A good result for Malaysia

Like many other Malaysians, the Bukit Gantang voters believe the Sultan acted wrongly when he refused to dissolve the state assembly following the defections. In the court of public opinion, the former Lord President is a loser.

The Malaysian Insider 

No matter which way you cut it, this was not the result Datuk Seri Najib Razak or Umno/Barisan Nasional hoped for. They dreamt of 3-0 but believed that 2-1 (Batang Ai and Bukit Gantang) was in the bag, based on ground reports.

Instead, the scorecard read 1-2 for the ruling coalition with the BN candidate victorious only in the state seat in Sarawak. Worse yet, Pakatan Rakyat’s candidates not only withstood the might of the BN machinery in Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau, they returned with bigger majorities than 12 months ago.

The Malaysian Insider spoke to Umno officials, opposition politicians and pundits and tried to make sense of what happened today.

Datuk Seri Najib Razak – It will take more than a few assuring statements and symbolic gestures like releasing 13 ISA detainees for non-Malays to return to Umno/BN. In Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau, the BN machinery worked well, perhaps even better than in the run-up to the general elections in 2008.

At least in Bukit Selambau, the Pakatan Rakyat campaign was hindered by disagreements over the candidate and defection by some PKR officials. But still victory was elusive for BN.

The Home Ministry may have outlawed the use of Altantuya Shariibuu's name during political rallies and seized all paraphernalia related to the Mongolian model but at every polling station today in Bukit Gantang, opposition workers shouted one name.

Quite clearly, having a new leader boosted the spirit of BN workers but it had little impact on the voting. Surely that is troubling.

Umno/BN – What excuse are they going to reach for this time? Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi carried the can for BN's poor performance in March 2008, and for the by-election losses in Permatang Pauh and Kuala Terengganu. Datuk Azim Zabidi’s aloofness was blamed for BN’s defeat in Bukit Gantang by 1,566 votes on March 8 and the wave against Umno was used by the MIC to justify its loss in Bukit Selambau 12 months ago.

In Bukit Gantang, Umno opted for a local politician, Ismail Saffian and in Bukit Selambau, MIC nominated strongman S. Ganesan as its candidate. Tan Sri Muhyiddin and other members of the supreme council were camped in both constituencies since nomination day on March 29.

Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Zambry Kadir worked the ground between 7.30am and 2am daily while Deepavali came early for many Indian voters in Kedah, courtesy of MIC. But the outcome was worse than 12 months ago. A senior Umno official told The Malaysian Insider: “The public just does not care about Umno or BN. They have an opinion about us and refuse to accept otherwise.’’

Sultan Azlan Shah – His name was not on the ballot paper in Bukit Gantang but his decision to accept the defection of the three Pakatan Rakyat representatives and install Barisan Nasional as the state government was the only election topic. Despite calling Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin a traitor and a disgrace to the Malays during political rallies, despite daily demonization of him by the national television stations and despite a long cooling down period from the collapse of the Pakatan Rakyat government till polling day, the voters in this constituency (an Umno stronghold) sent a strong message to the Sultan of Perak.

Like many other Malaysians, they believe he acted wrongly when he refused to dissolve the state assembly following the defections. In the court of public opinion, the former Lord President is a loser.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad – He grabbed the front page headlines, tossed a few sarcastic bombs at Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim but was a non-factor where it counted most – at the ballot box. Unkindly, some scribes at the frontlines noted that BN won in Batang Ai, the one constituency where the former prime minister did not campaign.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and PKR – Phew! This was not a walk in the park for PKR or the opposition icon. In the run-up to the polls, they had to deal with the Elizabeth Wong issue, news that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) was investigating Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim and several PKR officials in Penang for separate offences and dissension over the choice of candidates in Batang Ai and Bukit Selambau.

Still, they came away with one solid victory and one sound defeat. The defeat in Sarawak is a lesson for Anwar. It will take more than a few flying visits to Sarawak to unseat the wily fox, Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud. Elections in the East Malaysian state is a logistical nightmare and only political organizations with superb organization and resources stand a realistic chance of winning control of the state. Yes, there is an undercurrent of discontent there but it can only be tapped with a solid slate of candidates and a machinery to reach the voters.

Datuk Nizar Jamaluddin and PAS – Good things happen when a solid candidate is supported by a well-oiled machine.

Malaysia – This is a good result for the country. We need Umno to reform and we need a two-party political system to take root here. Tonight’s 2-1 result for Pakatan Rakyat tells us that Malaysians still believe in an alternative to BN and lets Najib know his party and coalition need a complete makeover.