Malaysian Elections: The Launch of Badawi’s True Democracy

The world media concluded that the results of Malaysian elections were fascinating. What was more so fascinating was the media coverage which was biased before, during and even after the election results.
Way before Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi dissolved parliament and called elections, media reported that elections will certainly be rigged and allegations of fraud continued all through the elections despite the fact that these elections were the most transparent and clean in Malaysia’s history according to the pessimistic analysts who later had to dump their predictions and justify what came.
Once election results were declared, media dropped its allegations of fraud as if they were never made and focused instead on the historic loss of the Barisan National coalition predicting that “Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi will most certainly resign after the losses his party endured.”
Due to the negative tone of the media, the typical recipient who relies on media reports without ability to scrutinize action on the ground or the elections results, thought that Badawi and his allies lost the elections, yet he is not willing to lose his seat as Prime Minister. Badawi’s coalition won the elections and not only this, but Badawi has the duty to make what he started an ongoing success story!
Why would a Prime Minister who just won elections drop his seat in “shame” and since when is it a necessity in a true democracy to win a two thirds majority in Parliament to be victorious?!! How many democratic governments out there have a two-thirds majority? What a ridiculous expectation by any means!
Before elections, the fact that the ruling coalition enjoyed 90 percent of parliamentary seats was used by the media and Malaysia’s adversaries as proof of its lack of democracy and unwillingness to allow for proper representation.
At the same period of Malaysian elections Spanish elections were held in which the socialist government barely made a simple majority in Parliament and it was hailed for its great victory. French local elections cost the ruling party more seats than expected, and the media reported these results with a tone of normalcy while the Malaysian elections results were portrayed as a “grand defeat” on count that it fell shortly bellow a two-thirds majority for the popular government!
Al Jazeera’s reporting was the greatest let-down of all because of the wide public perception in Malaysia that it is an Islamic Arab news source that is unaffected by western hegemony and therefore its reporting is not hostage to western dictates or unrealistic expectations.
The channel however was a pioneer in condemning the integrity of elections all through the process and once results came out proving that these may as well be the historical honest elections, its reporter came out declaring “defeat” and pushing for the resignation of the Prime Minister who, in his view, was the reason behind the “defeat.”
Now, Malaysia has never been a perfect democracy if there is such a thing out there, but starting today it is for sure on the way towards competing with those considered the best.
These elections are historical, not because the governing coalition suffered a loss, but because a new era of true democracy in Malaysia has just been launched under the leadership of Badawi who must dare to believe that Malaysia today is ready for true democracy that is no less than that of Europe or the USA.
For once, opposition leaders were not arrested prior to elections and were allowed to campaign at will even before an elections date was set in accordance with the constitution including the political leader who made the most gains from amongst the opposition: Anwar Ibrahim.
As a matter of fact this road to true democracy started with the historic overturning of the court ruling in September of 2004 which freed Anwar Ibrahim, who had been charged with sodomy, and subsequently allowed him to play politics in the land again; albeit officially and by court rulings under the name of his wife until next month.
Since then Anwar made his bread and butter in Qatar, the home of Al Jazeera which seems to have decided to be his personal media agency in Malaysia, while developing his party as a home for disgruntled politicians from all races.
His strategy worked well: 1- An outcry on the unfair treatment he received on the hands of the ex-Prime Minister Tun Mohammad Mahatir and which was widely seen as a political punishment for the renegade minister who had been in second post, 2- posting Indian and Chinese candidates in Indian and Chinese majority territories and 3- forging a coalition with the Islamist (PAS) party, the equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood elsewhere, and the large Chinese-majority party DAP. Anwar reached a pact that the three main opposition parties would not compete amongst one another on any seats but only against the BN.
What Anwar managed to do is forge a coalition which was dubbed “the Alternative Barisan” that would secure the maximum number of seats in these elections, had the elections been honest and straight forward.
They were so and therefore his coalition made a whopping historic gain, not enough to throw BN out of power, but enough to have a say in future constitution related resolutions that require a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament.
