Time for change

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If the ruling coalition is denied a two-thirds parliamentary majority, it would be forced to become accountable, to respect the people’s rights and to conduct itself responsibly and prudently. It is time to usher in a new era of accountable politics, says K George.

After 22 years of autocratic rule by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that was fraught with cronyism, nepotism, favouritism and squandering, and when Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi entered Putrajaya as the fifth Prime Minister on 31 October 2003, we, the people, felt relieved and welcomed him with open arms. Abdullah aka Pak Lah, Mr. Clean and Nice Guy went on a charade of promises, which we implicitly believed.  We believed that Pak Lah was the God-sent saviour of Malaysia.

He vowed to the people to eradicate corruption, which had become rampant under his predecessor’s regime, and to introduce an agenda of reforms.  He asked us to work with him – not for him; he wanted to hear only the truth. Abdullah, in his maiden speech in Parliament on 3 November 2003, committed himself to a “clean, incorruptible, trustworthy, people-orientated, efficient government” that respects democratic principles including the separation of powers, namely Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary.  

Further, he pledged transparency and greater freedom of the press and the enhancement of civil society.  The PM also assured us of the re-introduction of open and transparent tenders. Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index rankings showed that Malaysia’s position has plunged from 37th in 2003 to 39th in 2004 and then to 44th in 2006.

In a few months, Abdullah will have completed four years of his premiership. Alas, our hopes and aspirations have been dashed. Abdullah has failed to deliver.  His capability and capacity to be an effective Prime Minister leaves much to be desired.  Mahathir, who appointed him as the Deputy Prime Minister, publicly announced that Abdullah was not fit to take over the premiership.  His earlier assurance that he would only retire after finding another suitable deputy raises the question: why did he then hand-pick Abdullah to succeed him?.

That was not the end of the story.  Before Mahathir’s exit, it appeared that there was an understanding to appoint Najib Razak as the Deputy Prime Minister. After  assuming the premiership, when Abdullah was dilly-dallying over the announcement of his deputy, Mahathir forced his hand by proclaiming publicly that Najib had all the credentials to be appointed the Deputy Prime Minister. If not for this pressure, we will never know whether Abdullah would have opted for someone else.  The prevailing perception then was that Najib was not a suitable candidate to succeed Abdullah and therefore he did not stand a chance to be appointed the DPM.

 
General elections and Umno elections

Abdullah in February 2004 ordered the arrest of Eric Chia and Kasitah Gaddam for corruption. In an open letter to the people, he promised that he would be fair to all the people irrespective of race and religion.  Abdullah then called for  the 11th General Election which was held on 21 March 2004.   It was one of the worst elections ever held in Malaysia. There were three different sets of electoral rolls instead of one final one; rampant  violations of election laws and rules took place; and the mass media totally blacked out the opposition.  The fifth premier, Abdullah, was returned to power in an election victory with the greatest  electoral mandate in our history..  

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With such an excellent endorsement of Abdullah’s leadership, he could have implemented all his undertakings and promises but he failed miserably to do so.  One of the worst things he did was to retain the tainted leaders from the previous administration to take over key portfolios in a bloated cabinet that ranked larger than that of India’s.

Umno’s election of the Supreme Council was held in September 2004.  Although he was elected president, Abdullah saw almost all his candidates, including some ministers, defeated. One of his candidates  who contested the post of Vice-President also did not make it. Somehow Abdullah put on a bold face  and told the press that all his candidates won the election.

Scandals, scandals…

 Some months after he assumed office, Abdullah’s government was rocked by a series of scandals.  Of course, Abdullah had nothing to do with this as  those contracts that went awry were given during the Mahathir regime, some of which are:
•    the Matrade building (RM400 million) not completed even after 10 years;
•    the MRR2 Kepong Flyover (RM240 million) – extensive cracks on the structures appeared soon after completion raising doubts about the workmanship and the quality of materials used;
•    the Sultan Ismail Hospital, Johor Bahru (RM560 million) – extensive fungus infection – completion had been already delayed for several years)

A public outcry ensued, with calls for Anti-Corruption Agency investigations to nail the culprits.  I am not sure what has happened.  These huge contracts, in all probability, might have been given to cronies with favourable clauses.

The Menteri Besar of Selangor, Mohd Khir Toyo,  was linked to a series of scandals such as:
•    the destruction of the Bukit Cahaya Agricultural Park in Shah Alam, which cost taxpayers more than RM200 million to develop,
•    the construction of a multi-million ringgit complex of 10 bungalows with a club house and two swimming pools exclusively for the executive members of the state assembly without an approved budget,
•    the dubious alienation of several large plots of state lands to private companies and individuals without proper authorisation.  

Has the ACA completed its investigations? Where is the report and why has it not been made public? Have the authorities turned a blind eye to these scandals?

These are many more scandals.  Khir Toyo’s  response was that it was not only the state of Selangor that was involved in scandalous adventures, but other states were equally guilty of the same crime. Does it make it right?  What a way to rationalise scandals and corruption!  

