The Malaysian general elections are over. The National Front under the leadership of Najib Tun Razak is again victorious. The People’s Pact, the opposition party led by Anwar Ibrahim, has again lost although its vote aggregate increases from 82 to 89 seats and the National Front now lists a decrease from 140 to 133 seats.
Anwar refuses to accept his defeat. Protests have occurred in different places, with Anwar and his followers clad in black as a signal of mourning. Anwar suspects the presence of irregularities, something that he has to prove by a legal process. However, no move has been taken, yet.
In fact, Anwar has from the beginning perceived and been convinced of his alliance’s triumph. The surveys conducted by various circles ahead of the national elections always favored Anwar. This was confirmed by the reality that every time Anwar organized an open rally, he was welcomed by the masses. Thus, he was fully confident of his win.
Brimming with such confidence, Anwar visited Jusuf Kalla (JK), a close friend for decades. He asked JK to inform Sri Najib, his opponent, that whoever won the elections should readily embrace the loser. Then the loser should appreciate the winner.
Anwar also suggested that during the period of campaigning, both camps should not attack each other personally. Past personal track records should not be raised. Programs and visions should be brought up instead. Anwar did it because he was sure that his future victory might be questioned by Najib.
Now it’s all done. Najib is just the winner of the political contest, but Anwar has not kept his promise to JK yet. Meanwhile, Najib was true to his word. Several hours after he was declared the victor, Najib made a prompt speech and appealed for immediate national reconciliation for the glory of the state. While campaigning, Najib and his coalition considerably refrained from speaking about Anwar’s personal matters and track record. Anwar’s rejection to fulfill his promise was sufficiently expressed by his statement: “Politics isn’t identical to trade.”
Anwar confirmed his rejection to meet his commitment for the reason that his coalition members could not accept the election result. This was something he didn’t take into account because, when he promised JK, he also convinced JK that he was able to control his alliance.
Anwar’s challenge to the election outcome, in my view, is also inspired by the assumption that the declining gain by the National Front under Najib will make him unable to rule Malaysia for quite a long time as he will be undermined by his own party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO). Anwar looks back, four years ago, to when Abdullah Badawi was toppled because of the National Front’s decreasing votes. Anwar’s calculation is true provided that Mahathir’s attack on Najib was as intense as Mahathir’s confrontation with Badawi. But the assumption of Mahathir’s attack on Najib is something obscure. Anwar’s calculation can miss here.
The protests held by Anwar lately, unless properly handled, may change the face of Malaysia. The problem is that Anwar’s coalition member, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), is associated with ethnic Chinese Malaysian citizens. They have now mostly dominated the protest actions. And this will likely trigger racial conflict between Malay and Chinese camps. The fear is reasonable because Malaysia once was ruined by such racial confrontation.
Apart from the suspicions about irregularities, the National Front, with the UMNO as its motor, has won the contest this time possibly because some of its working programs offered are more concrete. We should admit that since Najib was at the helm of Malaysia, he introduced the “One Malaysia” program to unite pluralist Malaysia.
Part of the Malaysian public is sure that Najib initiated a large-scale transformation such as the abolition of the Internal Security Act, so far seen as a political specter in Malaysia. In line with this, he also closed down the political detention center and released more than a hundred political detainees. In the economic sector, Malaysia grows by 5 percent annually, a figure considered positive for the public welfare of Malaysia.
In the housing sector, Najib built a lot of housing so that most Malaysians have their own homes. Parallel to this, shops have also been set up for food materials in various parts of Malaysia. These shops distribute basic necessities to poor people, so they are aware of the benefits gained from Najib’s leadership.
Health clinics, too, have been established in regions, enabling the poor to get medical service with ease. For ordinary examinations, people need only to pay one Malaysia ringgit. Even for seven-day inpatient treatment they are only charged RM70: a fundamental and touching public service.
On the other side, the opposition group tends to offer illogical and unrealistic populist programs. The opposition camp only dwells on the agenda of clean governance but the people of Malaysia choose concrete and pleasurable matters. This basic difference has made Malaysian voters more rational: enjoying or will enjoy.
But Anwar’s disappointment also has a reason of its own. The problem is that during the campaigning period, the Malaysian media considerably harmed Anwar’s interests. The media generally belong to the government so that Anwar was deprived of any chance and opportunity. For this, the feeling of being tyrannized is worthy of acceptance.
The writer is former Indonesian minister of law and human rights, 2004-2007.