P Ramakrishnan looks back at the Ijok by-election (‘buy election”?) and its implications for Keadilan. If the by-election had been fought on a level playing field, the opposition would have made mince-meat of the BN candidate, he observes. But have Keadilan and Anwar been destroyed by the result?
When the incumbent four-term assemblyman for Ijok, Datuk K Sivalingam unexpectedly passed away, Ijok promptly became the focus of attention. This semi-rural, very much forgotten and very often-neglected state constituency suddenly became a very important constituency for the Barisan Nasional. This is the constituency where residents had been waiting vainly for 30 years for land grants to put up their houses with no sign of ever obtaining them. The roads badly needed repairs. Schools and mosques urgently needed allocations. Their assemblyman was hardly around and he was not even accessible to the local residents.
All this changed drastically and even dramatically. Ijok, the forsaken constituency, all of a sudden became a much sought after constituency. All this happened simply because there was a contest. If there were no contest, nothing would have changed in Ijok. Nobody would have bothered with Ijok. The people of Ijok would have continued to wait hopelessly for some form of development, which would not have come easily.
But because there was a contest that was spearheaded by none other than Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister and deputy Umno president, that really got the BN worrying. There was this gripping fear that Keadilan, with Anwar leading the challenge against the BN, was capable of staging an upset victory. This would have affected the BN’s image of invincibility with disastrous consequences, something that the BN could not afford to live with.
This fear factor forced the BN to focus its attention on Ijok, bringing to town its entire formidable arsenal of machinery, money and media to prevent at all costs an opposition victory. It was no longer an ordinary by-election.
10 years’ development in 10 days
That was the only reason why the BN poured everything into this contest. Thousands of BN party workers descended on Ijok to mount a house-to-house campaign. Ministers skipped parliamentary sessions to throw their weight behind the BN candidate. The Deputy Prime Minister himself took charge of the entire direction of the campaign.
The formidable assault mounted by the Barisan against its adversary in Ijok would have crushed any other lesser party into smithereens. But Keadilan refused to be pulverised by the mighty BN.
Thousands of party workers from the various BN component parties poured into Ijok with all the resources at their command. Ijok, once a sleepy hollow, came to life, bubbling with excitement and swarming with people from all over the country.
These party functionaries rented houses paying RM3,500-5,000 a month while empty single-storey shop-lots were taken up for RM2,500. Even barber shops along the main street ceased operations temporarily as they had been rented out as operations rooms for political parties.
Party volunteers and supporters, mostly from the BN, took over some houses in villages and housing estates as operation centres and for their own accommodation. Strings of banners announced the presence of these temporary occupants of these rented buildings: “Rumah Kelantan”, “Rumah Pahang”, Rumah Pemuda BN” and “Rumah Puteri”. There were also Umno, MIC and MCA houses from all the states including Sabah and Sarawak.
All this for sure added up as extra electoral expenses and this cannot be dismissed as having nothing to do with the candidate’s expenditure. This expenditure contributed to the candidate’s campaign. When we talk of free and fair elections, this must be taken into consideration.
But the BN was acutely aware that numbers and personalities would not be sufficient to sway the Ijok voters. Sweeteners were necessary to persuade them to swing behind the BN. And the BN had limitless funds to entice the people. They used our money for this purpose. According to some BN sources anything from RM70 million to RM100 million was spent on goodies in Ijok. So much was given in so short a time that it prompted Samy Vellu to observe very aptly, “Ten years development was delivered in 10 days.”
The BN’s new-found concern for the welfare of the local community and its locality – long ignored and lacking in amenities – did not escape the notice of many people. Suddenly everything was possible and accessible for them. All you had to do was ask today and it was delivered the next day. The BN was that super efficient on this occasion!
New traffic lights sprang up overnight. Even roads into oil palm estates in the area were resurfaced. New mosques, surau, and religious schools were promised. Allocations were granted to Chinese and Tamil schools for new buildings. Streetlights and telephone boxes materialised overnight.
In the run-up to the by-election, many voters were also granted land titles. These very voters had been fighting for these titles for more than 30 years. Without going through any hassle, without encountering the usual bureaucratic obstacles, these very voters had these titles thrust upon them!
