Saturday, May 4, 2013

Malaysian elections: 'There's big corruption, a lot of state abuse'


David Chin disembarks from the Causeway Express bus that links Singapore to Malaysia’s southernmost state, Johor.

The bellboy from the Royal Plaza Hotel in Orchard is among the 2.5 million young Malaysians preparing to vote in their first election on Sunday, when he will be in Sabah – with all 14 members of his family – to mark his ballot for the opposition People’s Alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim. “Malaysia is going bankrupt,” he says. “There’s a big corruption problem; there are security problems and a lot of government abuse.”

Mr Chin dislikes the government’s race-based policies. His concerns aren’t uncommon in Johor, where Chinese voters are turning from the ruling National Front coalition in their droves.

“It’s not a fair education system – it’s no good,” says Mr Chin. “Our deputy Prime Minister says education is for Malays first – he says publicly that there is no building quota for Chinese schools.”

Johor is a traditional stronghold for the government and held firm in its support in 2008; but Najib Razak, the Prime Minister, faces a fierce fight to stop Mr Ibrahim’s People’s Alliance opposition coalition wresting it from his control in Sunday’s poll.

Election fever has gripped this state. No inch of the roadside is without the friendly face of a local candidate and the X for Yes. On the Iskandar Coastal Highway, election posters and flags line the route and hawkers’ food stalls are adorned in blue bunting.

The route passes signs of Johor’s past struggles – a large, run-down shopping centre lies empty on the side of the road; but Iskandar, an economic development corridor, has brought growth and investment to the border town. British universities such as Southampton, Newcastle and Marlborough College all have campuses in the region now; Pinewood studios, of James Bond fame, has also taken advantage of Iskandar’s low tax rates to set up shop in Johor. These are signs that the current government has done its job, says Zul Norin, a local taxi driver. He says he doesn’t trust Mr Ibrahim – whose party logo has given rise to his nickname “Rocket Man”. “He’ll take our money and fly it to the moon – he’s very clever, he’s a good speaker … but his morals aren’t good,” he says.

In the town of Kulai, preparations are under way for today’s final opposition rally, to which Johor’s young, tech-savvy voters are due to flock in their tens of thousands. In Penang, north of Kuala Lumpur, 80,000 attended a similar rally this week. Most of the recruiting is done through SMS, social media and word of mouth. “They’re getting all the people together to show the government that ... the people are awakening,” says Mr Chin.

~ The Independent, UK

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