Monday, March 10, 2008


8th March 2008 was an auspicious date for newbies seeking enter Malaysian politics. Nurul Izzah unseated 3-term incumbent Minister Shahrizat Jalil to win Lembah Pantai while blogger Jeff Ooi unseated Gerakan in a 3-way fight in Jelutong. Meanwhile, established figures like Works Minister Samy Vellu and Penang MB Dr Koh Tsu Koon lost their jobs.

The Star called it a political tsunami while Anwar heralded the results as a new dawn … well, for him, at least.

(His wife and daughter are both in Parliament, which probably means that he’ll be getting up earlier to prepare their breakfast. There is talk, of course, that Nurul Izzah is just warming the seat, and will step down to allow the former DPM re-enter Parliament by-election after his ban in politics is up next month.)

Yes, it was a clear sign of dissatisfaction with BN and the status quo – corruption, mismanagement of racial & religious issues, and an economic blueprint that has yet to see results. DAP’s Manoharan Malayalam grabbed almost 70% of the votes against his BN opponent in Kota Alam, even though he spent the entire campaign period under ISA detention. Goes to show that shaking hands and kissing babies is not a key requirement in politics?

But while the Opposition celebrates, they should also recognize that they were largely the beneficiaries of weak leadership and infighting in the BN camp, just as BN had benefited from a un-united Opposition in 2004 … perhaps what goes around, comes around?

My point is, the votes were not Opposition votes per se. They were votes aimed at bringing in fresh ideas, new blood and the political energy to overcome the inertia. The problem is, the Opposition is still a minority, and a divided one at that. It is unlikely that a shared coherent approach to the challenges facing Malaysia today will emerge from this side of the fence.

Hence, the call for change will have to be answered by UMNO – which is really all that’s left of BN now that other component parties are pretty much wiped out. As PM Abdullah grapples with calls to step down, he must also realize (by now, at least) that the current generation of voters are those who have not fully bought into Dr M’s version of reasons for Anwar’s sacking & imprisonment, and are more likely to read Malaysiakini than the NST.

The good news for BN? At least the accusations of election rigging should be silenced for awhile.

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