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MGG: Ketari VI: The IGP steps in to undo a mess
By M.G.G. Pillai

22/3/2002 11:11 pm Fri

The Ketari byelections turns out a comedy of errors even before nomination day this weekend. The elections commission decides to make Easter Sunday polling day. The Pahang police decide to restrict political party flags to the candidates' parties, but allows the National Front (BN) to allow its component parties fly their flags too. No large processions are allowed, and each candidate restructed to 100 supporters and only his party's flags en route to the nomination centre. The authorities bent backwards to sustain its belief BN should at all times be helped and the Opposition put in its place.

But so blatant it was that it sent the wrong signals to the ground. Especially when the Elections Commission, not the police, is who should have imposed the conditions. But its deafening silence on what it is in control of is mystifying. When the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Norian Mai, yesterday (20 March 2002) rescinded the ban on flags, it raised more questions than answers.

Why did the Pahang police insist upon it? Did it not discuss with headquarters and the Elections Commission before the order was imposed? Why did it issue the order without consulting the political parties and the Elections Commission? And, more important, why is it now rescinded? Tan Sri Norian says several quarters objected. Since when did the police listen to public objections, unless the "several quarters" was the BN? Did not take a sounding from the ground before it ordered the ban?

Are our police officers so dumb it makes decisions on the run, without assessing the consequences of their actions? Or was it to show the Prime Minister the police could be relied upon to look after his, and the BN's, interests? Or a misguided move to show all and sundry that the Pahang police is absolutely loyal? That it dictated terms without consulting the Elections Commission, it would show how efficient the police is?

In a byelection where the BN is without issues or interest or both, officials making mistakes they should not, with calumny replacing informed debate even before nomination day, the police ban and elections commission disinterest reflects an arrogance in the BN camp that it could do as it likes with alacrity, and none would complain. So, the Gerakan president, Dato' Seri Lim Kheng, harps on a long forgotten vendetta with the DAP instead of outlining what his candidate would do if he is elected. What are the issues in the election? Malaysia's mainstream newspapers, all controlled by the BN, is strangely silent.

So far, the BN assumes painting the DAP in the darkest possible colours is the sure way to get Ketari voters to defeat that party's candidate. And hobble it further by denying it the opposition support it could rightly expect. Both backfired. For if the police order is followed strictly, it would have put the BN, not DAP, at a disadvantage. The opposition at least would work for an opposition victory. The BN campaigns only on its component party turf, and so the individual flags are more important in its election campaigns than the BN flag.

The Ketari byelection, as I have noted, is a watershed of sorts, in which the future of democratic elections itself is in doubt. Tan Sri Norian talks of a security problem in Ketari. When did that come about? When the byelections was announced, or before? If it was before, what did the police do to keep that under control. If it was after, what caused it? The prospect of a byelection? Or is it a catchall threat of one in any election to conduct it in a straitjacket? One which miraculously disappears after polling day? In other words, did the BN cry wolf once too often?

The late MP for Bentong and cabinet minister, Dato' Seri Chan Siang Sum, once took me for a drive through his constituency in the 1970s. He told me in areas of Bentong the MCA was despised, that he would not visit those areas under any circumstances, indeed ordered his driver faster when he had to go through one. These areas are the new villages, brilliant anti-communist move during the Emergency but which once independence came ignored and left to their own devices. In 1979, for instance, the total national budget for new villages, was $5 million to provide facilities for 456 new villages throughout the country. It is not much more now. In byelections this neglect is stark for anyone to see.

The Gerakan president could confirm this. When he was minister in charge for Chinese new villages in the early 1970s, his biggest complaint was the budget he was given could not help one new village, let alone 456. This is complicated, for the BN, by this arrogant belief that it alone has the answers to every problem the country faces. And cannot make itself heard or believed. Those it subborns. like the police, think brute force and administrative orders suffice. Not any more. The edifice crumbles. And the BN, not the opposition, is nervous. Even if, in Ketari, as most expect, it would be returned.

M.G.G. Pillai