Sleaze, betrayals, threats mar politics

Baradan Kuppusamy

Sex scandals, political betrayals, threats and anger at the once revered monarchy — suddenly

politics in Malaysia — is taking an ominous turn. The gloom comes in the midst of the departure of the fatherly Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi who, although laidback and unable to implement promised reforms, was nevertheless a stickler for the basic rules of personal decency.

Abdullah was pushed out of power following the Mar. 8, 2008 poll which saw the federally-ruling, Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition lose five state governments and the two-thirds majority in parliament it had enjoyed since independence. There was general jubilation and euphoria with the rise of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition which formed governments in the five states and had a large block in parliament to check excesses and misuse of power.

With his impending departure on Mar. 31 and his deputy Najib Razak, a protégé of the former autocrat Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, taking over, the political climate has changed considerably with restlessness gripping the country amidst deepening economic gloom,closure of manufacturing plants and loss of jobs. State repression is rising, lawyers and human rights activists said, and in tandem with rising public unrest the country.

Abdullah lost effective power after he surrendered without a fight in the contest for the post of president of the UMNO party, the ruling power behind the Barisan coalition, in December 2008. Since then, effective power is wielded by Najib who is handicapped by allegations that he knew and is connected with the gruesome death of a Mongolian translator who was shot and her body blown up. Najib has denied the allegations, but a court found two police officers of his security detail guilty of murdering Altantuya Shaariibuu.

Najib, son of revered former prime minister Tun Abdul Razak, has now given a demonstration

of his focused and determined approach by toppling the Pakatan Rakyat-ruled Perak state government in central Malaysia. In a few deft moves in early February, he engineered the defection of four Pakatan-elected representatives to the centrally-ruling coalition to bring down the state government.

Malaysia’s once revered monarchy has come under severe criticism by the general public who see complicity in a plot by Najib to hijack the public mandate. For the first time, Malaysia witnessed Malay protestors stoning royal entourages, shouting abusive slogans and leaving behind angry and abusive comments on the Internet. The fall of Perak’s Pakatan government has sparked a huge constitutional crisis with two chief ministers battling it out in court and on the streets — as to who is the rightful head of government.

Already, sex and corruption scandals have hit the Chief Minister of Selangor state Khalid Ibrahim and another Selangor state minister Elizabeth Wong, prominent human rights activist before she entered politics to become minister. Wong quit all her posts after her secretly taken naked photos in her home, presumably by a boyfriend, fell into the hands of the government-controlled mainstream media which went to town with it. Wong’s departure is a major blow to the opposition as she fought strongly to protect the environment, clean up the heavily polluted rivers and exert control over polluting industries.