The much anticipated 12th General Elections came and went after 14 days of intense campaigning. The ground swell of discontent had been felt for sometime now and the ripple of shockwaves had been growing with every discourse on the internet, in the coffee shops, the offices, the exchange of smses and e-mails. By 5.00 pm yesterday when the last vote was cast, Malaysians had decided; the vote counting was merely a formality.
The announcement of the official results was just a confirmation of what was in the air the last year or so. Judging from the initial reactions from certain quarters both in the ruling coalition and the opposition front, the extent of loss or victory depending on which side of the fence was totally unexpected. The BN were aghast at the magnitude of votes shift and the opposition front expected to do well but certainly not that well.
By extension, the mainstream media did not know how to react. Even before the last results were in, all local TV channels had ceased reporting by about 3.00 am this morning. Coverage by the TV media was pathetic but being one-sided was to be expected. It was almost comical the way the respective anchors tried to handle the flood of "negative" results that were coming in. As the night went on they just gave up reporting altogether! It was as if they were waiting for more "positive" East Malaysia results to come through to counter the routing this side of the South China Sea. It was a marvel to witness as it was as if there was a "stage manager" orchestrating the timing results were released on ALL the TV channels. Perhaps it would have been better to show the opposition winning 82 parliamentary seats before reporting the ruling coalition riding in with 140 straight wins to triumph "comprehensively" in the end.
There was joy for dissenters who are accustomed to and obviously knowledgeable about the nature of the local media beast; they know the real news is in how the reporting was done or for that matter, what was not reported at all! In any case there is now the alternative media called internet news portals like Malaysiakini where updates were providing more up-to-the-moment news than all the local TV channels. Forwarded smses proved effective not only during campaigning but also in spreading result updates. Personally I could never imagine when this function was first introduced, how much it would impact our daily lives.
It will be interesting to see how our toadying mainstream media struggles from here on between commercial viability and compromised ethics for the maintenance of operating licences. Cyberspace has spawned the Fifth Estate and unless someone decides to nuke mankind back to the Stone Age, it will become "mainstream media". For me, I'll wait to be spoilt for choice as to what I want to read and believe. I'll also wait and see whether this latest "fluttering of leaves" is a sign of an impending change of wind or indeed a wind of change.
In the aftermath, the word
"political tsunami" may still be a misnomer to describe what the general election tide brought in this time, although five states are now in opposition hands and the possibly over-rated two thirds majority in parliament has been denied. Did Malaysians really wake up to a new dawn today? Only time will tell. The next 4 to 5 years will be interesting to say the least; one side will need to prove it can do better while the other side better improve or face the obvious. It is a "no lose" situation for the rakyat at large. I firmly believe GE12 marks a watershed towards the end of race based politics in Malaysia and that this will give rise by natural progression, to a single Malaysian race; Bangsa Malaysia.
This time around it appears that the ordinary Malaysian regardless of race seems to condemn the ruling incumbents for all the ills of the nation; from the crime rate to corruption, rising cost of living to abusing taxpayer funds, compromised human rights to crony privileges, racial discrimination to the marginalized proletariat. Patience was wearing thin yet characteristic arrogance meant that genuine injustices were ignored to the dissatisfaction of even the normally supportive middle class let alone the marginalized minorities. Malaysians took matters in their own hands and collectively sent a clear message for change.
Yet it would be tragic if the Opposition were to squander this opportunity to effect real improvements that is hoped for by all who courageously voted them in. An unhealthy sign would be any jostling for position and power which would be a clear indication of self-interest at the expense of the rakyats' welfare. They should never forget that it was the largess of popular support that put them in the position to deliver the benefits of promised change and to serve the interest of the masses. The same votes that put them in the drivers' seat can also send them back to being what they were before; passengers.
A load of crap; they all seem to be just the same:
Update: 16th March 2008
Dilemma faced by Malaysian mainstream media:
This is from Jeff Ooi's Screenshots Blog
Utusan and Bernama
All leaders in states not controlled by Umno dominance must be careful.
In the aftermath of the Abdullah debacle in GE2008, Utusan Malaysia and Bernama became the two media organisations that stoked political hatred, pitting Malays against non-Malays.
Both the media groups framed Lim Guan Eng for a mention of May 13, which the new Penang CM didn't say. I knew as I stood behind him during the press interview. And the CM's press secretary confirmed the same.
