Monday, June 16, 2008

A new Malaysia unfolds, Part 1

A new Malaysia unfolds, Part 1
This is a five-part post-election Timeline, a thread weaving through and linking the political excitement and occasional drama Malaysia has experienced, unlike the aftermath of any other general election before this. We begin with the first 20 days.
Compiled by Shannon Teoh and Yip Ai Tsin

Day 0:

Ignoring BN rhetoric that “a vote for DAP is a vote for PAS” and the advice of “don't cut off your nose to spite your face”, Malaysians vote in an unprecedented 82 Opposition MPs and deny BN five state governments. Outgoing Penang Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, Datuk M. Kayveas, Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil and Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu are among the startling casualties on the way to the PKR-DAP-PAS coalition's capture of Penang, Kedah, Perak and Selangor and retention of Kelantan.

Day 1:

It didn't take long for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to use the results to further his assault on Pak Lah, did it? Claiming that Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had taken full credit for BN's landslide victory in 2004, Dr M says that Pak Lah should now take full responsibility for its catastrophic performance at the polls and step down as the coalition's chief.

The loose PKR-DAP-PAS coalition begins establishing its state governments as Azizan Abdul Razak is sworn in as Kedah MB.

Day 2:

But of course, Abdullah still goes ahead to be sworn in as prime minister. "Why should I step down?" he says defiantly. "Our party has won. I do not fear anyone except Allah. I will stay on. I will not give up.” Early days yet, Pak Lah.

Controversial Selangor assemblyman Zakaria Deros was the owner of this satay outlet, found to be operating illegally and eventually demolished.

Day 3:

Lim Guan Eng steps up as chief minister of Penang and instantly courts controversy by announcing that his administration would discard unhealthy elements in the New Economic Policy while Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat is also appointed to serve his fifth term as MB of Kelantan.

In what can only be called an uncanny coincidence, former Port Klang assemblyman Datuk Zakaria Deros of the "Istana Zakaria" fame dies of a heart attack. The Umno man's passing coming so quickly after BN lost control of the Selangor government predictably breeds rumours of foulplay.

Day 4:

The first signs of the "looseness" of the new coalition start to show as DAP looks set to boycott the swearing-in of state PAS liaison secretary Nizar Jamaluddin as menteri besar. DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, states that the party is prepared to accept a DAP or PKR MB but protests the appointment of a representative from the smallest member of the coalition in the Perak state assembly. Pas secretary-general Datuk Kamaruddin Jaafar expresses his surprise: “All three state leaders agreed that they would abide by the Regent's decision. So we are surprised by the announcement. As for the swearing in tomorrow, it is still on as far as we know." The issue is also a constitutional one as it states that the MB must be a Malay Muslim although the sultan has the prerogative to waive this requirement should His Majesty see fit to do so.

Meanwhile, Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir sends a letter to Pak Lah echoing his father's sentiments. Copies are also sent to Umno deputy and vice-presidents Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam respectively.

Day 5:

The DAP-led Penang government strikes back and makes positive headlines for appointing two deputy CMs including history-making Dr P. Ramasamy, who becomes the first Malaysian Indian deputy chief minister of Penang.

However, trouble continues to brew in Perak as the palace decides to postpone the swearing-in of the MB due to the lack of consensus within the coalition. A faint glimmer of hope appears for BN as an option being mooted is for it to form an interim minority government until the sultan calls for fresh elections.

Rumblings also appear in MCA as veteran Datuk Chua Jui Meng calls for party president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting to step down after the party won just 15 parliamentary seats out of 40, as compared to 31 in 2004.

Selangor's slow but steady progress towards a new state government bears fruit as Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim is sworn in as MB.

Day 6:

A consensus is finally reached in Perak which will see Nizar Jamaluddin of PAS becoming MB while Ngeh Koo Ham of DAP will be appointed as his first deputy while the second deputy will come from PKR. The state executive councillor seats will see six allocated to DAP, three to PKR and one to Pas.

The heat moves up north instead, where protests against Lim's decision to do away with the NEP are held while over in Perlis, an impasse over the appointment of MB occurs as Pak Lah's choice of Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim to continue his job is met with the Raja of Perlis' insistence on appointing Datuk Dr Md Isa Sabu.

Day 7:

Terengganu is the latest state to see its royalty come to the fore as it calls, then cancels a meeting with BN state assemblymen on the appointment of a new MB. Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, Pak Lah's MB elect is not invited to the meeting but 22 of the 24 BN assemblymen meet the Umno chief himself to voice their support for Idris.

