‘Dubious’ voters may decide GE13
In the first part of this article, I highlighted five problems with the electoral roll which were not addressed in the report by the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on Electoral Reform.
In this second part, I will highlight five additional problems with the electoral roll, all of which concern the highly problematic area of postal voting among army and police personnel.
5. Postal voters who are registered using their regular ICs
Army personnel, who are postal voters, have IC addresses beginning with T. Police personnel, who are postal voters, have IC addressing beginning with R, G and I.
If any of these army or police voters were previously registered as voters using their civilian IC numbers, their civilian registration entries should be deleted from the electoral roll.
While this process may have taken place for most of these postal voters, the possibility that these voters appear twice on the electoral roll cannot be discounted. This possibility was not investigated by the PSC on Electoral Reform.
The analysis conducted by Mimos (Malaysian Institute Of Microelectronic Systems) on behalf of the PSC was only restricted to looking for voters who were registered under the same IC number.
Conducting this analysis requires massive amounts of computing power since the name and date of birth of each army and police postal voter has to be matched with the name and date of birth of every single entry in the electoral roll (currently numbering more than 12 million).
Even researchers, political parties and politicians who are interested in investigating the presence of this specific problem in the electoral roll would not have the capacity and know-how to conduct this analysis.
Table 3 below shows two examples of army voters who were also registered as voters using their civilian ICs. The civilian entries were deleted after their inclusion was referred to the Election Commission (EC).
This problem is not restricted to the presence of one person registering under his or her own civilian IC as well as his or her army/police IC.
It is also possible for the IC of army or police voter to be used by his or her spouse. If this occurs, it would be much harder to detect since it would not be the same name and date of birth registered under two ICs – one army/police and the other civilian.
If the spouse is registered twice, one using his or her own IC, and once using the civilian IC of his or her army/policy spouse, then the same name would appear twice but having to different dates of birth.
Of course, one way to detect this is to check for the mistake in the gender indicated by the IC and the gender of the voter as indicated by the EC records.
The screenshot below shows one such example of a wife who are registered as a voter using the IC number of the husband. The name of the voter is female as is their gender identity in the EC records but her IC number ends with an odd number which indicates that the holder of the IC is male.
When the IC number was inputted into the MyEG (Malaysian E-Government) website, the name of the male postal voters appeared.
After a total of 42 cases were discovered across five parliament seats in Negeri Sembilan (Seremban, Rasah, Telok Kemang, Rembau and Tampin) in Q2 (Quarter 2) of 2011, the EC was obliged to delete these names.
This was a very time-consuming task since the civilian IC addresses of the postal voters in question had to be ‘tracked down’ using other databases (since they are not given in the EC website). In this particular instance, the MyEG database was used because NRD (National Registration Department) no longer allows open access to their website to check for the validity of ICs.
If one’s wife could be allowed to register using the husband’s IC which has a different name, one wonders if another person could register using any police/army postal voter’s civilian IC address?
Again, this possibility was not addressed in the PSC report. There are currently more than 200,000 army and police postal voters. To ensure that their civilian ICs are not being used by other people, a thorough investigation needs to be conducted using the civilian IC numbers of these army/police postal voters.
6. Spouses of police who are registered as postal voters
According to section 2 of Elections (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002, spouses who qualifies to be registered as postal voters are as follows:
- Spouse of a serving member of regular naval, military or air force of Malaysia, the Commonwealth or other country;
- Spouse of a person in the public service of the Malaysian government or any state/local authority or statutory body who is living with the serving spouse outside the boundaries of Peninsular Malaysia or Sabah or Sarawak;
- Spouse of a person engaging in full-time studies at any university, training college or any higher educational institution outside the boundaries of Peninsular Malaysia or Sabah or Sarawak and who is living with the student at the time for application for registration as a parliamentary or state elector.
The spouse of a member of the police force is not eligible to be registered as postal voters.
But in our analysis of the postal voters in the June 2011, we found there were over 4,000 spouses of police voters who were registered as postal voters. Table 4 below shows a sample of spouses of police voters who are also registered as postal voters.
7. Spouses of army/police voters who are of the same gender
In this category, spouses of army/police who are of the same gender – i.e. same sex marriages – were identified.
