From Gantang Hill to mountain

By Wong Chin Huat The Nut Graph)

IT is furthest from the truth to declare that the results of the triple by-elections on 7 April 2009 are about the status quo being maintained. Such an analysis, which focuses only on the number of seats each political party has, would fail to see the forest for the trees.

What has or will be changed because of 7 April, at least in Bukit Gantang, is the dynamics in party competition. The two contending parties, Umno and PAS, and their respective coalitions, the Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR), are now officially in a new ball game.

The resounding victory of the Pakatan Rakyat's Perak Menteri Besar (MB) Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin over his Umno opponent, Ismail Saffian, with an even greater margin than in 2008 is a clear verdict on the Perak coup.

The triumphant Nizar giving two thumbs up to journalists at the vote-tallying centre on 7 April

The majority of voters in the Bukit Gantang parliamentary constituency have made it clear that they do not condone a coup or mutiny. So, unless coup plotters can avoid or abolish elections forever, they will be punished once fresh polls are held.

Political parties should not expect the people to accept the fiat accompli of a palace coup or emergency rule and then reward a party with an electoral landslide. This is 2009, not 1969.

The message from Bukit Gantang — and Bukit Selambau — should therefore deter future coups, not only in Perak but in other states and at the federal level.


The Bukit Gantang result is also a verdict on new Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, not over the Mongolian woman whose name shall not be mentioned, but over his "1Malaysia" reform hype. "1Malaysia", incidentally, is reminiscent of the DAP's slogan "Malaysians First".

The key to any genuine reform by Umno is not about treating non-Malay Malaysians and non-Muslims better. Umno must do that at any rate, or it will be buried by the non-Malay Malaysians. Indeed, appealing to the constituency that punishes you is the given in the perverted logic of Malaysian politics. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad knew that after 1990. He launched "Vision 2020" to win back the minority votes. Najib himself may announce the end of the New Economic Policy towards achieving the same end.

No, the one reform Umno really needs is to embrace democracy. It needs to accept that it is not the default party in the government by virtue of being the sole representative of the Malay Malaysians.

That means acknowledging the legitimate existence — not purely on legal grounds — of its competitors in Malay Malaysian politics. This in turn means the discourse of Malay Malaysian unity under Umno must become a museum artifact.

If Umno is serious about reform, "1Malaysia" must therefore be inclusive not only of non-Malay Malaysians, but also of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and PAS. In other words, there cannot be a "1Malays" core in "1Malaysia".

But for all the hype of the new emperor's new slogan, Umno's campaign in Bukit Gantang was exactly what it shouldn't have been.

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