Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s recent approval ratings decline was due to his administration’s handling of the July 9 Bersih rally, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed has said.
The former prime minister agreed with the findings of Merdeka Center’s latest survey, which saw Najib’s approval rating slide to its lowest point of 59 per cent since last May’s high of 79 per cent.
Merdeka Center had then concluded that the ratings drop was fuelled by rising concerns over the surge in living costs and Putrajaya’s handling of Bersih 2.0.
Dr Mahathir told Astro Awani in an interview aired today that the government’s image was badly affected due to the strict measures taken by authorities in maintaining public order on July 9.
He pointed out that Putrajaya had acted wrongly by banning people from wearing yellow shirts.
It never rains but it pours and it is pouring buckets now for Prime Minister Najib Razak. In comments that clearly showed he was distancing himself from his protege, ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad agreed with the findings of a recent survey showing Najib’s approval rating had plunged 6 percentage points to 59% from 65% three months ago in May.
Mahathir’s reaction is significant and ominous, given that many UMNO and BN leaders have either disputed or dismissed the Merdeka Centre poll. Although 85 now, Mahathir is still ‘the‘ power broker to watch in UMNO, the largest political party that has imposed its brand of authoritarian rule in Malaysia for the past 5 decades.
But the wily Mahathir was not ready to show his hand fully. He was careful to blame the popularity drop on the way the 58-year-old Najib had mishandled the July 9 Bersih rally. In a desperate attempt to stop the demonstration, Najib had sanctioned a Home Ministry ban on the movement for free and fair elections, even allowing the police to arrest anyone who wore yellow – the Bersih colour.
“This has been blamed on Datuk Seri Najib but I do not know what Datuk Seri Najib did by ordering that people could not wear yellow shirts. I do not think he would tell the police not to allow yellow shirts. But the fact is that those who wore yellow shirts were seen as enemies. This is a move by the Malaysian government and that gave a bad image to the government,” Malaysian Insider reported Mahathir as saying on Friday.
Blaming Bersih for a reason
But while acknowledging Bersih triggered Najib’s downfall, Mahathir continued to blame the movement for trying to discredit the UMNO-led BN federal government.
This was the same disastrous tack Najib had adopted, using ham-fisted action that prompted nationwide as well as global disgust for his administration and leadership.
At the height of the Bersih persecutions, some observers had said Najib might have felt egged on to show he could play hard ball as well as Mahathir could. The older man had ruled Malaysia with a fist of iron for 22 years and during that time, he did not hestitate to install temporary emergency rule or to launch excessive crackdowns to jail political rivals.
“I feel that Bersih succeeded in achieving its mission to discredit the government’s image. They knew that if they did a demonstration, the government would place teams to prevent it. Because of this, the government’s image is affected because of its actions such as banning people from wearing yellow shirts and so on,” said Mahathir.
While acknowledging his influence in UMNO, Pakatan Rakyat leaders said Mahathir was an icon of the past and his views carried little weight with the Malaysian public now. They disagreed with Mahathir’s criticism of Bersih and believed he would have taken the same hardline stance as Najib, if he were in power because that was his style.
“Mahathir can say whatever he wants now. Bersih is already over, and Najib has to take the blame and he deserves to. What we saw were seasoned players like Muhyiddin Yassin and Mahathir saying that Bersih was up to no good. They kept encouraging Najib and Hisham to be stern and the two cousins went overboard in their response. Did anyone in the UMNO elite even once advised Najib to stop, and don’t overreact?” PKR vice president Tian Chua toldMalaysia Chronicle.
“Now the Machiavellian Mahathir is saying, yes the slump in approval is Najib’s own fault but Bersih is still dirty and deserves to remain outlawed. In other words, there is no need for electoral reform. To me, that is conflicting and it is a signal to UMNO that he agrees that Najib should make way for Muhyiddin, but no way are we going to be allowed to clean up the voter system.”
Change of guard in UMNO inevitable
The 64-year Muhyiddin, who is Deputy Prime Minister and Education minister, is now in London for a 4-day official visit. A career politician from Johor, his low-profile style has not exactly taken Malaysians by storm. Neither has he captured their imagination. But Najib did not either.
Given the huge scandals dogging Najib and wife Rosmah Mansor, few Malaysians or UMNO members would be sorry to see the back of the extravagant couple, although they don’t expect much leadership or reforms from Muhyiddin either.
“Muhyiddin won’t be a breath of fresh air. But within UMNO, he is seen as the steadier option rather than Najib who has put his own interests first. There is also the question of Rosmah adding to his unpopularity,” Eddie Lee, a PKR veteran, told Malaysia Chronicle.