Calls for Ong to step down as MCA chief increase as former party vice-president Datuk Yap Pian Hon blames “the dictatorial and authoritarian style of the president in selecting candidates” for the elections setback.

Day 8:

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng makes the first open admission that the party would back the choice of PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister should the Opposition come into power at federal level.

Anwar himself begins to posture as Opposition leader as an interview with Singapore’s only Malay-language newspaper, Berita Harian, finds him revealing that the PKR-DAP-PAS coalition will formalise its alliance in a few days and will seek to replace the NEP with a landmark Malaysian Economic Agenda (MEA), a colour-blind initiative aimed at lifting the fortunes of all Malaysians.

On the other side of the fence, Perak Gerakan proposes that BN become a single party and accept direct membership regardless of race after observing that Malaysians did not vote based on racial lines in the March 8 polls. MCA too address fears of waning support as its secretary-general Datuk Ong Ka Chuan cautioned its members against acting hastily and crossing over to the opposition.

Day 9:

Both Perak and Perlis MBs are finally sworn in. In both cases, the royals' had the final say as Nizar and Isa became chief executives of Perak and Perlis respectively.

Finally in power, Khalid announces his first big policy to grant residents 20 cubic metres of water per month free beginning April. But whatever Selangor can do, Kedah can do too, proves new MB Azizan as he announces a reduction of up to 30% of quit rent and free tickets to watch the state football team play in the Super League.

Abdullah Badawi seems keen to reform government

Day 10:

Pak Lah announces a new and leaner Cabinet without parliamentary secretaries, ensuring that ministers must now commit more time to answering questions in parliament themselves. In changing up half the Cabinet posts, it appears that the PM is keen to reform his government but some observers comment that this is the lineup he should've announced in 2004.

Surprises include the dropping of Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz, the promotion of Muhyiddin from Agriculture and Agro-based Industry to International Trade and Industry and the appointment of Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad and Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib. Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen also becomes the first Chinese woman to be appointed to the Cabinet.

A minor talking point is Pak Lah not appointing his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin who quickly tells the press that he has “no aspiration to be the prime minister. I also have no aspiration to be a member of the administration.”

Despite his inclusion of more East Malaysians in his Cabinet, Datuk Anifah Aman's declining his appointment as deputy transport minister spells trouble for Pak Lah as he seeks to retain the loyalty of Sabahan MPs (Sabahan ministers Datuk Mohd Shafie Apdal and Tan Sri Bernard Dompok admit to the press that they had expected more). Datuk Seri Tengku Azlan Abu Bakar also declines his appointment as deputy foreign minister.

Even more worrying is the fact that Umno Youth decides not to take any action against Mukhriz for his letter to Pak Lah asking him to step down.

Day 11:

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah openly declares his "willingness" to restore Umno if he receives the support of the party. This would be Ku Li's (the country's longest-serving MP) second tilt at wresting the top seat after narrowly losing out to Dr M in the 1980s.

The Opposition meanwhile, agrees on PKR president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as the parliamentary Opposition leader until Anwar enters Parliament making her the first ever female Opposition leader.

The PKR-led Selangor government faces its first hitch as the proposed state exco list draws the ire of certain parties for having more non-Malays in it. No such problems for the well-established Kelantan government though, which even finds itself making history by appointing Kijang assemblywoman Wan Ubaidah Omar into the exco. She becomes the first ever female exco member in Kelantan.

The aftermath of Pak Lah's Cabinet announcement continues as Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, who was excluded from the new Cabinet, resigns from his Umno and BN secretary-general posts. “I feel I cannot function effectively. Firstly, I'm no longer in the Cabinet, rendering me unable to carry out my duties effectively... I cannot work," he says.

Former Selangor MB Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo also resigns as state BN and Umno chief, saying he is taking full responsibility for the coalition's defeat. This paves way for Muhammad Taib, who has already begun sniping at Khalid's administration, to succeed him.

Day 12:

Lim Guan Eng challenges the PM to lodge a police report if he has evidence that Opposition parties were "buying" BN MPs to cross over as rumours of the Opposition attempting to tempt over disgruntled East Malaysian MPs begin to spread. BN, however, prefers to send an "intelligence team" across the South China Sea to investigate the claims.

In the meantime Ku Li's move to unseat Pak Lah gathers some steam as he announces that the Gua Musang Umno division will hold a special meeting on April 4 to discuss BN's poor showing in the elections.

Day 13:

Dr M, however, claims that his old adversary is unlikely to succeed as he cannot foresee the necessary 60 divisions supporting the Kelantan prince. Instead he moots his own solution to Umno's woes: “I think we should amend the Umno constitution so that the president can be advised by a presidential council.”

