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The Nation - Bangkok cmt
By web aNtu

7/12/1999 8:39 am Tue

Subject: The Nation - Bangkok

Manipulation, fraud mar vote
Mahathir won election, but no respect for it

By Don Pathan

(This article was published on 3 Dec 1999 by The Nation
newspaper of Thailand)

In a remote village on the island of Borneo in the state of Sarawak
where headhunters once roamed, a man was seen running up a hill to meet
with the leader of the State Reform Party (Star), one of Malaysia's
handful of ethnic-based parties.

''Dr Rubis, Dr Rubis. Your top aid has defected to the ruling
coalition,'' said the man, huffing and puffing as he tried to catch his
breath. ''At least this is what the Borneo Post has reported today

Although the article was entirely false, there wasn't much Dr Patau
Rubis could do. Most of the people had already caste their vote by
midday and the outcome of Malaysia's tenth general election would be
known in just a few hours anyway.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Borneo in the state of Sabah, a Filipino
migrant worker was caught red handed with an identification card of a
deceased person. He was trying to cast a vote but ran into a group of
people who knew the late Edward Bin Sindan, along with his son.

The angry crowd, most of whom were supporters of a local favourite Parti
Bersatu Sabah (PBS), was convinced that this was the work of the ruling
Barisan Nasional (BN) side.

Fearing that he might face the same fate as another Filipino caught in a
similar incident last March in a state election when the angry crowd
beat the man to death, some in the crowd quickly brought in the police
to settle the matter.

Back in Sarawak's capital, Kuching, in the days leading up to the
election where campaigning took on a more pa#sive note, BN was using its
own form of ''pork barrelling'' to appeal to the Chinese community --
telling them that if the opposition wins, they will forever be denied
the good taste of pork. Because the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS,
was in the opposition coalition, they said, non-Muslims in the
culturally-diverse country would risk losing their way of life if BN
members were not elected. At least that was the message anyway.

It may seem ironic to some people that a Muslim-dominated ruling
coalition would be using pork to lure Chinese voters. But the growing
sentiment resulted from the political drama of the past 17 months, and
cut-throat politics is likely to become more and more the norm in the

Local residents said campaign ethics have long taken a back-seat to
political goals in a country where race and religion have always been
the hallmark of politics.

And with the help of the mainstream media, together with a
well-engineered campaign to ensure a favourable outcome, no one doubted
that the ruling coalition would not come out victorious.

In spite of the fact that BN won more than two-thirds of the
parliamentary seats, the shift in the voting pattern suggested that
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's Umno Party may have to do some serious
soul searching.

The task of maintaining the status quo of the old days will not be the
same as more ethnic Malays, who make up nearly 60 per cent of the
population, turned their back on BN, taking away 20 seats previously
held by the ruling BN.

As for Mahathir's Umno, the party won 72 seats compared to 88 in 1995.
Moreover, its seats in 11 state parliaments dropped from 231 to 175.

For a number of other top Umno figures, the election was too close for
comfort. Umno vice president Najib Tun Razak managed to scrap through
with a 214-vote margin in a constituency where he won by 10,000 votes in
the last general election four years ago.

Mahathir, considered invincible in his own constituency, polled 7,000
less than the last time.

The Chinese, who form 30 per cent of the electorate, opted for the
status quo for fear that an opposition dominated by Pas would hamper
their way of life.

In Penang, Chinese voters sidelined outspoken leader of the Democratic
Action Party, Lim Kit Siang, leading him to bewail that Malaysians has
lost a ''historic oportunity to oust the BN''.

''The ruling coalition has successfully painted a harsh picture of
Pas'', said Faiz Abdul Rahman, a leading human rights activist in

But in the Malay-dominated heartland, disenchantment with Mahathir over
the sacking of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim last September
has help PAS to expand its power base.

Pas easily retained Kalantan and at the same time extended its power
base to resource-rich Terengganu by winning all the seats. The party
also won the state election as well. They are already talking about
asking for a bigger piece of the pie from the federal government. Kuala
Lumpur has so far been tight-lipped over the matter. Denying Pas more
state royalties could have resulted in alienating ethnic Malays in the
heartland, while giving in to them could have set an unwanted precedent
as well as boost the group's popularity.

Indeed, the champion of Islamic law now holds 27 seats in the
Parliament, up from eight from the previous government. Though the
number may not be much compared to BN's 148 seats, nevertheless, said a
diplomat and analysts, it was enough to plant the seed of discomfort in
Mahathir's Umno, the largest in the BN bunch.

Meanwhile, back in Sarawak and Sabah where talk of succession from
mainland Malaysia pops up every now and then over tea and beer but
rarely gets beyond that point, Rubis said change is inevitable.

Moreover, he said, one should not dismiss the return of sentiment for
succession in the two Malay states in Borneo.

While no one doubts the prosperity brought about by Mahathir's
leadership, nevertheless, many agree that the younger generation have
developed new inspiration.

''I give Umno one more generation,'' Rubis said. ''They can't go on
this way for long.''

But the end of ''functional unity'' may not come easy, however. Already,
the marriage of convenience among the opposition parties appears to be
heading towards a crash.

For example, in the Pas-dominated heartland, Muslim leaders are calling
for stricter Islamic laws. Talk of curbing ''immoral activities'' such
as gambling, sales of alcohol and lotteries have irked the opposition
coalition, which consisted of the Chinese dominated DAP, a more moderate
Muslim Justice Party headed by Wan Aziza Wan Ismail, the wife of Anwar,
and the multi-ethnic Malaysian People's Party.

Indeed, in a country where voting has always been along racial lines,
finding a Malaysian to lead all of Malaysia doesn't seems to be high on
any anybody's agenda.

''Unity in Malaysia is merely functional. It has never been a rallying
point or a cause for celebration,'' said Rahman. The statement applies
to all political parties and the Malaysian society as a whole.

Nevertheless, Malaysian authorities get really annoyed when such issues
are brought up. In the days leading to the election, local media were
unleashed to attack foreign press and critics, accusing them of trying
to destroy racial unity in the Muslim-dominated country.

One television stationed blasted CNN for merely suggesting that the
Chinese community could be a major factor in the outcome of the
election, while at the same time, the government was playing the race
card to its absurdity