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A Mickey Mouse of an election?

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It is clear that the BN is desperate and resorting to foul means to ensure its electoral victory, observes Francis Loh. But the BN must remember, as was the case in recent events in the Middle-East, the whole world is watching.

Image credit: Taib Mahmud (Wikipedia), Sarawak map (blass.com.au)

Dr Mahathir and other Malaysian political leaders have always claimed that Malaysia is a democracy on the basis that general elections are held regularly, every four to five years.

But because Malaysian leaders have regularly resorted to coercive laws like the Internal Security Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Trades Union Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Police Act, and the Universities and University College Act to curb the civil liberties of their own citizens, it is more appropriately described as a ‘semi-authoritarian, semi-democratic country’, a ‘quasi democracy’, a ‘bureaucratic-authoritarian state’, or a ‘statist-democracy’, as some researchers have done.

Such labelling of Malaysia’s political system takes into account that although elections are held regularly, invariably, the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) always wins, as it has done on all previous 12 general elections. It is well documented and proven that these elections are not ‘free and fair’. For apart from the gerrymandering of electoral boundaries every eight or so years to benefit the incumbent, the BN also resorts to the ‘3 Ms’ to guarantee its victory. The BN has control of the mainstream media. The BN has access to a huge amount of money for electoral purposes and outspends the opposition every time. And the BN unashamedly uses not only its own party machinery, but the government machinery – equipment, vehicles, halls, even staff – as well.

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But the 3 Ms did not completely ensure the BN advantage over the opposition in the March 2008 election when the opposition denied the BN its usual two-thirds’ majority in parliament and defeated the BN in five states. One of the reasons for the political tsunami was the opposition’s use of the alternative media to reach out to the rakyat.

The BN has learnt its lessons well. Judging by developments in Sarawak these past weeks and months, it appears that the BN is prepared to play dirty to ensure victory.

There have been cyber attacks on the websites of Sarawak Report, Radio Free Sarawak and malaysiakini.com to prevent Sarawakians from accessing alternative information and news.

It has been splashing money, lots and lots, in urban and rural constituencies. The amounts offered are unprecedented.

Earlier in the year, the authorities had also detained Abun Sui Anyit in Miri airport. Abun, a Sarawak human rights cum land rights lawyer, was carrying CDs and leaflets from Radio Free Sarawak and TV Sarawak Bebas critical of the BN Sarawak government. Although Abun has been released, the materials seized have been withheld ‘pending investigation’.

And over the last week, the authorities have prevented four peninsula-based Malaysians – activist Steven Ng, lawyer Haris Ibrahim (leader of the Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement), Dr Wong Chin Huat and Ambiga Sreenevasan (the last two leaders of the election monitoring body Bersih 2.0) – from entering Sarawak on the grounds of state security!

It is clear that the BN is desperate and resorting to foul means to ensure its electoral victory. But the BN must remember, as was the case in recent events in the Middle-East, the whole world is watching.

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We are showing to the world that our so-called democracy is indeed a sham. And that the Sarawak April 2011 election is a Mickey Mouse of an election. Shame on you, BN!

Dr Francis Loh is Aliran Secretary and Professor of Politics in a local university.

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