Many Malaysians may be unaware of the considerable research work by social scientists – both local and foreign – that have unequivocally concluded that the country’s record on free and fair elections has been abysmal. Analysis of this remarkable record of trickery, manipulation and gerrymandering by first the Alliance, followed by Barisan Nasional (BN), goes back for more than 50 years – in fact soon after the country received its independence.
Dishonest election conduct takes the following main forms:
i. the manipulation of electoral boundaries or gerrymandering
ii. the vast disparity of voter numbers among the constituencies
iii. the contamination of electoral rolls with phantom voters and other fraud
iv. the grossly unfair use of the governmental machinery and resources in support of ruling party candidates
v. impersonation, multiple voting, ballot stuffing and other frauds in polling, counting and tabulation
vi. the rigid and opaque postal voting system
vii. the short campaigning period and selective restriction on campaign freedom
viii. the biased and distorted official media coverage
ix. the inadequate and outdated regulations on election expenses and funding
x. the ineffectiveness of or limitation in judicial remedy
Adding to the above is the impotency of the Electoral Commission. Lately, there has been an upsurge of political hooliganism which is increasingly coming from high levels and aimed at suppressing any expression of concern over the fair conduct of elections. Thus, it is not surprising that the leaders of the ruling party are confident BN will remain in power – by hook or by crook – for the next 50 years.
Malaysians interested in how the ruling parties have manipulated the electoral process to their advantage are spoilt for choice in the matter of reading material. Reference to the work of any of the following scholars will provide facts and figures on the truth behind the facade of ‘democratic’ elections in the country. Among them are: Sothi Rachagan, Mavis Puthucheary, Noraini Othman, Lim Hong Hai, Wong Chin Huat, Harold Crouch, James Jesudason, John Funston, Rainer Heufers, Bridget Welsh, Ong Kian Meng, Mustafa K. Anuar, James Chin, William Case, Francis Loh Kok Wah, Andrew Aeria, Dan Slater, Simon Barraclough, Gordon P. Means and Diane Mauzy.
A selection of excerpts from some recent published work is provided in the annex (see below).
Unfortunately such accounts have been deliberately obliterated from national media coverage whilst the antics of Ibrahim Ali as well as diversionary issues are prominently broadcast and splashed in the papers. The commentaries of media sycophants focusing on the purported economic losses likely from traffic disruption (aren’t these columnists capable of finding better reasons to explain why the planned march should not take place!) are merely to hoodwink Malaysians whereas the more belligerent editorials resort to intimidation to discourage Bersih supporters marching.
Reading the independent and scholarly work on Malaysian elections should lead most in the country to conclude that the Bersih march has good reason to go ahead, if only to show to the rest of the world that BN’s claim of democratic elections has been one of the oldest – if not the oldest – lie in Malaysian politics.
Excerpts from recent academic writing on elections
“…Thus, the electoral system contained built-in advantages for the Malay community. There was no realistic possibility of a non-bumiputra party’s or coalition’s “going it alone” and winning an election. The only way for Chinese and Indian politicians to participate in government was by allying themselves with Malays, inevitably as junior partners. In practice, only two types of government could emerge from elections: an all-Malay government or a Malay dominated coalition…”
Crouch, Harold (1996)
Government and Society in Malaysia.
St Leonards, New South Wales: Allen and Unwin Australia
“…Malaysia has institutionalised a semi-democratic political system. It does engage in elections, which provide for free choices, and the opposition has won seats. Yet the contest is not a fair one, given state dominance of the media, bias in government funding toward the incumbent BN, continuing electoral irregularities, and constituencies that are constructed to favour BN…”
Welsh, Bridget (2007)
‘Malaysia at 50: Midlife Crisis Ahead?’