“For Malaysians, if UMNO wins GE-13, they already know there won’t be any changes coming from any UMNO in any case. So it doesn’t matter it is Muhyiddin. At least, there is less damage to the country’s international image and all the wild spending will be reduced. Most people also guess that Muhyiddin will only be PM for one term if UMNO wins the GE, that is.”
– An influential international weekly took aim at Malaysia’s lop-sided racial policies in its latest issue and expects both the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) to pander to the Malay vote despite the risk of further damage to already frail ethnic ties.
In its September 10 issue, The Economist Online said the signs pointed to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak calling for a general elections as early as end of this year, ahead of the 2013 expiry of his government’s mandate, for three reasons.
It observed that Najib was still popular; that the national economy was upbeat now but may not be next year because of the global economic storm gathering in the West; and that the still fledgling PR pact was caught in a mess over the possibility that their leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim may end up in jail soon for sodomy without leaving a clear alternative candidate to be prime minister.
The widely-read news magazine said it expected Najib to win, but noted his government has been giving away free bullets to the opposition, most notably through its “cack-handed crackdown” on electoral reform movement Bersih 2.0’s July 9 rally in the capital city.
It went on and listed too Najib’s seeming back-track and delay over a laundry list of electoral, economic and government reform policies to improve Malaysians’ lives, including the PM’s failure to follow through and postpone elections to after a bipartisan parliamentary review panel — mooted by the PM as an acknowledgement of his administration’s mishandling of the Bersih rally.
It highlighted, however, that the heart of the problem lay in the long-expired, racially discriminatory New Economic Policy (NEP), introduced by Najib’s father and the country’s second prime minister Tun Razak Hussein designed to soothe Malay fears of being sidelined by the Chinese and the Indians.
“Whatever technical reforms are made before the next election, it will still be dominated by the original sin of ethnic discrimination set out in the country’s 1957 constitution,” it said in its Banyan column.
The Economist, however, did not free from responsibility the three-party PR pact in the article headlined “The haze and the malaise: Ethnic politics makes Malaysia’s transition to a contested democracy fraught and ugly”.
“Both government and opposition talk of dismantling these privileges, which have contributed to corruption and large-scale emigration,” it said, and added that with elections looming, “it is the Malay voter whose opinion matters, and he is assumed to resent any effort to curtail his privileges”.
“And that means that both coalitions have to resort to defending the indefensible: a system in which families that have lived in Malaysia for generations are told to tolerate discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, to bolster allegedly fragile racial harmony,” it said.
It observed that the division between Malay and non-Malay was worsened because the Malays, who must constitutionally be Muslim, have become more conservative in their religion.
“It is alarming that, instead of seeing competitive politics as a way of bridging the ethnic divide, too many Malaysian politicians see the ethnic divide as a way of winning the political competition,” it concluded.
“This has been blamed on (Prime Minister) Datuk Seri Najib but I do not know what Datuk Seri (Najib) did by ordering that people could not wear yellow shirts.
“I do not think he would tell the police not to allow yellow shirts. But the fact is that those who wore yellow shirts were seen as enemies. This is a move by the Malaysian government and that gave a bad image to the government,” the country’s longest-serving prime minister said.
Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers have basked in the aftermath of the survey results, claiming it indicated a clear voter swing towards the federal opposition, while Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders chose to stay indignant, saying the poll may not have been an accurate reflection of voter sentiment
The survey involved respondents aged 21 and above across the peninsula who were selected through random stratified sampling along the lines of ethnicity, gender, age and state of residency. Of the 1,027 polled, 59 per cent were Malays, 32 per cent Chinese and nine per cent Indians.
Dr Mahathir said that as a result of the rally, the Bersih 2.0 organisers had succeeded in what he called their objective of attacking the government’s image and Najib’s leadership.
“I feel that Bersih succeeded in achieving its mission to discredit the government’s image. They knew that if they did a demonstration, the government would place teams to prevent it. Because of this, the government’s image is affected because of its actions such as banning people from wearing yellow shirts and so on,” Dr Mahathir added.
When asked to comment on his own daughter’s (Datuk Seri Marina Mahathir) involvement in the rally, the former PM said that he respected her freedom to do what she wanted.
“I did not say my daughter had to follow me. They can think for themselves. Alhamdulillah, she joined but she was unharmed,” he added.
It could be Nurul Nuha or other viable candidates in any of the contentious constituencies in the next general election. The candidate contesting against an errant incumbent lawmaker could in all probability win hands down.