What Anwar managed to do, he did because he was allowed to under the new democratic governance of Badawi. If it wasn’t for that, Anwar may still be in prison or in refuge in Qatar trying to influence internal politics but not successful, as was the case during the previous elections in which his achievement was negligible.
Anwar’s coalition, however, is not harmonious and in practicality is not bad news to the ruling coalition. The new allies agree only on one thing: running against the National Alliance both in the national Parliament, in state parliaments and therefore state governments! Anwar’s own party’s success is due to its pitching of many Indian and Chinese candidates. His PKR and the new ally, DAP, have nothing in common with the Islamist PAS that looks to use democracy in order to establish a theocracy run by Sharia Law and which imposes a very strict Islamist code on the public whenever it gets a chance.
Therefore, when it comes to constitutional parliamentary resolutions that matter there will be way more than 8 votes (the number the ruling coalition lacks to reach a two thirds majority) who will vote against PAS resolutions that affect the social agenda of the country and which would be against the political direction of either of its allies.
The win of PAS at the local level in the state of Kedah may as well be the gage of how cohesive is Anwar’s coalition going to be. Kedah is the state where the island of Langkawi is, which is a major tourist hub and tourism is a major income maker for Malaysia.
Langkawi seats were won by the BN but the state is now in the hands of PAS that looks to ban liquor, is against music if it is not religious chanting and wishes to see women covered mind you tourists or locals in Bikinis hanging around on the beach sipping a cocktail. The new Islamist state government can now impose their vision and if they do so their partners in the coalition will be seen as partners in crime as the Island loses tourism and foreign investors start packing up.
Kedah will not be the only test of Anwar’s Alternative Coalition, there will be ample opportunities to see how far each of the coalition members is willing to give up of its own values and beliefs to protect a parliamentary block against a ruling coalition that has a harmonious vision and direction and which is implementing a strategic national plan that is developing the economy and which has placed the country among the club of “Second World” states.
The true loser in the last elections are the Indian minority community of Malaysia which was so disgruntled and fired up that they voted against the Indian candidates of the ruling coalition. Only three Indian candidates made it and they are new which puts Prime Minister Badawi before a challenge on how to ensure best representation of Indians in government.
But Malaysia as a whole won the 2008 elections including the Indian community that fell for the tricks of the opposition and weakened its chances for representation in government. Malaysia won because a new page has been started: A page of transparency, democracy and progress. These historic elections will be recognized as the turning point in Malaysia in which true participation leads to a true partnership for success.
A page has been turned because Malaysia is now ready to walk a stride forward, proof of which is how unlike what happened in 1969 when violence erupted as a result of elections, peace, acceptance and optimism prevails today. Again, Malaysia further presents itself as the example of a successful Islamic state that calls for admiration. Malaysia, despite Al Jazeera’s reporting, can thank Badawi for the courage needed to get the job done.

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About Ramzi Khoury

Ramzi Khoury is an opinion columnist and satirist who publishes a weekly page, Piece of Mind, at the Saudi Gazette and elsewhere every Wednesday, Ramzi E. Khoury started his career in Granada Television in the 80s working on documentaries and since then has worked in the print, television and radio media all over the world. In addition to reporting with international news agencies he held several posts in the media including Chief Sub Editor/Political Editor of the Jordan Times, Editor in Chief of the Arab Daily newspaper and Secretary General of the Arab Media Organization. He continues to be adviser to several newspapers, television and radio stations as well as online media. He has worked with numerous satellite channels on television programs, documentaries and news and is often invited to offer his political analysis on television and radio stations from all over the world especially on Mideast and related issues. Currently based in Malaysia with extensive travel in the Middle East and Europe Khoury advices governments and private sector organizations on Perception Management with focus on issues related to politics and religion including the divide between the Muslim World and the West and is active with several non-government organizations. Before Malaysia he was based in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Palestine, Jordan, USA and the UK in order.

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