The privatization of government assets started by Mahathir is something that is unforgettable and unforgivable. We had hoped that Pak Lah would scrutinise and rectify the numerous one-sided contracts that did not benefit the nation, Unfortunately that did not take place. Privatising the highways and allowing toll collections by the private sector without revealing the contents of the contracts have resulted in Malaysians having to pay ever-increasing tolls periodically. Besides that, why should this revenue go to the private sector? By right, toll collections must be government  revenue to be used for the benefit and welfare of the people.

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Umno and money politics

The Barisan National (BN) is a coalition of 14 political parties but it has been unfairly dominated by Umno ever since Independence in 1957. Originally it was an alliance of Umno, the MCA and the MIC which ruled Malaysia. There was then at least better consultation among the three and things were not as glaringly lopsided as it is now.  

Umno could have played an effective role in curbing corruption and upholding certain values like justice, fairness and compassion.

 Bur greed seemed to have somewhat taken  hold of the party through some influential leaders who had been exposed as being corrupt.   To get elected as leaders, many of the aspiring candidates resort to spending huge sums of money to buy votes from the delegates, who are prepared to sell their votes to the highest bidder. Such amounts are treated as a forward investment. Those who are elected through these filthy transactions are not expected to be committed to the progress of the party but will instead use the party and their newly elected positions  to make money and entrench their power.

It was widely publicised that Abdullah had used RM600 million from  taxpayers’ coffers to distribute RM3 million each to the 191 Umno divisions. It was taxpayers’ money that was used for  party purpose  It is yet another form of money politics without spending even a single sen from one’s own pocket or from the party coffers.

Let me now narrate something that I heard: When the doctors told our second prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak, that he was terminally ill with leukemia, he is believed to have requested his brother-in-law Tun Hussein Onn, who was his deputy, to appoint Mahathir as his deputy when he (Hussein) took over and that when Mahathir became the PM, he would have to appoint Tengku Razaleigh as his deputy. So the story goes.  

After Razak’s demise in 1976, Hussein appointed Mahathir as his deputy despite the latter being only the third-ranking vice-president of Umno.  When Mahathir became PM, however, his choice for deputy was not Razaleigh but Musa Hitam. But when the two of them could not resolve their differences, Musa parted company with Mahathir.

It may be recalled that Mahathir was expelled from Umno by the Tunku, our Bapa Kemerdekaan (Father of Independence), but he was reinstated by Razak, the second PM.

At that time, the Selangor Menteri Besar was Harun Idris, one of Umno’s stalwarts.  He was popular and sympathetic to the poor and downtrodden.  He maintained a close rapport with workers and their trade unions.  But he was caught for corruption, charged, sentenced and imprisoned.  

When Hussein Onn was the third PM, Mahathir became his deputy in accordance with Razak’s wish. When Hussein went to London for a medical check-up, Mahathir was the acting PM and he is believed to have obtained a pardon for Harun without consulting his boss, Hussein. In my opinion, it was wrong of Mahathir to do so.  Hussein later resigned on medical grounds and Mahathir took over as the fourth PM in July 1981.

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Mahathir’s regime was fraught with untoward events – dictatorial rule, Operation Lalang, the nullification of Umno ‘yang asal’ (the original Umno), and the birth of Umno Baru (New Umno), the setting up of a kangaroo tribunal and the dismissal of Tun Salleh Abas and two Federal Court judges.

The finale was the dismissal of Anwar Ibrahim from the cabinet and his expulsion from Umno on fabricated charges and accusations in 1998. Assaulted by the IGP, charged in court and condemned to six years of solitary imprisonment – that was Anwar’s reward from Mahathir for having saved the then premier from defeat in the 1987 Umno election. (Anwar had surrendered his Umno Youth chairmanship to Najib in exchange for support from Najib’s bloc. Mahathir went on to snatch victory with a wafer-thin majority of 43 votes).

Time for change

I am not opposed to Umno but I am opposed to money politics and the Umno ultras.  Like many other nations in the world, Malaysia is a multi-racial and multi-religious country, sufficiently wealthy with petroleum, gas, tin, rubber and palm oil apart from substantial foreign investment.

We want social justice, freedom and democracy, peace and harmony.  We all believe in the One and Only God.  We are all created by Him.  No race is superior to another.  I hope the Menteri Besar of Johor will take note of what is spelt out in the Al-Quran.

Meanwhile, a coalition of opposition parties is coalescing with Anwar Ibrahim as their leader. It will probably have a minimum programme, but it will have to face several obstacles. The controlled media will black out news about it and there could be restrictions, but I am sure it will be well supported by the people.  

We have accepted parliamentary democracy as the system of governance.  It is through this system that change must come. And that change will depend on the wisdom of the voters. Giving a huge majority to any ruling party is like surrendering our rights for the next five years. If, on the other hand, the BN is denied the two-thirds majority, it will be forced to become accountable, to respect the people’s rights and to conduct itself responsibly and prudently. It is time to usher in a new era of accountable politics.

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