In a democracy, a politician owes so much to those who have voted him in. A politician who fails to lend his ears to the voice of the people and even the party he belongs to could be unforgivably cast off. Being a politician is not one’s birth right. The moment he incurs the wrath of the people or party, it’s time for him to look for a quick trail out.
Deluding the voters and letting down the hope of the party is not a promising premonition in politics. The sign foretells that he would be booted out from his seat in any future political contest. If a lawmaker thinks otherwise – after betraying the party and voters – he should then have the decorum to go back to the people to get a fresh mandate to crown himself back as the rightful choice of the voters.
A number of politicians left the party they were affiliated with after winning the 2008 General Election. After the much touted split-up divulged by party insiders and the media, some of these politicians chose to become friendly lawmakers to other political entities, a few became independents and some others decided to join or form new political parties. The much hyped and unanticipated drift also involved politicians who failed to win any seat in that general election. Other than this delinquent sort, there were lawmakers who shirked their duties by not attending state assembly and parliamentary sessions regularly – in some cases, deliberately absenting themselves consecutively from these esteemed halls. When reproached by party leaders some took the harsh approach of leaving the party.
The problem even goes beyond this parameter, as some lawmakers had not served or attended to the wishes of the people in their constituencies. These politicians have even been perceived as being feckless by the voters. Little do they realise that as taxpayers, the people who had voted them in have all the rights to query about them on their misdemeanour.
Some sketchy and anecdotal evidence tells us that all seats won by those lawmakers who had decided to hop or leave party after the 2008 general election would be swept clean by those contesting against them in the next general election. Apparently, the general perception on the grounds is that none of those who jumped or left the party would even want to contest again in any election knowing pretty well that they would not get the support of the voters.
In other words, the next general election should see these lawmakers and those who have exhibited a lackadaisical attitude in performing their duty as people’s representative would be left with an empty plate on their table. Nonetheless, there are some politicians among them who have a faint hope that the people would still vote for them if they were to contest in the next general election.
An online open-ended survey and Face-book responses showed a significant number of voters in those affected constituencies putting across some noteworthy analysis of these lawmakers. Over 93 percent of those who responded to the survey had inauspicious opinions about these lawmakers. Less than 5 percent were willing to condone their conduct. The others preferred to be neutral.
Earning the wrath of the people
Those respondents not in favour of these politicians had many insalubrious things to say. These are but a few selected remarks from the respondents:
“We see that some of these lawmakers left taking a lot of baggage with them. They left with not only physical but psychological baggage and they are now seeking help from sympathisers outside their former party. Some before this could not get along with their party leaders. Some others wanted too much reward for being chosen as representatives and when they could not obtain this favour they jilted the party. They have no choice but to jump or become friendly to the ruling party. It’s a short-term help for the ruling party. Their political career is over and they would most likely not contest in any election in the future. No sane voter would vote for them anymore.”
“Being party friendly may not guarantee that the party the lawmakers are friendly to would decide to field them as candidates in the next general election. They have betrayed the party that allowed them to contest under its flag and for this reason they might not be forgiven by the party voters. The best option would now be for them to contest as independent candidates or under the banner of another political party. Prove to the people that they are still relevant in politics. Their chance of winning a seat would be very slim, though.”
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“Take on those who have shirked their duty as lawmakers. Take on those who have jumped party in any election. Whoever contests against them would win hands down. No voters should condone lawmakers who have not been responsible to the party or voters. They have embittered the party, voters and the taxpayers. They don’t deserve a second chance.”
“Lawmakers who left the party after winning electoral seats under their party’s tag in 2008 would soon be left with nothing on the plate. Their political shelf life is coming to an end soon. Their future in politics is a foregone conclusion. The sentiment on the grounds is that if they were to contest again in any election, none would be able to make it. There is an ongoing parley now that almost all the seats held by these candidates would be contested by earnest candidates to ensure the demise of these turncoats.”
“A lawmaker must be accountable to the electorate and the political party they represent. If he cannot serve the electorate or is slothful in attending state assembly or parliamentary sessions he should have the guts to resign honourably. A lawmaker who cheats the voters by ‘changing horses midstream’ should have the honour to resign and contest again under a different political ensign to see if he is still sought after by the electorate.”
“State assemblymen or members of parliament are supposedly the lawmakers and when they deceive the very people who voted them in, they are in spirit lawbreakers. They are, by virtue of being the people’s representatives, required to attend state assembly or parliamentary sessions. If they fail to do so, they should renounce their status as lawmakers.”