On 22 April, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak announced a special allocation of RM3.5 million from the Prime Minister’s Department for seven mosques, 16 surau and six schools in the constituency. In announcing this, Najib stated, “Although there has not been any request for these, we feel that we need to do this as a sign of the BN’s commitment.”
If one looks at the dilapidated conditions of Tamil schools across the country – which sorely need allocations to upgrade their buildings and facilities – we have to ask why didn’t the BN, as a sign of commitment, show their generosity and compassion by providing reasonable funds to meet the needs of these schools? Is it because there were no by-elections in their locations?
The Menteri Besar of Selangor Datuk Seri Mohd Khir Toyo announced that the executive council meeting held in the Kuala Selangor District Office on 25 April – three days before polling – decided that the transfer of home ownership no longer need to go through the executive council. “This power has been given to the district officer to speed up the process from two months to two weeks,” he revealed.
The procedure of going through the executive council requiring two months for approvals had been the practice for many years. In spite of the delays and the trouble of going through the executive council, this procedure was the standard practice all these years. Why was it necessary to change the procedure at this juncture?
Some residents couldn’t believe the sudden ground-breaking for the long-waited mosque in Kampung Sungai Darah by Mohd Khir. The swift effort to fix potholes along the bumpy Ijok-Batang Berjuntai roads also took the residents by surprise.
The haste to build roads and tar them and to provide other amenities, however, resulted in the usual shoddy workmanship. One BN party worker even admitted that when the rains came, the roads reverted to their former terrible state the very next day.
One long-standing grievance of the local community was the stinking presence of the dump-site located about 2 km outside town. Over the last nine years, the community’s repeated pleas for its closure because of the stench and for health reasons had fallen on deaf ears. But four days after Sivalingam’s death – and in anticipation of the forthcoming by-election – it was closed on 7 April. Was winning the election so very important as compared to the welfare of the people? Where was the BN’s commitment to the people before the by-election?
The crucial Indian voters were targeted for their support for the BN even to the extent of undemocratically denying Keadilan party supporters access to the Indian areas. This was especially true in the Tuan Mee electoral area, when the Deputy Prime Minister, on the eve of polling, promised land titles to 800 Indian voters. This was a hotly debated issue which had remained unresolved by Sivalingam for many years.
Allegations that cash rewards, some as much as RM500, were given to voters emerged. Television sets and 200 sewing machines were also reportedly given away to secure more votes. One resident who wished to remain anonymous revealed that he received RM500 in cash and a brand new television set.
Why only now?
It was drummed into the voters that only a candidate who had the full support of the state and federal governments could continue to bring development to the constituency.
If that was the case, then why was all this development pouring into Ijok during the by-election which was sorely missing when the BN representative was alive? Wasn’t he also the exco member of the Selangor state government with considerable clout to lobby for such development from the state and federal governements? Why was it that nobody cared for Ijok then?
Gerakan acting president Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon, claiming that his party was targeting to contribute 1,300 votes in Ijok to ensure a comfortable victory for the BN, said, “BN is offering the people of Ijok something the Opposition cannot do – continuous development and unity.”
But the Keadilan candidate, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, rightly refuted this by demanding that the BN had to “explain why this area was left behind in Selangor’s development”.
Election Commission chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman stressed on 16 April 2007 that election candidates and political parties cannot make promises to voters during an election.
But the BN candidate for Ijok, K Parthiban, announced that the Kuala Selangor District Office had scrapped assessment on several traditional Malay villages. Wasn’t this announcement meant to garner votes?
Abdul Rashid also mentioned that development promises and allocations given out in kind by ministers cannot be construed as vote-buying or be deemed as bribing voters. “Ministers and functionaries, people connected to the government, they’re doing their job,” he told reporters.
But the question is, “Should they be making such promises and giving out grants only when there is an election?” Couldn’t this be done before an election is held or after an election has been concluded? When they undertake this, aren’t they also urging voters to vote for their party candidate? The moment they campaign for a candidate they must be perceived as party functionaries and not as ministers.
Squatting and shouting
Weren’t all the ministers and government leaders who were in Ijok handing out land grants and other goodies and promising all sorts of things abusing their positions by using government facilities and funds during the by-election? They could have done all this before or after the by-election, but to do so during the by-election is to use public funds to campaign for their party which is undoubtedly immoral.
