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2018 general election: Clamour for change is strong and palpable

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But has the opposition coalition any chance of wresting power from the ruling BN and forming the next federal government, wonders Henry Loh.

For many months, Malaysian citizens had been looking forward to and eagerly anticipating a general election.

The Electoral Commission finally announced that nomination day would be on 28 April and polling day on 9 May – a Wednesday.

At the last Parliament sitting, before its dissolution, a somewhat ‘desperate’ government bulldozed through parliament two separate pieces of legislation.

First, the government tabled the Electoral Commission’s report on its proposed redrawing of constituency boundaries. Ever since the proposal to conduct the boundary redrawing exercise was first mooted, civil society groups such as the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) had voiced their grave concern that the exercise was being carried out to provide an unfair advantage to the ruling coalition.

Indeed, when the proposed boundary changes to the existing parliamentary seats was passed and gazetted – despite strong protests from the opposition benches – much of Bersih’s fears about the impact of the exercise was proven true.

The boundary changes indicate that the Electoral Commission has worsened malapportionment in contempt of the provisions of the Federal Constitution. Section 2 (c) of the thirteenth schedule of the Federal Constitution stipulates that the number of voters in constituencies should be “approximately equal”.

Instead, the boundary change exercise has, in effect, increased the ratio between the smallest and largest parliamentary constituencies in most states to above two (ie apart from Perlis, Terengganu, Penang and Kuala Lumpur).

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In Selangor, for example, the ratio has gone up above four times: the smallest parliamentary constituency has 37,126 registered voters compared to 150,439 in the largest constituency. Simply put, one vote in the smallest constituency in Selangor has four times more value than that of the largest constituency.

Such is the devastating effect of malapportionment. For a more detailed analysis of the impact of the redrawing of boundaries and the uphill task it has created for the opposition to try and win the general election, do refer to Bersih’s article.

The Bar Council has also weighed in on the boundary changes exercise and issued a statement, pointing out that the boundary changes are deeply flawed, unfair and unconstitutional.

The second piece of legislation that was rushed through parliament was the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018. Granted, no individuals or group would ever want to be victims of fake news and hence, legislation aimed at punishing those who maliciously spread fake news to damage reputation or cause misery for others would, under normal circumstances, be welcomed.

But many civil society groups questioned the government’s motive in pushing the bill through. It certainly did not inspire confidence in the rakyat when Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Jailani Johari gave his take on 1MDB by explaining that “information on 1MDB that has not been verified by the government is considered fake news”.

He added that “the government views that other than the information that is verified by the government all other information is considered fake news”.

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Now, if this is the case, the government will be considered the sole arbiter of truth. The Anti-Fake News Act has a wide reach as it has “extraterritorial application”, which in effect means anybody, of any nationality, who has committed a fake news-related offence abroad is deemed as having committed it in Malaysia and can be charged under the new law.

In a valiant attempt to try and stop the Anti-Fake News Bill from becoming law, Aliran launched an online signature campaign to rally the public against the bill. The campaign was launched on 27 March, and by 31 March, we had gathered 8,511 signatures. A student group based in UK had also launched a similar online petition and by 30 March they had gathered 2,782 signatures.

Hence, in a matter of three days a total of more than 11,000 individuals supported the online petition, which was duly emailed to the Prime Minister’s Office, with a copy to a minister in the Prime Mniister’s Department. Nonetheless, the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 came into effect on 11 April 2018.

The indecent haste with which the ruling coalition pushed through the above pieces of legislation is nothing new. But, having denied the BN a two-thirds majority since in the 2008 and 2013 general elections, at least more debates are held and more Opposition voices can be heard.

The election fever is in the air again, and 9 May 2018 will be a day of reckoning. Has the opposition coalition made up of the PKR, Bersatu, the DAP and Amanah, together with other opposition parties, any chance of wresting power from the ruling BN and forming the next federal government?

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It is expected to be a tough battle and a close fight, and we should access Subramaniam Pillay’s article to get an objective assessment. Also, do take a look at Anil Netto’s summary of some of the key obstacles that must be overcome if the opposition wants to take over Putrajaya.

The clamour for change is strong and palpable, but there are also diehard supporters of the ruling government who fear that their gravy train will be derailed if the BN loses.

Meanwhile, the caretaker prime minister is quite happy to dangle ‘carrots’ before the rakyat in a bid to win popularity such as the abolition of toll for motorcycles on the Penang Bridge if the BN wins power. A pay rise for civil servants has also been announced – but P Ramakrishnan correctly asks why only from July onwards and not now?

It is not only ‘carrots’; the ‘stick’ is also being used: the caretaker prime minister has warned the people of Penang that they can expect to get “nothing” if the BN does not win federal and state power.

Political leaders are referring to the coming general election as the “father of all elections”. We, the voters of Malaysia, now have a chance to determine the future of Malaysia.

Remember, every vote counts and each one of us must ensure that we use it wisely.

Selamatkan Malaysia. Hidup rakyat!

Henry Loh
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
16 April 2018

Thanks for dropping by! The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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