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Expect more black swans to appear in Malaysian politics

COMMENT | The general election of March 8, 2008, was indeed a Black Swan event for Malaysia. And since then, it would seem that a row of black swans has been swimming by, one behind another. Malaysian politics is not known for its dull moments.

For instance, who would have expected former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad just a year ago to join the ranks of the opposition leaders working diligently to turn the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition into the opposition instead, in the next general election.

Just earlier this month (April), we were told the news that Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak had appointed his cousin Hishammuddin Hussein, who is also Defence Minister, to be the Minister with Special Functions in the Prime Minister’s Department. This gives rise to a Black Swan question: Is Najib planning to step down as prime minister before the next general election?

Should that happen, then an interesting new set of conditions and scenarios present themselves. Even if Najib does not leave the stage, we are already presented with a new power equation in which Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi appears suddenly sidelined. In either case, Zahid may not accept his new situation passively.

To put things in proper context and to understand what is bringing about this change, we need to go back to late November 2007. Allow me here to use myself as a humble example. I am someone born and bred in Kuala Lumpur, but was offered back then, and I reluctantly accepted, a challenge to contest a parliamentary seat in the unfamiliar ground of Penang state.

The two available to me to choose from, namely Bukit Bendera and Jelutong, were both Barisan Nasional (BN) incumbent seats, which DAP stalwarts Lim Kit Siang and the late Karpal Singh, respectively, had surprisingly lost to the BN in the 1999 general election.

Literally no one expected me to win, and even fewer thought that a change of government in Penang was possible. At best, some observers noted that there was a possibility of denying the BN a two-third majority in that state.

It was only during the campaign period that we began to notice some signs pointing to the possibility of Penang falling to the opposition. What we could not have expected was to see the opposition parties gain enough seats to form the state governments in Selangor, Kedah and Perak late in the night of March 8, 2008.

I was probably one of very few who had access to information and who had some inkling of what was about to come. Apart from the surveys and polls I came across then, I recalled a conversation at a private lunch meeting involving 10 core leaders of Penang DAP on Feb 10, 2008, three days before the dissolution of Parliament. Lim Kit Siang asked us “to prepare for the unthinkable” partly because he had noticed the Malaysian Indian community to be in an unprecedentedly restless and discontented state...

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