Karim Raslan: It’s About Listening to the People

It is about listening to the people The  Star 7 June 2011


The PAP failed to anticipate the extent of popular frustration in Singapore, where even a booming economy and near-full employment were not enough to satisfy the voters.

OVER the past six months, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s personal charm, the shrewd allocation of government resources and a concerted media campaign have resulted in a noteworthy boost to Barisan Nasional’s — as well as Umno’s — popularity.

However, three factors have intervened suddenly to alter the equation:

One, PAS’ rejection of the “Malay Unity” strategy; two, galloping inflation; and three, the wave of anti-incumbency that swept Singapore recently.

The three factors will make preparations for the upcoming general election all the more complex.

Furthermore, they reinforced other negative trends, most notably the growing unease of Christian and non-Malay voters as witnessed in last month’s Sarawak state polls — impacting the BN’s famous “Fixed Deposit”.

Indeed, Umno’s current, hard-headed, go-it-alone stance is undermining the party’s traditional strengths in “Middle Malaysia”.

The party of Merdeka has been able to hold power for over 50 years because of a combination of its sound macro-economic policies as well as its moderation and wisdom in managing racial and religious sensitivities.

However, the joint legacies of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Hussein Onn are fast being lost.

Anyhow, Saturday’s muktamar saw PAS’ professionals (also dubbed the Erdogans) regaining control of the party.

With the pro-Umno leader Nasharuddin Mat Isa soundly ejected from the party’s deputy presidency, the PAS rank-and-file essentially rejected the idea — mooted by Umno hard-liners and encouraged by Nasharuddin — of a grand Malay alliance.

The surprisingly strong showing by the professionals and Ustaz Hadi Awang’s stinging criticisms of Umno revealed that PAS is determined to stick with Pakatan Rakyat.

Indeed, the unending attacks on the opposition have only served to strengthen Pakatan’s resolve.

Separately, while Anwar Ibrahim remains a seminal and transformational opposition figure, the coalition will survive without him.

In fact, it is arguable that Pakatan will do much better when his erratic and divisive presence is removed.

Economics is also becoming in-creasingly unpredictable.

Oil price volatility has sparked off a dramatic bout of inflation and Malaysia, as a major trading nation, is no exception.

As of April 2011, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) stood at 3.2% year-on-year but food inflation shot up faster at 4.9% in the corresponding period.

Anecdotal evidence from a doa selamat at my office last week would seem to suggest that rising prices of sugar, chillies and rice are causing real pain for the man-in-the-street.

Chicken rice at RM4.50 a serving is no joke when you have a family of five to feed.

The rise in the electricity tariff, while unavoidable (so long as IPP contracts remain untouched and unreviewed), will certainly impact all Malaysians negatively.

The third issue is the anti-incumbency sentiment sweeping the globe. Of course, this is interconnected with economic issues.

In this respect, BN politicians need only look across the causeway to technocratic Singapore, where the normally astute PAP failed to anticipate the extent of popular frustration.

Clearly, a booming economy and near-full employment were not enough to satisfy the voters.

Ordinary Singaporeans were fed up with being lectured at by smug, overpaid and out-of-touch ministers peddling policies that rode rough-shod over their needs.

One only has to join Singaporean commuters on a crowded MRT carriage to get a sense of how hard they work just to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Understandably, the PAP experienced its worst electoral results ever (their popular vote plunged to only 60%).

Former minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s intemperate comments and the dramatic public backlash reveal the extent to which Singaporeans are tired of being told what to do.

Singapore — much like Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia — has witnessed a revolution in terms of information as social media has flattened and democratised the flow of news and analysis.

The polls have also seen a shift in how Singaporeans view the PAP. In the past the party was feared.

The current view hovers between contempt and mere tolerance.

Moreover, the professionalism and discipline of the Workers’ Party was a pleasant surprise.

This was matched by the extraordinary academic fire-power of their star candidate, international lawyer Chen Show Mao, who has more degrees than the ever-erudite George Yeo!

Furthermore, their campaign slogan, “Vote Workers’ Party Towards a First World Parliament”, was a triumph of low-key subversion — with its suggestion of Singapore’s stunted political growth.

Finally, I can still remember the charming Singaporean Immigration lady officer last week stamping my passport who, when asked about the elections, said: “Well, now they have to listen to us, the people.”

Barisan Nasional and Umno strategists would do well to study Singapore.

At this stage it’s all about listening – listening to the people. (Excerpt from the Star, 7 June 2011).


One Response “Karim Raslan: It’s About Listening to the People” →
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