For example, in the Setiawangsa June 2011 electoral roll, Harisah binti Ab Ghani (IC: 770130035668) was listed being married to Zaini binti Hamzah (IC: T1110543).
When Zaini binti Hamzah’s IC was searched in the EC website, it was found that she had now become Zain bin Hamzah/Lelaki and had been shifted to the Ketereh parliamentary constituency in Kelantan.
In the most recent check, Zain was switched back to Zaini binti Hamzah. Both Zaini and Harisah’s current voting constituency is unknown as both are listed as being ‘processed’ in the EC website.
8. Army and police voters who are above the retirement age
According to the army’s website, the retirement age for army personnel is 55 (maximum). For certain grades, it is lower than 55. For other civil servants, the mandatory retirement age is 58.
A limited search of the June 2011 electoral roll revealed over 44 names of police postal voters who were above the age of 58.
For example, Wan Rasidy bin Roni (IC: RF151304), born on Nov 19, 1900, which makes him 112 this year, is registered in Balai Polis Lumut in the Lumut parliamentary constituency.
9. New army and police postal voters who are above the recruitment age
The maximum entry age for army recruits is not more than 30 years of age.
However, an investigation into the voters who were cut from the electoral roll in Q3 2011 because they had joined the army showed more than 200 recruits who were more the maximum age of 30.
Of equal or perhaps greater concern is that these over-aged recruits, who changed their place of voting in the 3Q of 2011, were then moved to another constituency in 4Q 2011.
For example, Abu Talib bin Ahmad (IC: 690625086571), aged 42, was taken out of the 3Q 2011 electoral roll because he had joined the army. He was originally registered in the parliamentary district of Kuala Kangsar in Perak as a regular voter with a civilian IC address.
According to the 4Q 2011 supplementary electoral roll, this voter, who was then registered in the parliamentary constituency of Jeli in Kelantan, was then transferred to the parliamentary constituency of Ketereh as a postal voter.
In other words, in the space of six months, this voter, who was not only over 30 years of age, had also experienced two changes in his voting constituency from Kuala Kangsar to Jeli and from Jeli to Ketereh.
Abu Talib bin Ahamd, aged 42, was registered as a new army postal voter in 3Q 2011.
Examples such as these raise the possibility that over-aged voters have been illegally ‘recruited’ as army postal voters and then quickly transferred from one electoral constituency to another in successive quarters in order to ‘mask’ the origin of these suspicious army recruits.
In the Q4 2011 data, the EC no longer gave details of why voters were deleted from the electoral roll, which meant that voters who joined the army and police could no longer be detected. One wonders why EC altered the structure of the data released by quarter from 3Q 2011 to 4Q 2011.
How much difference will these ‘problematic’ voters make?
At the end of the day, one should ask the question of how many ‘problematic’ voters are in the electoral roll. The simple answer is that we really do not know.
The cases highlighted under these 10 categories number approximately 100,000. But even within these categories, an exhaustive analysis has not been conducted because of time and manpower limitations.
These problems could potentially be the tip of the iceberg. They do not include addresses with a large number of registered voters. They do not include the 42,000 voters whose IC numbers could not be found in the NRD database.
They do not include other categories such as the insertion and removal of registered voters who do not appear in any of the quarterly electoral roll updates. They do not include other categories of possible electoral manipulation which have not yet been analysed or investigated such as the registration of voters in non-existent addresses.
The inclusion of these categories could easily increase the number of problematic voters to 400,000 names or approximately 1,800 votes divided over 222 parliamentary constituencies.
Considering that 35 seats out of 222 were won or lost by less than 2,000 votes, these problematic voters can potentially affect the balance of power in the next general election.
History repeats itself?
If one does not think that the presence of these problematic voters is not sufficient to swing the overall election results, I point to two past precedents where sudden increases in the number of voters in the electoral roll in states which were lost by BN which probably helped win the BN win back these states.
The two states are Sabah after the 1990 elections and Terengganu after the 1999 elections. We see the same pattern being repeated in the state of Selangor leading up to the 13th general election.