“Elected representatives must be responsible to the party and they should not leave the party when political matters within the party are not in their favour. If they decide to leave the party they should vacate their seats honourably as they were given the mandate to become a candidate by the party. Undependable politicians should be dealt with by voting them out in elections as they have committed a ‘political crime’ in the eyes of the voters. They are the pusillanimous type and do not deserve to be addressed by their honorific title “Yang Berhormat.”
“No political parties should stoop too low as to support these not-up-to-scratch lawmakers. To condone the spineless and spiritless conduct of these lawmakers is tantamount to cheap politicking. A lawmaker who neglects his duty but has the air to take matters to the court instead of owning up to his shortcomings is cowardice. Hiding behind the skirt of the Election Commission (EC) or the Court only manifests a lily-livered move by these politicians.”
“The basic duty of a state assemblyman or a member of parliament is to serve the people, the party he represents and also duly respect the state assembly house or the parliament. If he fails in his duty to do so he is not spot on to be in his position as an elected representative in those esteemed halls. By dodging responsibility, as an elected representative he has ripped-off the people and taxpayers’ money has been wasted on him. This is immoral.”
Of disservice to the voters
“These are immature politicians who have deliberately ridden on the voters but to serve their own interests. They should not be given a second chance. They should immediately resign and leave politics, as they have conducted irresponsibly to the people who have expected so much from them. They are, in actuality, of disservice to the voters who have elected them.”
“Their despicable conduct would irrefutably incur the anger of the voters. No matter what excuses they come up with, and even if backed by some politicians they would not be re-elected by the people in future elections. They themselves are aware of the symptoms they are having now and history has shown that those recalcitrant lawmakers who derelict their duties and jump or leave party while serving could never be re-elected by the people even when they contest under a different political streamer.”
“Any assemblyman who has wriggled out of his or her duty as a representative of the people by not attending state assembly or parliamentary sessions for long should be ashamed of their behaviour and without further ado quit as people’s representative. They could never be the people’s choice anymore. This is a fact that they themselves are aware of. It is therefore discomfit for these people to stay on as lawmakers.”
“If those concerned have any sense of honour they should resign willingly and let others contest the seats and represent the people or the party they want to be affiliated with.”
“A few lawmakers have earned the wrath of the people for doing so and yet the law seems to be on their side and they cannot even be reprimanded by the state assembly speakers. Despite going to the court to be reinstated as lawmakers after shirking their responsibilities to the people, they have not changed their spots. They are still behaving the same, and are being wryly blessed by some inane political parties that favour their conduct. The taxpayers are taken for a ride by these unscrupulous politicians.”
Some savoury words for them
On the contrary those respondents who favoured these politicians’ conduct, or those who stayed neutral, had some savoury words for them. These are but some of their remarks:
“The people voted them in and not the party. They have the right not to quit and they have all the rights to recontest the seats.”
“It’s a democracy. They can decide what’s best for them. Hope the voters can forgive and give them another chance. Or else their political career is doomed forever.”
“It’s a good move to weaken the opposition. That is to our advantage. They would never become our candidates in the next general election. It’s just impossible.”
They could still chance their luck
Suffice to conclude in this survey that the voters’ resentment is now nerve racking some politicians. This should not however demoralise them. They could still chance their luck by contesting the same seats in the next general election.
History has proven that many of those who had jumped party ended their political career prematurely. In all probability, all lawmakers – state and parliamentary – that left the party they had represented in the 2008 general election would face the wrath of the voters if they were to recontest their respective seats. Lawmakers in both political divides who have been shirking their responsibilities would likewise face the anger of the electorate. Such was the perception of the respondents. Nevertheless, the voters could decide on this concern comes the next general election.
Since the law is quite lax on those lawmakers who rampantly skip state assembly and parliamentary sessions, this has not deterred politicians from becoming hoppers of convenience. There is also no law in the country that makes it illegal for lawmakers to jump or quit party after winning a seat in an election. This is further perpetuated by the media – every so often faultily justifying the conduct by claiming that the lawmakers are representing the people and not the party that put them as candidates. Let the voters become the eventual adjudicator on this blotch comes the next general election.
Be that as it may, it would only be apposite for those incumbent politicians to recontest their same seat in the coming general election – to be held anytime before March 2013 – to see if they would still be accepted by the people. Let them again face the same electorate that had voted them in and see if they would vote for them again. Failing to recontest would be a halt in their political tracks and they would be branded as political opportunists or cowards. If they do contest but fail in their attempt to win the seat they should quit politics honourably.