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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Malaysia's General Election 13 to be survival of the fittest

It’s all a matter of endurance. Given the stakes, tensions have also heightened. Both sides have a great deal to lose. 

WE are entering the final straight. Whether the date of the actual polling day is in June, July, September or even next year, the finishing line is fast approaching.

It’s all a matter of endurance. Who can best manage their own resources and minimise their weaknesses? Whose “messaging” is the most focused and sustained?

Given the stakes, tensions have also heightened. Both sides have a great deal to lose.

As Tun Daim Zainuddin said a few months ago, the contest between Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional is much like an extended game of tennis – with victory going to the side that commits the least unforced errors.

In this respect Barisan would appear to be gaining the lead. Pakatan’s lack of access to the mainstream media further undermines the challenger’s chances.

Last week’s resignation of DAP Senator and vice-president Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim and PAS’ continued call for the introduction of the syariah have raised doubts about Pakatan’s ability to hold the middle-ground.

But there are also real dangers in trying to “read” the election outcome from the mainstream media. Official controls will always tend to magnify Pakatan’s mistakes whilst minimising Barisan’s missteps and only a fool would ignore the Internet’s ubiquitous presence.

At the same time, the vast numbers of new voters have injected an enormous degree of uncertainty into the game.

It is as if Tun Daim’s tennis game had been crossed with a Sony Wii as well as a Pentagon battle-ground simulator: permutations are the new “norm”.

No one knows for certain where these young people will cast their ballots. As Ben Suffian of Merdeka Centre explains: “They lack the loyalty of their parents. They are better informed and more sceptical: arbitraging on news and events.”

But when all is said and done, the voters are faced with four fundamental decisions when they’re dealing with Barisan, which are as follows:

> Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak: Should the Malaysians reward or punish him? Have his reforms satisfied the voting public? Conversely, has he been too weak in the face of non-Malay demands? Does Bersih 3.0 accurately reflect popular sentiment? Does he deserve to better Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s 2008 result? Will we reward him with the constitutional majority? Can his personal popularity (much like Abdullah’s at the same stage of the 2008 scenario) strengthen his hold on power?

> Umno: For over five decades – the United Malays National Organisation has been the parti kerajaan – the party of Government with its supreme council meetings surpassing Cabinet in terms of “real” authority? Is the automatic identification of party and government (along with all the attendant patronage) coming to an end? Or is it merely a case of the parti kerajaan becoming a parti politik no different from PAS and PKR? Is Umno’s supremacy finished?

> Barisan Nasional: Can the alliance remain intact if the country’s second largest community, the Chinese, remove their support? Is an Umno-dominated coalition sustainable? Are we witnessing the end of the so-called unwritten consensus that has brought us thus far? What will be the substitute?

> Malaysia: Will the 13th General Election see the firming up of the two-coalition system or its demise? Are we Malaysians comfortable with the level of checks and balances that have entered our political lexicon since 2008 or do we wish to return to the past – entrusting the Barisan, unreservedly with our future?

March 8, 2008 was a surprise result. It upset our (and especially my) lazy assumptions.

Will the upcoming polls see this becoming the new normal or will we return to the status quo ante? I will try my best to cover these dilemmas. But then again, if we refer to Tun Daim’s tennis analogy and the doubts raised by Bersih, another major question surrounds the “rules of the game” – who determines the players, especially the millions of new voters?