Opposition leaders on the other hand, continue to deny buying out BN MPs. "Enticing other parties to join us is neither our practice nor culture," Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang says.

Anwar however, hints at a more open stance, maintaining that he received calls from BN MPs who wanted to cross over. However, he insists that money would not be part of the equation and such MPs “must adhere to our policies and struggle to see changes in the country if they intend to join us”, adding that bribing of candidates is "the tradition of Umno and BN".

Day 14:

Terengganu's royalty attempts to force the issues by announcing its choice of Datuk Ahmad Said as MB as BN assemblymen look set to protest the appointment by boycotting the next day's swearing in. In a joint declaration, the 22 assemblymen pledge to stay away from the palace and some even state that they are willing to vacate their seats and force a by-election if Idris is not reappointed. BN and Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor even threatens Ahmad with a possible sacking.

With pressure mounting from Ku Li and Mahathir, Najib seems confident that the status quo will be retained. He pledges his allegiance to Pak Lah and guarantees his support for the embattled PM should he be challenged in upcoming party elections and maintains that rumours of BN MPs crossing over are stories being spread by the Opposition.

This despite claims by component party Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu that one of their new MPs had been offered a Cabinet position by the Opposition and a statement by Tengku Adnan that the "intelligence team" had uncovered attempts to seek out crossover candidates.

Others are taking the threat more seriously. Newly-appointed Minister in the Prime Minister's Department and de facto Law Minister, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, proposes that party-hopping be outlawed. Curiously, Kelantan MB Nik Aziz agrees.

Day 15:

Zaid continues to hog the headlines as the NST reports that his first priority as de facto law minister is to propose that the government apologise to former Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and the judges sacked in 1988.

In Terengganu, the MB impasse continues. At 7.25am, Ahmad arrives at Istana Tetamu to receive his letter of appointment. At 7.55am, 22 other BN state assemblymen arrive to deliver their petition to have Idris installed as MB. Despite the unanimous – the only state assemblyman not part of the protest is Idris himself – opposition to his appointment, Ahmad claims that he has support from the majority of Umno members.

MIC joins the list of BN component parties on shaky ground as 50 MIC branch chairmen in Selangor point the blame at president Samy Vellu for the party's dismal performance in the general election.

Day 16:

The Selangor government finally beds down as its 10-member exco is sworn in. The council includes four women and 29-year-old Ean Yong Hian Wah, who is one of five non-Malays.

Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim weighs in on the Terengganu situation, saying that if Ahmad tries to convene a state assembly meeting, the 22 assemblymen will table a vote of no-confidence. Then, he will fall like a rotten nangka.

Day 17:

Idris finally relents and says he is willing to accept a decision on the Terengganu MB post and ask the sultan for forgiveness.

But there is a change of heart of the anti-hopping law by PAS as president Hadi says claims that the proposal is meant to benefit Umno and not based on democratic principles. He states that PAS came up with the same idea in the 60s but it was rejected then because “Umno was trying to buy elected representatives in Terengganu, Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak”.

Meanwhile, Perak Menteri Besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin says that the DAP-PKR-PAS coalition government should be given 100 days to prove its ability to govern the state. Sounds about right.

Pak Lah also gives the dreaded assurance that fuel and gas prices will remain unchanged.

Day 18:

MCA announce that party polls will begin on June 15 and culminate in national level elections on Oct 18. On the back of this, Umno looks set to delay polls, to avoid “havoc and disaster”.

Abdullah's Cabinet faces another setback as another Sabahan, Datuk Abdul Ghapur Salleh, resigns as deputy natural resources and environment minister.

Day 19:

The Umno supreme council finally endorses Ahmad as Terengganu MB, ending the tussle between the palace and the party. This sees Abdullah's administration ceding to the wishes of both the Perlis and Terengganu royal houses on the appointment of MBs.

The party also announced party polls to begin on July 17 which will culminate in central elections from Dec 16 to 20. "I will face the challenge. I will not run away," claims a defiant Pak Lah.

Day 20:

After much back and forth between the federal government and the Selangor state government, the latter reiterates that it will provide 20 cubic metres of water for free but only beginning June 1 after studying the implementation of the policy.

It appears that Zaid's proposal for the government to apologise to the sacked judges of '88 did not go down well in the Cabinet. After the day's Cabinet meeting, Zaid admits that it "has yet to be considered" and adds that "we have to wait".

(Malaysian Insider)

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