MAY 12 — The next general election looms large, yet the ruling coalition is fumbling with the wrong issues. Could that be Barisan Nasional’s undoing this time around?
Parliament is due to be dissolved next April, but with 11 months to go there is seemingly no sign of that happening soon. Some even think it will be pushed as far as September. Many believe that the ruling coalition, the prime minister especially, was unnerved enough by Bersih 3.0’s turnout to delay calling for polls.
Indeed, what a turnout it was. Bersih organisers estimate that 250,000-300,000 people were there; independent estimates put it between 80,000 and 100,000. While we may never know the actual figure, the figures we are contemplating are large enough to worry those in power. Not everyone wearing yellow that day supports the opposition, but they sent out the same, unmistakeable message.
The people are acutely aware that the electoral process is suspect. And the people want the problem fixed.
Despite the presence of opposition figures during the rally, the purpose of many who decided to come was not to show their support to any particular politician, or to any political party. All they wanted was for their vote to be fairly accounted for come the election. All they wanted was a system of integrity that they could trust.
Yet despite that message, the aftermath is unpromising.
More focus is accorded the ensuing violence than the loud, unspoken statement, with most commentators more interested in placing the blame for the regrettable negatives. The mainstream media face widespread allegations of selective reporting following longstanding claims of bias.
Astro runs into trouble when the BBC, outraged over the censoring of its Bersih 3.0 coverage, demands answers, to which Astro claims that “local regulations” forced its hand; further exposure by an independent news source reveals that said “regulations” feature heavily biased guidelines, apparently designed to maintain the government’s good image.
The police are fast losing credibility in the public’s eyes amid accusations of excessive, uncalled for violence after the rally. The police’s claim that the irritants containing CS gas used to contain the rally were “UN approved” as a “riot-control agent” was disclaimed by the United Nations itself.
Some figures are even labelling Bersih as an attempted coup, to the incredulous gasps of many impartial parties.
These developments paint a picture of dishonesty around the nation’s authorities and, by extension, the ruling coalition.
Day by day the irrepressible alternative media are filling in the gaps, telling untold stories and reporting buried facts. Day by day the public opinion on the ruling coalition is chipped away. The people are beginning to lose faith in the ruling coalition’s integrity and accountability.
And therein lies the prime minister’s biggest battle: restoring voters’ faith.
However, we are still seeing political sparring that smacks of character assassination. Many previously raised issues that bring to light questionable conducts of the ruling coalition’s members in seats of power are perceived as not properly dealt with. We are still seeing a political scene that focuses on discrediting the opponent rather than expounding on one’s own merit.
The most telling of all is how talk abounds on why the people should show their gratitude to the ruling coalition for the past 52 years. On why the people should re-elect the current government come the election as a thank you.
Is the main premise of the campaign gratitude then?
I don’t think there is much room for sentiment, especially gratitude, in politics. We are choosing people who would govern us, manage our resources and generally on whom we entrust the responsibility to make our lives better.
And that choice needs to be correct, regardless of gratitude, regardless of history. The ruling coalition cannot point to exceedingly distant memories as proof of past performance; that amounts to taking credit for the good done by leaders of a different time.
To restore voters’ faith, the ruling coalition — and the prime minister — needs to prove that the people can count on them for yet another term. They need to prove that the people will not be deceived, manipulated or misinformed.
Most importantly, the people need to be assured that they can make their choice in a fair, honest electoral process. The burden of proof is on Barisan Nasional.
Your clock is ticking, Prime Minister.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.