The number of voters in Sabah increased by 17.6% from 1990 to 1995 compared to the national average of 13.0%. This was just after PBS left the BN coalition prior to the 1990 Sabah state elections. PBS controlled the Sabah state government from 1990 to 1994.
In the state of Terengganu, the number of voters increased by a whopping 17.7% from 1999 to 2004 compared to a national average of 7.3%. Again, it is noteworthy that the state of Terengganu had fallen to the opposition during the 1999 general elections.
In 1999, the opposition won 28 out of 32 state seats and all eight parliamentary seats. In 2004, after this massive increase in the number of voters, the opposition won only one parliamentary and four state seats, an almost total reverse of the 1999 general election results.
In Selangor, according to the Q4 2011 electoral roll, the number of voters has increased by over 340,000 to more than 1.9 million voters since the 2008 general election. This represents an increase of 21.8% compared to a national average of 16.3%.
Some of these increases have occurred in areas which limited increases in the number of new housing estates and population inflows.
For example, the seat of Hulu Selangor, a marginal parliamentary seat, saw an increase of more than 17,000 voters, or 27.1%, from the 2008 general election to the Q4 2011 electoral roll.
Finally, for those who use the fact that the opposition managed to win a historic number of parliamentary seats and control of five state governments in the 2008 general election to say that the electoral roll is relatively clean and accurate, one could easily respond by saying that the opposition could have won even more seats if the electoral roll did not include these problematic voters.
The upcoming 13th general election is expected to be one of the most closely contested electoral battles in our nation’s history. This increases the importance of having a relatively clean and transparent electoral roll to ensure that the results are a fair representation of the will of the electorate.
Without a strong commitment by the authorities, including the PSC on electoral reform, EC, NRD and the government of the day to firstly identify and then address these problems, the accuracy of the electoral roll cannot be ascertained with any degree of confidence.
ONG KIAN MING holds a PhD in political science from Duke University. He is currently a lecturer at UCSI University.
10 major problems in EC’s electoral roll
The Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform report, which was released earlier this week, highlights 22 recommendations on how to improve the electoral process.
I will not go through each and every recommendation or discuss the overall quality of these recommendations since others including the Bar Council chairperson and the Bersih steering committee have already done so.
What I will focus on in this two-part article is the many problems which are to be found in the electoral roll. To summarise, the report fails to acknowledge significant problems that have to do with the electoral roll, many of which are already well known, and seems to limit the scope of checking the accuracy of the electoral roll to a few not very useful parameters.
Section 10.6 of the report recommends that an independent agency such as Mimos (Malaysian Institute Of Microelectronic Systems), under the supervision of a newly-established PSC, be given the responsibility of checking the accuracy of the electoral roll.
Unfortunately the examples listed in Sections 10 and 11 of the report are not wide-ranging enough. For example, Mimos was given the task of checking to see if there are duplicate IC numbers in the electoral roll. Not surprisingly, this search failed to turn up any such entries.
Mimos only did a search for duplicate entries using the new IC (identity card) numbers and not the old IC numbers. Nor did Mimos did a search to see if the civilian IC numbers of army and police postal voters (who have their own unique army and police IC numbers) appear on the electoral roll.
As will be clear later in this article, these are but some of the methods in which the electoral roll can be manipulated and abused.
The only significant problem area identified in the report was the presence of addresses with more than 50 registered voters. There were 938 addresses with between 51 to 100 registered voters and another 324 with more than 100 registered voters.
For these cases, the report recommends that the Elections Commission (EC) display these names in public so that the voters in question can come forward to help EC clean up the electoral roll in these addresses.
The Merap project
Any electoral roll in any country will have its share of problems. Voters move and do not update their voting constituency. Voters who have died may not be taken off the electoral roll. Resourceful politicians often shift supporters into their own voting constituency.
These problems may be unintentional administrative errors or they may arise as a result of purposeful fraud. Both types of problems need to be addressed.
But systematically identifying and addressing these problems require a lot of resources not just in terms of time and personnel, but also in terms of computing power and knowledge.
The problems which will be highlighted in these two articles were uncovered as a result of an ongoing academic study called the ‘Malaysian Electoral Roll Analysis Project (Merap)’, whose purpose is to identify problems with the electoral roll and to make recommendations on how to deal with them.
