[The Malaysian Insider] Reforms at stake in KT vote

13 01 2009

KUALA TERENEGGANU, Jan 13 — Don’t buy the clichéd lines about the showdown in Kuala Terengganu on Saturday being just another electoral contest. It is not.

The outcome of the by-election will have an impact beyond bragging rights for Umno/Barisan and Pas/Pakatan Rakyat.

It will decide whether change and reform will have a chance to survive and breathe in Malaysia or will it merely become another stillborn venture, aborted by establishment powers who favour the status quo.

A victory for Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh will almost certainly embolden the supporters of no change.

They will argue that March 8 was an aberration; a protest vote against the follies and weak leadership of one man, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi; and not a repudiation of the excesses of Umno or of the current system.

They will support a tweaking of the system, some cosmetic surgery here and there but nothing substantial.

Why change a system that ain’t broke and is still supported by many Malaysians?

Why alter the power-sharing structure of the Barisan Nasional when it can still deliver victory even with a somewhat compromised candidate in an inhospitable environment?

Why bother clamping down on chauvinism and the arrogance of Umno if another mandate is safely in the bag?

Why even consider reforming the country’s institutions if victory can still be achieved without it?

See, the problem with all this talk about reform and change since Election 2008 is that not many people in Umno actually buy into it.

Sure, in the early days after March 8 when the air was pregnant with remorse, Abdullah, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and other party leaders spoke the language of change.

To be fair some of them have continued to articulate this point. But always within the perimeters set and policed by Umno.

So any move to alter or even abolish the Foreign Investment Committee (FIC) must take into account the reaction of the conservative spine in Umno. For the moment, only tweaking the FIC is allowed.

Any move to reform the judiciary, the police or the anti-corruption agency must be calibrated according to what would be acceptable to the party faithful.

That is why the party was willing to accept only a watered down version of the Judicial Appointments Commission.

Victory for Wan Ahmad Farid will give the champions of status quo in Umno an even louder voice. Loud enough to drown out the clamour for change from many Malaysians.

They will interpret the victory as a sign that the rakyat are once again with Umno/BN and all the coalition needs to do between now and the next general elections is a bit of tweaking.

So really the by-election in Kuala Terengganu is about keeping the reform agenda alive.

A victory for Pakatan Rakyat will force Umno and BN to consider and acknowledge this simple fact: that the Malaysian public voted for change on March 8 and will not accept anything less.

Article taken from The Malaysian Insider


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