangor hurts both sides


A prolonged verbal war over Selangor’s 1 Malaysia billboard ban will prove to be equally damaging to both Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and Barisan Nasional (BN), as pundits believe that the public debate will not leave voters impressed with either coalition.

Political analysts as well as politicians feel that BN and PR should instead place more focus on their policies to gain voter support for the next elections – PR on its “100 day” reform plans and BN on Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1 Malaysia concept itself.

“The issue is starting to look quite petty, the rapidly escalating debate between BN and Pakatan on this 1 Malaysia billboard ban, it’s not really substantive. Efforts to drag this issue on any further may be costly for both coalitions. Instead of stressing over an obscure local law, they should just focus on better issues,” said polls analyst Ibrahim Suffian.

Ibrahim, who is Merdeka Center director told The Malaysian Insider that although PR may chalk up some points among its hardcore supporters for enforcing a ban on the Najib administration’s brand logo, it may also lose support from voters who think that the opposition bloc was not practising what it preached in terms of freedom of expression.

“But at the same time, things are not as rosy for BN as well. What’s clear from all this is that there is a serious problem with 1 Malaysia itself. Despite a lot of money spent on public relations, the actions of some BN leaders do not tally with the concept.

“BN should take note of these grievances instead of attacking PR over the ban, and address the concept clearly to groups which have benefited from government transformation programmes,” said Ibrahim.

USM political scientist Dr Sivamurugan Pandian echoed Ibrahim’s thoughts, saying that BN should focus on making voters understand the concept of 1 Malaysia itself, which has been criticised as not being understood by a large chunk of Malaysians.

“This issue has happened, a ban on the concept, but I feel that BN should not entertain Pakatan on this issue and concentrate on developing the concept itself, people are still not so sure about what the concept really means. More than one-and-a-half years after the 2008 political tsunami, BN needs to focus on its policies more than ever.

“But I believe this is going to affect Pakatan the most. They are just going to look petty if they are this obsessed over a logo or symbol,” Sivamurugan told The Malaysian Insider.

The Selangor government has maintained that its statewide ban on 1 Malaysia billboards was legitimate, but said that it only applied to commercial advertisements/billboards and not buntings for political functions.

The ban has now been temporarily frozen pending a review.

“The by-law itself should be changed, amended. You don’t go through with a ban if it is considered an unfair law. There have been political advertisements for a long time now, why the hullabaloo now? “This was introduced during the BN administration; its purpose then was to make things difficult for the state opposition.

“I just do not understand why Xavier Jeyakumar and Elizabeth Wong are so enthusiastic about enforcing this by-law,” said a senior Selangor PR leader who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Xavier, who is a state exco member, told The Malaysian Insider that he himself was “not aware” of the freeze of the ban.

“I don’t know about Ronnie Liu’s decision, I have not met him yet, all I know is what I read in the papers, same as you. Our concern is simple – 1 Malaysia is a political symbol, and we cannot allow it on business billboards,” said Xavier.

Klang MP Charles Santiago said that the actual problem was the fact that the state government had not done a very good job of explaining the by-law on the ban.

“What are the criteria that constitute a political symbol? I think this issue may have been poorly thought through. You have to state what the law is, and the reason for its enforcement. Be clear when you enforce a policy, otherwise it may backfire,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

MCA Youth Chief Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong said that the media attention on the 1 Malaysia ban debate has given BN the impetus needed to explain the concept properly.

The Najib administration has been criticised by many, including former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed for being unable to make voters understand what 1 Malaysia really is.

“Initially yes, we had to defend our position and engage in a debate with Pakatan over the ban. But we have to put that behind us and move forward; we’ve got to seize the opportunity that’s presented itself and be more progressive.

“The word on 1 Malaysia is out, everyone’s keeping track ... instead of just attacking PR, we should focus on the policy itself, explain the purpose, what it symbolises. I feel that this is a golden opportunity for us, and we should not let it pass,” Wee told The Malaysian Insider.

MCA vice-president Datuk S.K Devamany, however, claimed that the ongoing “debate” between both coalitions was “healthy” and should carry on.

“This debate will eventually mature ... if 1 Malaysia is just a political tool of the BN, it will die out. But if it is strong, it will withstand this episode. Let the polemic carry on, that’s the only way a healthy democracy can work,” Devamany told The Malaysian Insider.

The Selangor government has maintained that the local by-laws on the ban had been in place since 2007, saying that it was “nothing new.”

Selangor local housing chief Ronnie Liu had earlier last week remarked that 1 Malaysia billboards were a political message from the BN federal government and were not allowed under local by-laws.

DAP advisor Lim Kit Siang has urged Selangor to rethink its 1 Malaysia billboards ban, to disprove BN’s claims that PR was afraid of the concept.

Umno mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia also accused PR today of being afraid of Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s concept as well as the Malay daily.

Najib introduced the concept when he took office in April 2009. - Malaysian Insider

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