Lured into politics … South Korean singer Psy performs at an event in Penang organised by Malaysia's ruling party. Photo: AFP
KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysia approaches its tightest election in half a century, the opposition activist Ambiga Sreenevasan has shrugged off calls for her to be stripped of her Malaysian citizenship.
''This will be the dirtiest election ever because it is the most closely fought … Cheating and fraud could be the deciding factor,'' Ms Ambiga, who heads Bersih, a group campaigning for free and fair polling, said.
This will be the dirtiest election ever because it is the most closely fought.
''There are many discrepancies appearing on electoral rolls, particularly with the sudden registering of foreigners, many of whom appear to be migrant workers.
"Cheating and fraud could be the deciding factor" ... opposition activist Ambiga Sreenevasan. Photo: AFP
''The mainstream media is
far from free and fair … [The ruling parties] are doing everything they can to
stay in power.''
Mahathir Mohamad, the
former prime minister who ruled for 22 years, last week called for Ms Ambiga to
be stripped of her citizenship.
Ms Ambiga said she and her
family had lived in Malaysia for generations and she would leave it to others
to judge whether Dr Mahathir - who broke a promise to stay out of politics when
he left office in 2002 - was playing race politics in a country where ethnic
Malays made up about 65 per cent of the population of 28 million. Ethnic
Chinese account for another 25 per cent and ethnic Indians 8 per cent.
Opinion polls show the
ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition has lost much of the support of the
Chinese, who have been alienated by corruption and policies favouring ethnic
Malays, leaving the coalition heavily reliant on Malay votes to stay in power.
Ms Ambiga said voters had
become empowered through the internet and social media and were no longer
prepared to accept corruption.
''There is also for the
first time a strong opposition which has brought out the scandals … I can sense
the momentum is picking up,'' said Ms Ambiga, whose organisation has brought
tens of thousands of people onto the streets to rally for free elections.
With only a few weeks
remaining before the Prime Minister, Najib Razak, must call an election,
religious tensions are also flaring over a call by an independent Muslim MP for
the mass burning of Bibles which use the word ''Allah'' to refer to God.
Lim Guan Eng, the chief
minister of the opposition-ruled island of Penang, put police on alert after a
note was found at a church promising a Bible-burning ''festival'' this weekend.
''Let's teach 'em a lesson,'' the note read.
Financial markets are
jittery over the political uncertainty in a country where the BN has never lost
an election since independence from Britain in 1957.
At the last election in
2008, the BN lost its two-thirds majority as well as five out of 12 contested
Mr Najib, who became Prime
Minister in 2009, has abolished repressive national security laws and hopes
Malaysia's strong economic performance and handouts to poorer Malaysians will
shore up his support.
In a bid to placate Malay
voters, he has also softened an earlier pledge to replace a 40-year-old
affirmative action policy that favours Malays with a ''new economic model''.
In one poll released in
January, Mr Najib was only one percentage point ahead of the charismatic Anwar
Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister who heads the multi-ethnic opposition
alliance Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact).
An opposition rally drew
close to 100,000 people in Kuala Lumpur on January 12, one of the country's
largest-ever shows of political strength.
More than 3 million new
voters have registered since the last election, deepening uncertainty about the
Analysts say many of them
are young voters who are likely to be more open to change.
Seeking to appeal to these
younger voters, Mr Najib's party lured the South Korean pop star Psy with a
huge fee to perform at a Chinese New Year party in Penang on Monday.
Mr Najib promised to build
20,000 new houses and a new monorail system for the island before appearing on
''Are you ready for Psy?''
he yelled to the fans, who yelled back, ''Yes''. But when Mr Najib then yelled
''Are you ready for the BN?'' many yelled, ''No''.
Ms Ambiga said her
organisation is mobilising squads of citizen observers to fan out across the
country to observe the election, which must be held before the end of June.
Requests to admit
observers representing the United Nations or Western countries have been
denied, although some local non-governmental organisations will be invited to
polling stations, with restricted access.
''People have decided to
take it upon themselves to observe the elections,'' Ms Ambiga said, adding she
believes the election is too close to call.
''Malaysians have a habit
of surprising - watch this space.''