Why was Najib squatting in Ijok throughout the campaign period. If he was there as the Deputy Prime Minister, then we need to ask him why he was spending so much time in Ijok and not concentrating on the affairs of the nation. Why was he not in Parliament as a matter of duty? Was he in Ijok as deputy president of Umno and deputy chairman of BN? Or was he there as Deputy Prime Minister?
As if all this wasn’t sufficient to defeat Keadilan, the police had to play their role as well. Their heavy presence had an intimidating effect on the electorate. Not only that, they were responsible for the cancellation of nine Keadilan ceramahs on the flimsy grounds that no police permit was obtained for these ceramahs.
What permit are they talking about? Selangor deputy police chief Supt Ibrahim Chin had said that the police did not restrict the number of political gatherings as long as organisers complied with election rules. And the election rules do not require political parties to obtain police permits for their ceramahs.
There was also a silly strategy to defeat Keadilan. At the launch of the BN youth election machinery by BN and Umno Youth leader Datuk Seri Hishammuddin, the gathering, which included Khairy Jamaluddin, most of the BN youth leaders, Khir Toyo and MIC president Datuk Seri Samy Vellu, was asked to shout as loud as possible to frighten off Anwar Ibrahim. And they screamed their heads off. How naive can they be! A determined Anwar was there everyday to lead the challenge.
Hello, Abdullah shows up…
All these abuses and antics did not seem to work in BN’s favour. The edge was still with Keadilan. A desperate BN had to get the Prime Minister himself involved in the campaign. He came in a helicopter but did he come as the Prime Minister or as Chairman of the BN? As Prime Minister, he cannot use the facilities of the state to campaign for his party’s candidate. As Chairman of the BN, he has no access to state facilities to campaign for the by-election. Abdul Rashid should state his views on this and we hope he will do so soon.
In getting involved directly in the Ijok by-election, the PM revealed that the BN was not all that confident in obtaining a victory in Ijok. It was a last-minute effort, two days before polling, to avert the defeat that was staring in their faces. In doing so, the PM had to part with a policy that had been in place for a long time.
On 9 April 2007, the Deputy Prime Minister had publicly stated during the Machap by-election, “It has been our policy during any by-election that the prime minister does not have to come down to meet the voters and campaign for the candidate. This has been the practice since long ago.”
And then on Thursday, 26 April 2007 , two days before polling, Abdullah came visiting three sensitive Malay areas in Ijok. And this perhaps saved the BN from certain defeat.
Ijok was not Keadilan’s Waterloo. It was only a skirmish and it will live to fight another day.
A fear haunts the BN
The Barisan threw everything into Ijok, resorted to every trick in the book to win. Ministers came, party big wigs walked the streets, thousands of party workers from component parties went on a house-to-house campaign, nearly RM100 million was spent and the Deputy Prime Minister himself took charge of the campaign. All that the BN had to their credit in spite of everything was 201 extra votes compared to their previous victory. And that is nothing to crow about.
They set out to crush Keadilan but failed miserably.
The BN would want to project a picture of a vanquished Keadilan on the brink of disintegrating into nothingness but has failed to convince thinking Malaysians that the days of Keadilan are over.
Yes, Keadilan was defeated but it was not destroyed. That is the real truth. Keadilan was not demolished in Ijok. It was dented but certainly not vanquished . In spite of the tremendous advantage and privilege of office, the BN could not stop Keadilan’s march forward. In spite of tremendous odds stacked up against Keadilan, it performed extremely well in increasing its previous tally of votes. It gained another 470 votes – more than twice the number of new votes garnered by BN.
If the by-election had been fought on a level playing field, if the Election Commission had ensured a free and fair election, if the police had not interfered with Keadilan’s ceramahs, if the government had not played dirty with money politics, in short, if it had been a clean election, there is no doubt that Keadilan would have routed the BN and made mince-meat of its candidate in the Ijok by-election..
It is this realisation – and the fear – that the next general election will not be smooth sailing for the BN that has forced it to show some bravado by claiming that Anwar and Keadilan were rejected by the people. But, in spite of putting on a brave face, this fear will haunt the BN for a long time to come.
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