Sunday, May 06, 2007

SIGNIFICANCE & SIGNALS of IJOK By-ELECTION: Closely Watched? IDEOLOGY vs Bread-Butter Issues; Election Machinery; Elected Representatives Performance

The election fever is gripping the Nation and the temperature has increased a notch after some schools reportedly have received notifications from the Election Commission that they are selected as polling centers.

ABOVE: PM Abdullah & DPM Najib studying closely the Ijok By-elections result

With the last by-election, PM Abdullah government seems to have passed the crucial limit test and supposedly damaging issues raised by the opposition against a certain leader have no bearing on the by-election result and a general election anytime from now would see the sitting government romped through with a comfortable majority in Parliament. So why are we waiting with all the feel good factors on?

Everyone is expecting the GE to be after the 50th Merdeka celebration but now there is suggestion that the BN could hold the GE now and “strike when the iron is hot”. But the opposition leader Lim Kit Siang had warned “The next general election is going to be a very tough and grueling test and challenge not only for the DAP, Opposition and Barisan Nasional, but also for 50-year democratic experiment in Malaysia.”
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Saturday Forum: A rehearsal for the big race; NST Sat 5 May 2007

The Ijok by-election on April 28 was, without a doubt, the most hotly contested of the five by-elections held since the 2004 polls. The campaign attracted national interest - and an 81.8 per cent voter turnout. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak led the Barisan Nasional campaign, focusing on solving residents' problems and promising service in the future. Parti Keadilan Rakyat's adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim led the opposition charge, raising 'national issues' including higher tolls and fuel prices as

well as allegations of corruption. Why the national interest in the rural Ijok campaign? And what was the significance of the results on polling day, which gave BN a larger,

1,850-vote majority? Five election-watchers were asked the same three questions:

Q: Why was the Ijok by-election so closely watched?
A: Professor Datuk Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, director of the Institute of Occidental Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia:
Any by-election will, by definition, be closely watched because by-elections are the most reliable method to gauge the current performance of the ruling and opposition parties between general elections. Although by-elections are very localised, you can still get an objective reading of the parties' strength because in general, the parties pour all their national resources into by-elections.

Rita Sim, deputy chairman of the Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy
an MCA think-tank:

Because Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was campaigning very aggressively for the PKR candidate and Datuk Seri Najib Razak was leading the BN campaign, it was seen by some as a proxy fight. Because the general election may happen within a year, the Ijok results were an indication of how the BN would fare in the general election and whether PKR could be a force to be reckoned with.

Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, Universiti Teknologi Mara law professor:
Ijok was a closely watched election because there we can see whether individuals can be more important than the party one is from. There was a highly qualified, charismatic candidate from the opposition and a relative lightweight from BN. By right, the opposition should have won but people voted along party lines. It was also a test for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Although he campaigned vigorously, it did not make much impact. People are pragmatic.

Associate Prof Ghazali Mayudin, political scientist, Universiti Kebangsaan
Ijok is perhaps the last by-election before the next general election. In that sense, it was a barometer of what voters can expect in the next polls. This was the first time Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim campaigned actively in a by-election. It very much reflected the level of support for the former deputy prime minister.

Professor Datuk Syed Arabi Idid, Department of Communications, International
Islamic University
It came after the Pengkalan Pasir by-election where BN faced off with Pas, then Machap where BN faced DAP. At Ijok BN met PKR. It showed an interesting sequence of events in which BN met different opposition political parties. It is also the last by-election we are going to have (before the next general election).

Q: From the results, how big a part does ideology play in national politics, as compared to bread-and-butter issues and the strength of the election machinery?
A: Shamsul: Bread-and-butter issues are more important.not just in the literal sense (such as helping people to get out of poverty), because we are not a poverty-stricken nation, but. as defined from a developmental perspective, covering things such as infrastructure, for example. According to reports, the Selangor government approved a RM36 million allocation in Ijok to beef up the infrastructure there. So yes, bread and butter is more important, and in fact I'm willing to make fun of the whole thing and wish that every constituency had a by-election, so that all areas could benefit!

Sim: All three are important. People still believed the BN would be the party that could deliver bread and butter to the constituency. The money went into Ijok during the campaign. Roads were paved and so on. Ideology is also important. Although the BN won, the opposition didn't do that badly. It was still very close. Chinese voters, for example, were still concerned with some of the national issues over the past year, including the keris-waving and family disputes over the faith of the deceased and the manner in which they were handled by the authorities. The election machinery was alsoimportant. For example, PKR admitted it had difficulty penetrating the Indian areas.

