Foong Li Mei brings you another edition of REFSA Rojak – a weekly take on the goings-on in Malaysia by Research for Social Advancement (REFSA). REFSA Rojak – “trawl the newsflow, cut to the core and focus on the really pertinent. Full of flavour, lots of crunch, this is the concise snapshot to help Malaysians keep abreast of the issues of the day.”

Sources: Nurul Izzah Anwar - Nurul Izzah Anwar Facebook, Nick Xenophon - Wikimedia Commons, Azrul Azwar -, audience - Raymond/

“The real safeguard of democracy […] is education”, said Franklin D. Roosevelt.

BN should take a leaf out of Roosevelt’s book, as the former American president was victorious in four presidential elections. Instead, the ruling coalition seems convinced that it will win the 13th general election by perpetuating ignorance, suppressing discourse and destroying democracy.

“Silence is golden, but my eyes still see”

Australian senator Nick Xenophon, an active campaigner for free and fair elections, was unceremoniously deported the minute he landed in Malaysia last Saturday, earning Putrajaya the label ‘bully-boy’ in the Sydney Morning Herald. His offense?  ‘Humiliating Malaysia’, said the federal government, because he had criticised the government’s handling of the Bersih 3.0 rally.

Quite astoundingly, Transparency International Malaysia this week acceded to Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak signing its Election Integrity Pledge.  We are now convinced that pledge is not worth the paper it’s printed on. Najib’s record is peppered with cash handouts, which even his predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad admitted is “very close” to vote-buying.

Worse still, Najib’s administration has pulled out all the stops to eradicate competing voices. A Universiti Malaya forum was ordered cancelled just because PKR and PAS politicians would be participating. And Malaysians have not forgotten Bank Islam’s suspension of economist’s Azrul Azwar Ahmad Tajudin for expressing his professional opinion which suggested that BN might lose the next elections. How can elections be of integrity when competing voices are obliterated?

While voices of reason are denied a platform, the Prime Minister openly expressed support for the screening of controversial film Tanda Putera to a select audience of FELDA settlers. The unpopular film (its trailer on Youtube has 5,146 thumbs-down and only 646 thumbs-up to date) had been derided for its skewed portrayal of the May 13 racial riots.  In November last year, the Cabinet held back the release of this RM4.8 million production, funded by taxpayers’ ringgit, as it contained “scenes that may cause conflicts”. Why the sudden U-turn by the PM?.

Thankfully, there are discerning Malaysians who can see beyond this perception manipulation. Najib received not one, but three loud ‘Nos’ from the crowd at his Chinese New Year party in Penang. Clearly, they were there for Korean pop sensation Psy, not BN.

BN’s embarrassment was compounded when Psy did not appear on stage to toss yee sang on stage with Najib and his ministers, despite several invitations from the emcee. Kooky explanations surfaced as the BN dug a bigger hole in its attempts at damage control. A death threat frightening Psy was the wackiest.  Interestingly, this spooked superstar still lingered on for a 5-hour dinner in Penang with his good friends.

For BN, might is right

While an unarmed senator arriving by commercial airline is stopped and deported, the BN federal government has been very accommodating towards 150 foreign gunmen who have intruded into Sabah.

The Home Ministry insists that “there is always room for negotiation”, even after the armed Filipinos had declared that they would not budge from their goal to “reclaim” Sabah. While PKR urged the Home Ministry to explain the security lapse, we note our Home Minister does not exactly have a great track record in judging real threats; if you recall, he said that public fears of crime were merely a “perception”.

Juxtapose the kid gloves treatment of these foreign invaders with the ruthless gun-down of joy-riding teenagers. Recall the case of Aminulrasyid Amzah who was fired 21 shots by a cop last year?

And how did the armed insurgents go so far as to land in Sabah in the first place? The Prime Minister has to answer too – the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency comes under his purview. Don’t ask us why. We think our Cabinet mess of 68 ministers urgently needs streamlining.

A ‘sweeping’ victory for cronies

Perhaps Najib’s 1Malaysia administration does see its grip on Putrajaya slipping, which is why it is on a “Sapu Malaysia” spree, said Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua when highlighting “a never seen before urgency to award large contracts before the general election”. This, according to him, is why polls are delayed. BN needs to fatten up its cronies with lucrative contracts first, so that they may in turn fund its battle for votes.

Among the biggest winners was Kumpulan Europlus Sdn Bhd, which was given a 60-year concession for the RM 5.2 billion West Coast Expressway, a soft loan worth RM2.24 billion, and land acquisition worth RM980 million paid with public funds. Ahmad Zaki Resources Berhad (AZRB) was awarded the RM1.55 billion East Klang Valley Expressway concession, in addition to RM635 million in soft loans. Pua also pointed out that these were only some of the deals that were finalised in the past 12 months.

Nothing wrong in vote-buying?

Our national coffers are being rapidly depleted because of vote-buying. But the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) says giving money for votes is not an offence. Apparently, our laws only deal with graft involving individuals, not political parties. The MACC further says that BN’s handouts are not a form of bribery, as they benefit the people.

Kim Quek, author of the banned book The March to Putrajaya, has rubbished MACC’s assertions with a point-by-point rebuttal. This is not the first time that MACC has used a legal technicality to wriggle its way out of taking the influential and powerful to task. What does it take for the MACC to uphold the law and live up to its name as an anti-corruption agency? Perhaps a change in government?

Which might not be a bad idea, when former prime minister Dr Mahathir says he was just a ‘schoolboy’. If leaders of ‘schoolboy’ quality are the best the BN can offer to run our country, then it is time to put our votes elsewhere.

Why ‘Rojak’? Disparate flavours and textures come together in a harmonious mix to make this delicious but underrated concoction. Our Rojak weekly is much like this mix, making sense of the noise of daily newsflow and politicking.

It is also our ultimate dream that our multi-ethnic melange of communities can be made richer within the unique ‘sauce’ that is Malaysia. Let’s take pride in the ‘rojakness’ of our nation!

Click here for previous issues of REFSA Rojak.

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REFSA is an independent, not-for-profit research institute providing relevant and reliable information on social, economic and political issues affecting Malaysians with the aim of promoting open and constructive...