By Wong Choon Mei
Civil society leaders and Pakatan Rakyat politicians warned Prime Minister Najib Razak not to use his decision against contesting in the Penanti by-election as a springboard for avoiding fresh state-wide election in neighbouring Perak.
Said Ramon Navaratnam, past president of Transparency International: “The denial of free and fair election will inhibit our maturing democracy. We hope that with Penanti off, there is therefore stronger reason to call for state assembly election to break the impasse and get the silver state of Perak moving forward again.”
They also took to task Najib for ignoring the democratic rights of the people. Najib had cited unnecessary costs and not wanting to ‘dance to the tune’ of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim as reasons for not holding election.
But the experts said money was not a gauge for everything and until the basic building blocks for a vibrant Malaysian society were firmly and properly planted, economic success and stability could never be sustained.
Said Tian Chua, PKR strategic affairs director: “In the past, PKR and other opposition parties like PAS and DAP, we would always try their best to take part no matter how stretched for funds we were. And fully knowing that nine out 10 times, we would surely be beaten by the Umno-BN.
“Yet, we took part. We never gave up on the people. Somehow or other we managed to contest even though our materials and machinery were often home-made or contributed by well-wishers. It is shocking that Najib, with all his billions and the federal machinery at his command, is complaining about costs.
“Election is not just about winning or losing. It is about planting your flag, offering your people an alternative. You must have the civic mindedness to want to provide a check-and-balance mechanism for the overall good of society. This is what standing for election means, what being an elected representative is all about. Truly, it is just selfless giving of your service to community for the betterment of society. As simple as that. But Najib doesn’t seem to understand.”
A reflection of how far down the once-mighty Umno-BN has fallen
Pakatan leaders also described Najib’s Penanti decision as a sad reflection of how far the once-mighty BN coalition – feared by all opponents big or small in the past – had fallen under his rule.
“They are trying to find a way out with any flimsy excuse. In actual fact, the people have lost confidence in BN and that is why BN does not have the courage to contest in Penanti nor in Perak,” said PKR vice president Azmin Ali.
Said Ramon: “A lively and active democracy should give every opportunity to voters to express their will and choice to be represented. Non-participation in the Penanti election, which amounts to a walkover, does not contribute to a lively democracy.
“It also denies the peoples’ right to a democratic free and fair electoral change. The same applies to the Perak state assembly. Hopping over is distasteful because the practice denied the people of their right of expression.
“Ultimately, voters are entitled to open competition by elected representatives, who should be judged based on key performance indicators.”