Shad: By and large, Malaysians still put a premium on bread-and-butter issues. I think now Malaysians have higher expectations of their elected representatives, so much so that many of these Yang Berhormat have become a one-man public complaints bureau. With information now more easily available, whether from traditional media or the Internet, elected representatives have to be on their toes more now than before.

Ghazali: In this by-election, we saw different campaigning styles. One campaigned on bread-and-butter issues, the other on corruption and transparency. For a seat like Ijok, voters still want development and progress. They want roads paved and they want streetlights put up. But it will not be the same for urban seats.

Syed Arabi: It depends on what one means by ideology. Pas has always maintained its stand for an Islamic state. DAP, on the other hand, sees it as a step towards full democracy since its "Malaysian Malaysia" slogan was not well received, especially among the Malays. DAP took the first step in Machap to promote full democracy as its stance. Meanwhile, the BN maintains its stand on commitment to development and its multi-racial representation.In Ijok, despite the slight Malay majority, BN still fielded an MIC candidate.

Q: What do the results say about the performance of individual state assemblymen and members of parliament? Does it matter more than it used to?
A: Shamsul: It matters more and more. If the elected representatives do not fulfil their promises, they will suffer. Even before Ijok, there were controversies about assemblymen in other areas whose performance was left wanting. Shortly after the 2004 general election, I wrote a commentary on how (BN president) Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi really needed to put in place the report card system for the Barisan Nasional's elected representatives. The BN really needs to identify its non-performers and do something about them before going for the next general election. The state assemblymen and MPs need to be rated; those who do well should be given a green card, the slackers issued yellow cards and those who should be thrown out for not performing need to be given red cards.

Sim: In this case, the machinery was more important than the candidate. People had complained that the late candidate didn't do a good job, yet the BN was voted back into power.
Shad: Surveys have shown that Malaysian elected representatives have fared well serving their constituents, compared with those from other nations. But these wakil rakyat do not do as well in their roles as lawmakers.
Ghazali: Yes, I think voters are more demanding now. They want to see their Yang Berhormat in action, whether during floods or fire. As a country progresses, expectations of the people also rise. I guess it's much harder to be a wakil rakyat now than in the past. Now, people even expect their wakil rakyat to attend their wedding receptions.

Syed Arabi: Ijok, Machap and Pengkalan Pasir showed that the turnover in state assemblymen and MPs will go on. The basis of the results still remains on the party rather than the individual. That is Malaysian politics.

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April 29, 2007 22:51 PM
Ijok A wake-up Call For BN Reps

By Zulkifli Salleh
KUALA LUMPUR, April 29 (Bernama) -- The Barisan Nasional (BN) may have won the Ijok by-election with an increased majority but the close fight should serve as a "wake-up call" for its elected representatives, denoting that the days of easy victories are over. The by-election, necessitated by the death of BN State Assemblyman Datuk K. Sivalingam on April 4, was the most intense compared to the four previous by-elections in the three years since the general election of 2004. The Elections Act states that a by-election has to be called should a seat become vacant within three years after a general election.

As such, Ijok is the last by-election for now and the focus turns to the general election which should be held anytime before April 2009. Political observers conclude that the BN's victory in Ijok reflects the people's acceptance of the leadership and the BN government's power-sharing formula and the cooperation of all races that had withstood the test of time. BN's K.Parthiban, 38, of the MIC defeated Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, 61, of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) with a majority of 1,850 votes, 201 more than the majority garnered in the last general election.

The Ijok state constituency has more than 12,000 voters, of whom 51 per cent are Malays, 28 per cent Indians and 21 per cent Chinese. Not wanting to take anything away from BN, the win at Ijok will go down in history as one of the most intense and that the party had to muster all its resources to defend the seat. One of the reasons cited was the poor service record of its past assemblyman, which was admitted by the BN.

Race was not a factor because, according to Umno leaders, the BN garnered 281 additional votes from Jaya Setia where it had lost by 50 votes in the last election. BN campaigner Datuk Ashari Ibrahim of Melaka Umno said the party machinery did not face much difficulty in countering national issues raised by the opposition leaders, including PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. The opposition tactic of personally attacking Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Najib Tun Razak and claiming that he had problems with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi were easily fended off by Najib and the BN machinery.

Abdullah's visit to Ijok also provided moral support and showed his solidarity with Najib, leaving the opposition dead in their tracks. At the end of the day, what the voters want is a representative whom they can depend on to solve problems concerning education, housing and basic amenities in their area. As such, for Parthiban, the former education officer referred to simply as "cikgu", his services in the months leading to the general election will have a bearing not only on his future but also that of the BN.


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