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Monday, April 30, 2018

MALAYSIA DECIDES: ‘GROWING OPPOSITION MOMENTUM’ & EXCESSIVE EC CHEATING HITS THE GLOBAL HEADLINES

If the sole deciding factor was the number of votes, the Malaysian government would probably be facing defeat in the May 9 election, but political analysts say gerrymandering means the ruling coalition is likely to remain in power as it has since independence in 1957.
Prime Minister Najib Razak faces pressure from within his United Malays National Organisation — the senior party in the Barisan Nasional (National Front) — to improve on a poor 2013 election result in which BN retained power but lost the popular vote. The coalition had lost its coveted two-thirds majority in parliament in the previous poll in 2008.
Mr Najib’s opponents — the most prominent of whom is former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad — say he has responded to the strongest opposition challenge yet with a combination of populist handouts for voters and a new round of gerrymandering. They also say the state has effectively captured electoral institutions to further tilt the contest in favour of the government.
On March 28, parliament approved new electoral boundaries that give additional weight to government supporters. On April 10, the electoral commission announced a weekday election date, widely interpreted as a ploy to lower turnout among younger Malaysians who moved from their constituencies to work in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
“We didn’t really think they would do it,” said Shahrul Aman Mohd Saari, acting chair of Bersih, an umbrella group of non-government organisations that has pressed for electoral reforms over the past decade. “It is saying very bluntly that you do not want people to come out and vote.” Recommended Asia-Pacific economy Najib offers lavish benefits ahead of Malaysia poll Mr Najib denies his government has captured the institutions that set Malaysia’s electoral rules. “The government neither interferes nor influences the [election commission] in exercising its duties,” he said.
But opposition figures say the electoral machinery is rigged against them. “The election commission, the electoral roll, the process in which election observers are selected — it is all determined and controlled by BN,” said Maria Chin Abdullah, a former chair of Bersih (Clean) who will seek election in Petaling Jaya, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, for the opposition Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition.
Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said that “growing opposition momentum” meant Mr Najib’s victory might be less substantial than previously thought, but it still gave the opposition only a 15 per cent chance of victory.
Mr Najib enters the election under an ethical cloud amid allegations that he improperly received almost $700m linked to the controversial 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund. He denied any impropriety, saying the money was donated by Saudi royals.
He also faces an opposition coalition rejuvenated by the leadership of 92-year-old Mr Mahathir, who was once Mr Najib’s mentor but now accuses him of corruption. A former Umno leader, Mr Mahathir quit the party in 2016 in disgust at the 1MDB scandal.
Maria Chin Abdullah © Harry Jacques
Mr Mahathir and Ms Chin Abdullah have an uneasy relationship, given the ex-premier’s own authoritarian rule from 1981 to 2003. Many of the Pakatan Harapan politicians with whom he now shares a platform were imprisoned on his orders.
In 1987 he detained Ms Chin Abdullah’s late husband, then a student political activist, for two years under a feared emergency law. She says he was mistreated while in custody.
In 2006, she helped create Bersih, which launched education campaigns and staged large protests between 2007 to 2016 to press for electoral reforms, including better access for postal voters and a review of the country’s voter roll.
Ms Chin Abdullah herself was detained in late 2016, a day before tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur to demand political reforms.
She said she was handcuffed and blindfolded before being locked in a windowless room under emergency legislation for 11 days. “You lose your concept of time; the space becomes overwhelming,” she said.
– https://www.ft.com

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