Altantuya, the Ijok By-election, and Political Issues
It was my sincere hope that the opposition would learn its lesson and campaign using bread and butter issues (such as incompetent and inadequate teachers) rather than harping on governance-related issues. The by-election for the semi-rural Ijok seat in the Selangor State Assembly seemed the perfect place to do this.
But what has the opposition gone and done instead? Its main theme, next to corruption — which won't win many votes from the political centre since such voters seem to care more about their own livelihood, and don't begrudge their leaders some ill-gotten gains if there's something for them too — has been the murder of the Mongolian woman (some say model; others say this was a fabrication) Altantuya Shariibu.
Anwar Ibrahim, who is clearly planning a comeback to Malaysian politics, has been vocal in his criticism of the Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, who is allegedly involved in Altantuya's murder.
What's the issue about Altantuya in the first place? Well, after she was shot, her corpse was literally blown up in a field. The main perpetrators were security personnel affiliated with Najib who were attached at the time to his associate Abdul Razak Baginda.
It's a simple issue. But is it one worth hitting on? Or is it just a crass, and likely to fail, attempt at gaining political mileage? I would really hope that it is an issue worth using, because I would love to see Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat win the Ijok seat — but I just do not think this is an issue that will resonate with the centrist voters that must be wooed to win an election.
Altantuya and corruption are issues that buoy the base, no doubt. I'm sure Anwar's and PKR's supporters are thrilled, excited and inflamed whenever Altantuya's brutal murder is brought up.
But do the voters care that their Deputy Prime Minister may be a murderer? They might — but call me a cynic, for I think that they probably don't. To them, there's not much more than flimsy evidence linking Najib to Altantuya's murder, and most would probably consider the issue closed now that Najib has denied any involvement with the affair.
This issue might not resonate with them, but yet there are so many more issues which certainly would. I'm not just referring to the mundane infrastructural issues like tarring roads or building community parks — I'm talking about fundamental issues that almost anyone can relate to.
I'm talking about education. About schools which are so strapped for funds that they need to hold jogathons and other shady activities to raise money. About a shortage of teachers forcing IT teachers to teach history. About unavailability of tuition for those who need it most.
I'm talking about healthcare. About a public health system which just keeps the patients alive rather than actually healing and curing them. About a public health system which is inefficient and run by bureaucrats rather than doctors.
I'm talking about government itself — how the government interacts with the people. About civil servants who treat the people they serve like dirt. About the red tape and bureaucracy that keeps people from efficiently and expediently resolving any business they might have with the government.
These are issues that resonate with every single one of us. Every ordinary Malaysian has gone through at least one of these problems, and many of us have had to face all of them. We would be willing to take a second look at anyone who promises to address these issues, because Barisan Nasional has never promised to do so.
The opposition can try to bet itself on governance issues like the Prime Minister's purchase of a mansion in Perth, or the Deputy Prime Minister's alleged involvement in Altantuya's murder. But there's no guarantee these issues will work; no guarantee that the voters care about them. I don't know about you, but I've never heard anyone outside the political activist sphere griping about these things.
I do know that I've heard a lot of people griping about the things I've mentioned. These issues I've listed are things which are close to the hearts of the typical Malaysian, because they are issues the typical Malaysian understands, and issues which are real problems for them.
It makes no sense to me to bet the election on issues of morals and governance. This may be sensible in a more developed democracy or in an urbanised area — but definitely not in a semi-rural area like Ijok.
Meanwhile, there is a plethora of issues out there that nobody has been raising — a plethora of issues that every Malaysian, rural or urban, can relate with. It is totally illogical to ignore these in favour of casting the limelight on an ill-fated Mongolian woman and corruption. That's an issue Malaysians might care about. But education, healthcare, government-to-people interaction — these are things that Malaysians certainly care about.