Current History pp.106, 699
“…We have demonstrated how the Barisan Nasional has managed to perpetuate its rule through various forms of electoral manipulation and administrative repressions. On one hand, its initial electoral strengths have been entrenched through control of franchise, alternation of international and administrative boundaries, malapportionment and gerrymandering of electoral constituencies, controlled electoral campaigns and polling irregularities. On the other hand, political opposition is disempowered with infringement of civil and political liberties, extensive patronage networks and abuse of federal apparatus to suppress intergovernmental competition. The opposition state governments are discriminated against and in some cases overthrown through direct federal intervention, while the local elections which the ruling coalition had largely failed to win were outright terminated since 1965…”
Wong, Chin-Huat, Chin, James and Othman, Norani (2010)
‘Malaysia – towards a topology of an electoral one-party state’,
Democratization, 17: 5, 920- 949
“…In Malaysia, elections are not fair since basic political rights and civil liberties are restricted. Limitations to press freedom and to the right to associate and assemble, malapportionment, gerrymandering, and the financial advantages of the ruling parties are testimony to the systematic violation of fairness principles…”
Ufen, Andreas (2009)
‘The transformation of political party opposition in Malaysia and its implications for the electoral authoritarian regime’,
Democratization, 16:3, 604-627
“..On average in eleven general elections in Malaysia, the opposition wins 45 percent of the votes, but due to the limits on the opposition within the electoral system, through gerrymandering, malapportionment and the impact of a first-past-the post system, and constraints on political organization for the opposition, holds less than 15 percent of the seats in parliament. In the 2004 election the BN won 63.4 percent of the popular vote, but won 91 percent of the overall seats…”
Welsh, Bridget, Suffian, Ibrahim & Aeria, Andrew (2007)
‘Malaysia country report.’ Asian Barometer
“…All mainstream media are directly controlled by either the government, such as Radio and Television Malaysia (RTM), or by companies that have a close link with the BN’s top leadership, such as Utusan Malaysia, New Straits Times, TV3, and Ntv7. Their relationships with leadership make them favourable to the ruling BN…”
Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani (2009)
‘The Emergence of new politics in Malaysia
– from consociational to deliberative democracy.’
Taiwan Journal of Democracy, Vol. 5, No. 2: 97-125
“The Malaysian electoral system . . . [has been] so heavily loaded in favour of the government that it is hard to imagine that [it] . . . could be defeated in an election."
Crouch, Harold (1996)
Malaysian Government: Authoritarian Repression and Democratic Responsiveness.
Ithaca: Cornell University Press
“…Further, these iterative electoral victories have extended some legitimating cover for the government's often sly legislation, habitual amendments to the constitution, manipulation of standing orders and question time, and elevation of loyalists to the largely ceremonial upper house. In sum, while the government can claim that Malaysia holds the longest unbroken record of elections in the region, it has not been established competitively. As Tun Razak noted in 1971: "So long as the form is preserved, the substance can be changed to suit conditions of a particular country…"
Case, William (1996)
‘Can the "Halfway House’ stand?
Semi-democracy and elite theory in three Southeast Asian countries’. Comparative Politics, Vol. 28, No.4, pp.437-464
“…A further package of factors working in Umno’s favour included an electoral redistribution, changes to electoral laws, and a ‘cleansing’ of the electoral roll. An electoral redistribution carried out by the Election Commission (EC) added 26 seats to parliament, most in areas favourable to Umno in the south (Johor from 20 to 26, Selangor 17 to 22), and Sabah (20 to 25). The northern states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah had no additions. Furthermore, several seats in Kedah won by PAS in 1999 were reorganised with a higher proportion of non-Malay voters, making a repeat PAS victory unlikely.
“…Traditionally, not issues but the ‘three Ms’ – media, money and machinery – are the key determinants of Malaysian elections. (It used to be the ‘four Ms’, before Mahathir retired.) The BN controls all television and radio stations, and all major newspapers, either through its control of government or party ownership. It uses this control to sell the virtues of the BN, and denigrate the opposition. An independent voice does exist in the form of the online newspaper Malaysiakini. Some opposition parties and NGOs also have their own publications on the internet and/or in hard copy. But such publications cannot reach a large audience.
“…The most controversial aspect of the 2004 election campaign was its management by the EC. The elections were the most disorganised and contested ever. In some cases this may simply have reflected incompetence, but EC activities frequently provided direct benefits to the BN, as they had in the revisions of electoral boundaries and membership of the electoral roll.
In the face of very broad concern over EC activities its chairman proposed an independent inquiry into EC conduct. Prime Minister Abdullah quickly rejected this, telling the EC to conduct its own internal inquiry…”
Funston, J. (2006)
‘The Malay Electorate in 2004: Reversing the 1999 Result?’,
in Saw Swee-Hock and K. Kesavapany (ed.),
Malaysia: Recent Trends and Challenges,
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore, p. 313