Voting the Devil you know

I think BN will be pleasantly surprised to see a strong swing of support coming back its way if it permanently said goodbye to using race and religion as a campaign apparatus.

By Aizuddin Danian

The 13th Malaysian General Election is anywhere between 6-18 months away, depending on who you talk to. Personally, i don’t think it’ll be so soon. Najib still needs time to sell his 1Malaysia vision, and time to line up all his ducks. The uncertainty surrounding the electorate in Sarawak and Sabah will need to be resolved first too.

So, consider the following as a pre-pre-game match review. Obviously, so many things can and probably will change in the months to come. 
Will the 13th GE see another GE2008? Further erosion of BN support among the electorate? Or outright loss of government? Or perhaps the pendulum will swing the other way, and PR will get smashed, lose a few of the states in won in 2008.
Flag of Barisan Nasional.

Image via Wikipedia

What does BN need to do to win?

1. It needs to clarify its position on racial and religious politics. As it stands right now, BN can’t seem to get its act together, and is playing a schizophrenic game of “are we (racist) or aren’t we”. The PM says that PERKASA “isn’t too extreme”, then, in the next breath declaring “zero tolerance” for racism. The Sec-Gen of UMNO disowning Ibrahim Ali, but not barring his own right hand man from taking on the position as PERKASA Youth chief. There are just too many inconsistencies, and the people are wondering whether BN is trying to have it’s cake and eat it too.
I think BN needs to wake up and smell the New Way Elections Are Won (TM). Pandering to the gallery of racial and religious fears may have worked in the past, but its really starting to get old. A positive by-product of the NEP happens to be an increasingly enlightened middle class, able to look beyond the discrimination of race and fear-mongering of religion. As a people, we still identify ourselves according to race and religion, but we’ve also begun to be able to divorce this identity from a need to discriminate my fellow Malaysian because of it.
I think BN will be pleasantly surprised to see a strong swing of support coming back its way if it permanently said goodbye to using race and religion as a campaign apparatus.
2. BN needs to answer the claims of corruption hanging over it’s head. This is a question asked during the GE2008 campaign, and i’ll bet the lack of a satisfactory answer was one of the reasons why the voters turned so strongly against BN. Provide the electorate with a “cleaner” alternative, and a “dirty” politician will always struggle to win. Samy Vellu found this out the hard way.
From Mahathir to Badawi, and recently to the current PM, Najib — the stink of corruption seems overwhelming. But all it not lost. Najib still has a chance to set things right. Openly declare that his family and extended relatives should stay away from any business remotely related to the Government? Empower the anti-corruption agency with powers of prosecution? Najib needs to distance himself from his predecessors, a stringent investigation into the affairs of Tajuddin Ramli and following of the money trail is a good place to start.
The PM has serious problems in being tough on corruption, if the allegations that the dirty money leads to UMNO’s coffers, or into the hands of many of its leaders is true. The paradox being that in order to win the elections BN needs to be tough on corruption but by doing so, it might have to eviscerate itself from the inside out. Tough choice for the PM.
3. Put real money into the hands of real peopleDespite Government reports that we’re set to grow by an improbable 4.5 – 6% in 2010 and on target to hit high-income nation status by 2020, the feeling of wealth is very weak on the ground largely due to rates of inflation in essential goods and the protection of national industries. The price of chicken, sugar and flour seem to increase each time we go to the market. The prices of cars is at a ridiculous proportion to the average income in order to protect non-competitive Proton.
I think what the Government needs to realize is that there are many ways to put money into the hands of the people besides the obvious hand-outs. Not only that but many of these ways will create a lasting good impression, and also have much more long-lasting benefits beyond just the harvest of votes in the 13th GE. 
How about removing the toll on selected roads? The Puchong toll road cost the people living in the area RM22.3 million per month. And its not like the roads are any less congested, which is the whole objective of tolled roads in the first place. Take those tolls away, and put real money back into real pockets. One of the things the PR controlled Selangor government did was to provide a small water bill rebate; water became essentially free for many households in the state. The fact that Selangor could do it means that it can be done without breaking the state bank — putting real money back into real pockets. BN should take notice and ask themselves (1) why they can’t to the same and (2) what else they could do to make the ordinary life just that little bit less ordinary.
A new official logo for Pakatan Rakyat

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What can PR do to win?
1. Stop scoring own goals. If there is one single thing that PR needs to do better to ensure a bigger slice of the electorate pie, it’s this. Interparty and intraparty wrangling, some of it terribly public has left many voters wondering whether PR can govern itself, let alone govern the nation. The Zaid/Azmi spasm for leadershipthe bickering between DAP and PAS over the concept of an Islamic statethe meltdown of the Perak state governmentallegations of corruption amongst DAP leaders
Mainstream media in Malaysia is controlled, in some cases even owned, by the Government. They have a free hand in plastering the Opposition in any which way they please, the last thing PR needs is to provide them with the ammunition to do it.
2. Tell us how you’re going to lead. Right now, PR seems like a collection of soundbites and feel good messages. At least, that’s what the people think. Ask your average PR supporter what PR stands for and inevitably you’ll get answers like, “justice”, “fair play”, “a better Malaysia”, “corruption free” (*cough*DAP*cough*), and “good for our children”. But what does this all mean?
PR’s Common Policies Framework (CPF) is full of “high level” feel good-ness but very little detail. Here are some selected snippets:
The basis of a high-performance economy is a workforce that is knowledge-based, competent and highly-skilled. Pakatan Rakyat will provide all necessary investment to produce a high-productivity workforce in order to boost high-added value in national economic activities. 
Its a nice promise. But the huge amounts of money this will require doesn’t appear from thin air. No discussion on how funds will be generated to achieve this.
Enact a Race Relations Act to safeguard unity and harmony of the people and to eliminate discrimination between the races. 

A Race Relations Act is a good idea. But it essentially means legislating tolerance. How is that really going to unite the people beyond the artificial confines of law? No discussion on this either.

Emphasise the importance of students mastering various languages including English, Arabic and Mandarin as leading languages in the world and also other mother tongues. 
Does this mean replacing Bahasa Malaysia in schools for some subjects? The framework steers clear of making this commitment. Lack of clarity.

The CPF was supposed to bridge the divide between DAP, PAS and PKR, but it leaves many questions unanswered. The fact that the CPF was released in Dec 2009 without a general and public debate about its contents also bodes poorly for PR — there is a feeling it was rushed and the unity it portrays an enforced one for the sake of convenience only.
Also, PR has resisted calls for a shadow government, the very tool that it could have used to clarify the CPF as how it would apply to real-world scenarios. How would the CPF be applied to the case of Namewee? To the alleged racism of the headmistress in Kulai? Or rising prices of essential goods and services? Or to the current issue of teenage pregnancy and baby abandonment? Real issues a real government will need to resolve. There has been little opportunity to see the CPF in action.
There is already a strong feeling that PR is a marriage of convenience; an unhappy marriage is unfit to rule a nation. More needs to be done to dispel this perception. Demonstrating an ability to agree on the details of policy will go a long way to doing that.