We queried Khalid Mohd, the Group Editor-in-Chief of Utusan. He passed the buck to Bernama, saying that his paper had used the national news agency's dispatch, though his reporters were present during Guan Eng's interview.
We took Khalid at face value and queried Yong Soo Heong, the Editor-in-Chief of Bernama. He faxed us this letter yesterday, which I reproduce verbatim:
March 14, 2008
YAB Sdra Lim Guan Eng
Chief Minister of Penang
28th Fl, Komtar10502 Penang
On behalf of my colleagues in BERNAMA, I would like to congratulate your team and you for the recent victory in Penang.
I would also like to take this opportunity to apologise for the sloppy editing in the news story of March 12, 2008, which we mistakenly quoted you as commenting on the May 13 incident as well. The inclusion of the fact was intended to give background on the establishment of the NEP in 1971. Nevertheless, upon a thorough review, the inclusion of that fact along with your quote may have been inappropriate.
As we move forward, I would like to ensure you of BERNAMA's co-operation for your newly-formed government and shall always endeavour to help you promote the well-being of Penang and its people.
YONG SOO HEONG
The Utusan-Bernama ruckus started when Guan Eng announced all government procurements in Penang will be through open tender -- something that the NEP did not address and went on to create cronies and entrench corruption in the system.
I hope the next time Umno leaders took to the streets to stoke people's sentiments along racial lines, you know who is to blame.
From blogger Lulu:
Two-thirds majority over-rated?:
This is from The Sunday Star, 16th March 2008
A challenge for Barisan MPs
By SHAILA KOSHY
With the Government only having a simple majority in the 12th Parliament, will the business of the House be very different?
NO more truancy for Barisan Nasional MPs, that’s for sure. They will have to be diligent about attending debates after the Yang di-Pertuan Agong opens the 12th Parliament or the Executive faces the dire possibility of losing all the motions and Bills it tables.
With only 140 Barisan MPs to 82 Opposition MPs in the Dewan Rakyat, they have no choice.
“I think they’ll be less prone to truancy; if not, we can easily defeat any Bill,” says Lim Kit Siang, the Opposition Leader of the previous Parliament.
This could certainly be the fate of the controversial Special Complaints Commissions Bill – claimed to be a watered down version of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) Bill proposed by the Royal Commission on the police force – when it is re-introduced.
Most questions in Parliament are decided by a “voice” vote (MPs shout ‘Aye’ or ‘No’) but a Member may challenge the result, under the House’s Standing Order 46(3), and call for a division (where each one is asked how he wants to vote), explains Lim.
And under SO 46(4), the Opposition only has to produce 15 to support the division; so with 82 MPs, neither that nor defeating a Bill is a problem if Barisan MPs go AWOL.
In Malaysia’s bicameral parliament – it is only in the House of Representatives that its 222 members are elected – the results of the 12th general election will barely have an impact on the Dewan Negara.
The 70 senators of the Dewan Negara are elected by each state legislature as well as appointed by the King. Currently, there are only 65 (according to the Senate website, 61 are from Barisan, two from PAS and two from minority groups). With the exception of two whose terms expire next month, most will be gone in the next two years and a few will remain until 2011.
In the Dewan Rakyat, the first change will be in the seating; the Opposition, which filled up one block in the U-shaped sitting arrangement after the 2004 election, will occupy three-and-a-half blocks now.
And in terms of ethnicity/political classification, those in the public gallery will see a clear divide of largely Malay/Sabahan-Sarawakian bumiputra in the government bench and a multi-racial/Malay bumiputra mix in the Opposition half.
Chuckling, Lim notes: “Yes, our side of the House will be more representative of Malaysia’s main ethnic groups.”
As for the tenor, senior Barisan parliamentarian Datuk Seri Utama Dr Rais Yatim says the “perceived and apparent haughtiness of those holding the power could be less.”
“If there is self appraisal, I think gone would be the days of taking things for granted, the highhandedness and rhetoric. I would also look forward to more decorous conduct and less of what I call cockerel behaviour.”
But what of its substance – in terms of passing Bills/ motions, debates, and the composition and work of the parliamentary select committees?
“It can do most of the business. The only thing that it cannot do is amend the Federal Constitution,” says International Islamic University Prof Dr Abdul Aziz Bari.
“But a handful of provisions can be amended by a simple majority. One must remember that some of the provisions need the Rulers' consent and some need the concurrence of the Sabah and Sarawak Yang di-Pertua Negri.”
