COMMENT The Barisan Nasional (BN) and its predecessor, the Alliance party, have ruled Malaya and Malaysia since our independence from the British in 1957 and the formation of Malaysia in 1963 without a break, making it the longest ruling political party in the world.
With its total dominance over politics in its over five decades rule, BN has evolved into a creature where its leaders no longer serve the people but have turned the country into their personal golden goose to allegedly extract and plunder at will.
The 1MDB scandal only brought to the fore the sickness that has already stricken us for the last three decades since the ascendancy of the fourth prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The pillars of democracy like the judiciary, Parliament, public institutions were systematically weakened; where racialism were institutionalised, crony capitalism celebrated, privatisation became ‘piratisation’ and the first of numerous financial scandals surfaced.
If Malaysia is likened to a cancer-stricken person, 1MDB would be a Stage 4 cancer, where its impact has spread to all other organs of government, undermining the soundness of the political and economic system of the country. Without immediate and drastic intervention, the prognosis is poor, at best we are unlikely to achieve developed or high income country status by 2020 or at worst, on the slippery road to being a failed state.
Can BN reform itself and restore the nation to good health or is it time for Malaysians to sack this political alliance that has mismanaged this country, turning it into a kleptocracy and hand over the rein to a new coalition? Can we survive as a nation if we give BN another five years of rule?
Targeting marginal seats won by BN
Due to decades of allegedly unfair and unconstitutional delineation of election boundaries by the Election Commission (EC), the electoral playing field has never been level and will not be level at the next coming general election. Alleged gerrymandering and malapportionment of constituencies ensured that even with a minority vote of 47 percent, BN is still able to win 60 percent of the 222 Parliament seats contested at GE13.
It should be noted that a vast majority of the seats won by BN are in the rural and semi-urban constituencies.
But the fact is 38 of the 133 federal seats won by BN were marginally won with less than 10 percent of the votes, meaning a mere six percent swing towards the opposition in GE14 would end BN’s hegemonic rule. In fact, for around 10 constituencies it would take 500 or less voters to make a difference in the outcome.
Thus the effort of Invoke to target these marginal seat is commendable and worthy of support. When you do not have the backing of public machineries and limitless financial resources like BN does, you need to fight smart. Voters’ education, registration of new voters, get-out-the-vote programmes and guarding of votes on polling day in such marginal seats are crucially important.
Alleviate the economic well-being of the Bottom 40
But what message would you bring these targeted constituencies and to the Malaysian voters that would convince them that the time has come for change?
The main concerns of the average voter are bread and butter issues, policies that affect their economic well-being directly. In a 2012 survey by Merdeka Centre on issues of voter concern, it was found that 34 percent listed economic concerns as their number one concern while 19 percent listed crimes and social problems as their main concern.
A more recent survey by the same pollster in 2016 of Sarawak voters before the state election also listed economic concerns (33.2 percent) as their number issue, followed by development and infrastructure issues (27.7 percent).
Clearly, any political coalition that is serious in wanting the people’s mandate must address the economic concerns of its citizens. The Pakatan Harapan coalition and its allies must clearly and boldly come out with policies that go beyond sloganeering and vague promises during election but clear policies with timeline for their implementation.
Redress the Borneo injustice
Sabahans and Sarawakians have long felt like poor cousins from the backwaters of Borneo but now with BN’s hold on power weakened since the 12th general election in 2008, both these partners of the federation are kingmakers. Their discontent has now surged to become a movement with some even urging secession from Malaysia.
The injustices to Borneo cannot be denied. Though they are rich in natural resources, they remain as two of the poorest states in Malaysia. Their infrastructures are decades behind those of the Peninsula with many areas still inaccessible by road and villages that are without electricity and piped clean water.
A commitment to redress specific areas of injustice is not only necessary to win over the East Malaysian voters and their leaders in order to form the next government but it is also the right thing to do. It is time to fully honour the spirit and terms of the 20/18 points of the Malaysia Agreement. With the passing of Sarawak’s CM Adenan Satem, the baton to lead the charge to uplift the East Malaysians have fallen to the ground and it may be the best time for the opposition coalition to pick it up.