Malaysia's opposition says GE13 will be a very tight race | Asia Pacific

Malaysia's opposition says GE13 will be a very tight race

Malaysia's opposition says GE13 will be a very tight race

Updated 9 October 2012, 10:23 AEST

Malaysia's Election Commission will implement most of the recommendations of a Parliamentary Committee on electoral reforms.

The Prime Minister's office said out of 32 recommendations, only six could not be implemented due to existing laws or the high costs involved.

Reforms for the 13th general election, expected to be held early next year, include the use of indelible ink, a review of the electoral roll and the improvement of polling stations to improve voting privacy.

For the Malaysian opposition alliance, the changes do not go far enough.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Rafizi Ramli, Strategic Director, Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Malaysia; Rafizi Ramli is also the head of the ngo, NOW - National Oversight and Whistleblowers' Centre

RAFIZI: Some progress is made, but it's not going to persuade Malaysians that we have reformed enough of our electoral process, because the majority of the 32 recommendations as far as I'm concerned, much of it is minor amendments and improvements to the process. Also bear in mind that the report by the Parliamentary Select Committee did not include the opinions of the three members of the Opposition in the Committee. It (the opposition) was not consulted, it was not included and they refused to debate the Minority Report, when the bulk of the demands of Bersih (the movement for Free and Fair Elections) and the Opposition coalition were contained in that Minority Report. That includes a complete cleaning up of the electoral rolls. Therefore, the whole focus of the 32 recommendations is more of minor, or form over substance... for example, how far the booths could be from the election centre.

At the end of the day, I think the number one concern about the electoral process is the electoral roll itself. People of different citizenship previously, have been given citizenship and they're included in the electoral roll. The number one demand has always been to remove them from the roll.

LAM: You are the key policy strategist for Parti Keadilan, which of course is a key component in the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition. What do you think are some of the key policies that the Pakatan is pushing, ahead of GE 13. What do you think ails Malaysia, How do you propose to put it right, if you get into office?

RAFIZI: I think the concerns of the public, which are shared by Pakatan, is how the economy is going and how the growth or wealth created by the economy is distributed within the society. So it's a two-pronged problem. On the one hand, the economy has been lagging. We were growing between four to five per cent, but potentially, a country of Malaysia's wealth and at the stage we are now, we should be looking at about six to six-point-five per cent growth. So there's a two per cent lag.

And when you compare to Indonesia and other competitors, obviously, there's something structurally in our economy that drags its growth. And that has a big impact on the society because wages have not increased for the last ten years, and the wage increase lags behind inflation so people actually get poorer by the day.

If you look at the fiscal part of it, Malaysian government has been relying on petro-dollars, that for the last six or seven years, fifty per cent of its revenue comes from one single company, which is the National Petroleum Corporation.

LAM: That's Petronas?

RAFIZI: That's Petronas. Of course, this is not sustainable. And at the rate that the national budget balloons every year - it's increasing at the rate of I think, between six to ten per cent every year, everyone knows it's not going to be sustainable. And what's worse, the economic hardship on the ground, felt by the people, is beyond tolerable. I think many people are falling into poverty line, year after year. So our policy is aimed at reducing the cost of living so that they (the people) have more disposable income in their pocket and alot of expenses, core expenses in Malaysia is distorted because companies which are given monopolies to provide these services actually hike up the price, beyond what the market could have produced.

LAM: It's been often said that even the Bumiputras have not benefitted from successive plans, five year plans and pro-Bumiputra policies. How do you account for UMNO still retaining its rural support base?

RAFIZI: This is the sad thing about this whole economic hardship that I speak of. When people in rural areas are buried in economic hardship, wages do not increase and so on, 500 ringgit handouts actually mean alot to them. And this is a way why UMNO continues to become a proponent of Malay rights and so on - at the expense of the national competitiveness. That's the way for them (UMNO) to enslave some sections of the electorate. You have created a large ...

LAM: But surely even a poor person knows that 500 ringgit won't go very far?

RAFIZI: And that's why, I think for the past one year, that policy that UMNO has been doing, has not been effective in bringing electoral support for them. While they may be able to retain some bits or pockets of support in rural areas, by and large, the society knows by now that they want the solution to the root cause of the economic problems - not handouts just so that they can be grateful to the ruling government.

People are more interested in what policies can re-do the structure of the economy, so that you permanently resolve this problem and not just every now and then get five hundred or six hundred welfare aid from government, which after one month, they'll be back to square one.

LAM: The next general elections - there've been much speculation of when they might be held. And one reading is that the government has been postponing because it is running scared. What's your reading of the situation - how do you think the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat might fare in the coming elections, whenever they're held?

RAFIZI: I think it's going to be a close one - by a close one, I think that either side - the eventual winner, is only to get between five to ten seats majority, and it can be either way now. It can be Barisan may retain it with five to ten majority, or we may win. So the next three or four months, I don't think it's going to be next month, I think it's going to be after the New Year, most probably from February to March - it's going to be very crucial, because this is that final lap that may swing the five to ten seats.

And I think Barisan Nasional (the ruling National Front coalition) has been on the defensive for a while, after a series of scandals, but also because of the failure to respond to the policy proposals made by (the opposition coalition) Pakatan, because we have been giving specific policy proposals in education, on car policies and a few others. i think the narrative that BN has been repeating is getting very trite and does not really excite the public.

So polls are showing Barisan Nasional retreating, so that's why the last budget perhaps might be the saviour for BN, if it happens like that, because it contains alot more goodies than the previous Budget. So if BN were to win, it's purely because of amounts of billions of money that will be thrown in the next few months.

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