Constitutional law expert Datuk Dr Cyrus Das says a simple majority in the Dewan Rakyat is usually sufficient for the Government in power, whether at the Federal or state level, to govern.
“Presently, after the 2008 elections, the ruling party at the Federal level has a simple majority as do several state governments whether led by the ruling party or the Opposition.”
Is the denial of a two-third majority more a moral victory for the Opposition more than having any real impact?
Dr Abdul Aziz argues it is more than a moral victory because it underscores the vulnerability of the government.
Quoting Winston Churchill who once said famously “one is enough,” Dr Das recounts that Harold Wilson’s first Labour Government was formed in 1964 with an overall majority of four in a 630-seat House of Commons.
“However, there is a fixation over a two-third majority here which seems largely psychological with traces of political vanity.
“Such a majority is only needed legally for amending the Federal Constitution under Article 159(3),” he says, adding that there are equivalent provisions in the State Constitutions.
Dr Das says that requirement is a safeguard to the people that the Constitution will not be freely and easily tinkered with in Parliament.
“It is especially important in countries whose Judiciary has not recognised the doctrine of implied restraints on the amending power of Parliament.”
Citing the German Constitutional Court, the Indian Supreme Court and the Supreme Courts of Bangladesh and Pakistan as those that recognise the doctrine that Parliament cannot alter the basic structure of the Constitution, Dr Das says the Malaysian Judiciary has not recognised this doctrine.
The safeguard of a weighted majority is therefore that much more important in Malaysia and especially so, he adds, since the Constitution reflects a social contract made between the multi-racial people of Malaya at the time of independence.
“A constitutional obstacle should be seen as a strict no to a proposed measure and not something that could be bypassed because the ruling party has a two-third majority.
“Take for example the amendment to Article 121 in 1988 to remove ‘judicial power’: it created an anomaly and begs the question, what power do the courts exercise because the Constitution continues to recognise the legislative power in Parliament (Article 66(1)) and the executive power in the Executive (Article 80)?
“The absence of a two-third majority by any single party means the Constitution remains intact and cannot be amended by this Parliament, unless there is cross party support for an amendment measure.”
Asked what constitutional amendment he thought the Opposition would support, Dr Rais, who first served as an MP in 1974, says: “I don’t see any obstacle if the amendment was not self-serving to the Executive but was for the general good of the people, for example, one that allowed for a strong Judiciary.”
“I would look forward to one on the powers of the Federal Court – on the rights of individuals in inter-religious conflicts, it is the Federal Court that is the court of final call.”
One constitutional amendment that would certainly not get through now is that tabled last December extending the retirement age of the Election Commission chairman, says Dr Abdul Aziz.
Others of course are ouster clauses usurping judicial power and the draconian or prohibitive provisions in the Internal Security Act, Official Secrets Act and Printing Presses and Publications Act, adds Lim.
As for parliamentary committees, Lim says they should now have greater Opposition representation and should not be headed by members of the Executive.
He hopes the committees work “full-throttle” to scrutinise Executive policies and actions for accountability and transparency.
What can Malaysians hope from 142 Barisan MPs and 82 Opposition MPs – a face-off or cooperation?
“We may see a Parliament that scrutinises each and every policy and action taken by the Government, bringing about a better parliament, one that is envisaged by the Constitution, and a responsible Government,” says Dr Abdul Aziz, adding that the proceedings would certainly be livelier.
One thing that would be high on the rakyat's priority would be more time given to the debating of Bills, especially those important to marginalised groups.
In the last three days of the Dewan Rakyat last year, 10 Bills were passed including the Persons With Disabilities Bill, the Prisons (Amendment) Bill and International Trade in Endangered Species Bill, with barely three hours spent on debating the new law for the disabled!
The Prime Minister could level the playing field unwittingly with his new Cabinet; if greater numbers hold Executive positions, the number of backbenchers debating and asking questions will be reduced drastically.
Dr Rais expects to hear a higher quality of debate and the addressing of issues on a more intellectual level.
“This will be a challenge for Barisan MPs; in the last Parliament, several Opposition MPs were already supporting their debate points with data and sound reasoning.”
On whether Barisan MPs would be more willing to vote their conscience now, Dr Rais, who was out of Parliament from 1990 to 1998 when he was with the now defunct Semangat 46, replies in the negative.
“The practice of being beholden to the Whip is too ingrained. I don’t expect anything so drastic. But if the debates could centre on matters common to all Malaysians, that would not be an issue.”