These results took three part-time researchers approximately three months to compile. These findings are not exhaustive and are possibly only the tip of the iceberg of the underlying problems with the electoral roll.
A total of 10 problems with the electoral roll will be examined – five in this first part and another five in the second part.
The 10 problems are:
1) Voters who are above 85 years old.
2) Inconsistencies in the gender indicated by the IC number and EC data.
3) Voters with the same name, and some with the same/similar date of birth.
4) Voters who have IC addresses with the state of birth as ‘7x’, indicating that they are born overseas.
5) Voters in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur in the third quarter and fourth quarter of 2011 who do not have house addresses, even though other newly-registered voters in the same locality have house addresses.
6) Postal voters who are registered using their regular ICs.
7) Spouses of police who are registered as postal voters.
8) Spouses of army/police voters who are of the same gender.
9) Army and police voters who are above the retirement age.
10) New army and police postal voters who are above the recruitment age.
1. Voters who are above 85 years old
An analysis of the third quarter (3Q) of the 2011 electoral roll revealed 65,543 voters who were aged 85 and older. In addition, more than 1,000 voters were listed at 100 years old and above. 19 voters were born before 1900!
This is not to say that all of these voters are fraudulent voters that have been included in the electoral roll by irresponsible parties. Rather, the number of elderly voters is a good place to start in terms of identifying voters who may have died but for whatever reason, have not been deleted from the electoral roll.
This is an area of concern since the ICs of dead voters can be used by others to cast a vote on their behalf.
The oldest voter identified was Wong Kwan Moy (IC: 530823040010) who was listed as being born in 1853, which makes this person 149 years old in 2012.
This voter is registered in Setiawangsa in Kuala Lumpur. It is possible this could be typo and that the voter was born in 1953 rather than 1853 but this needs to be verified.
But this cannot be said of Tey Kim (IC: 900206740068) who was listed as being born in 1890. This cannot be a typo since voters who are born in the 1990s do not have old IC numbers, which this voter clearly does (K844769).
If Tey Kim was born in 1890 and she is still alive, she would be 122 this year.
The EC would probably respond by saying that they rely on the National Registration Department (NRD) to provide them with names of recently deceased people who then can be deleted from the electoral roll.
But there is nothing to prevent the EC from conducting their own periodic investigations on voters, especially those who are above 100 years old, to ensure that these voters are still alive and residing in their voting constituency.
2. Inconsistencies in the gender indicated by the IC number and EC data
An IC ending with an odd number means that the person is a male, while an IC ending with an even number means that the person is female.
An analysis of the 3Q 2011 electoral roll found 15,855 voters whose IC numbers indicate a different gender from that listed by EC.
Among these 15,855 voters, there were 72 “bin”(son of) who are listed as female and 76 “binti” (daughter of) who are listed as male.
For example, Mashitah binti Hashim (IC: 550901095040) was listed as a male while Ali bin Ariff (IC: 880726265197) was listed as a female.
These ‘gender inconsistencies’ point to the possibility that a person of a different gender could have used these ICs to register themselves as voters.
While these instances could be legitimate errors on the part of NRD, it makes sense to conduct more analysis, including field visits and discussions with NRD to ensure that these are merely clerical errors.
In addition, the presence of these sorts of inconsistencies also raises the question on whether polling agents can object to the identity of these voters on the basis that their listed gender differs from that indicated by the IC number.
These sorts of inconsistencies also highlights the need for NRD to get more involved in the process of clarifying these inconsistencies and discrepancies and play a more pro-active role in helping the EC maintain a clean and updated electoral roll.
3. Voters with the same name and some with the same/similar date of birth
Many Malaysians share the same name and as such many same/similar names are bound to appear in the electoral roll.
But when Malaysians with the same name and the same or similar date of birth appears, often in the same constituency or in the same state, this should certainly raise concerns.
The presence of such voters raises the possibility that they have been issued more than one IC number in order for them to vote multiple times.
For example, an analysis of the 2008 general election electoral roll for Terengganu found 369 voters named “Fatimah binti Ismail” and 346 named “Fatimah binti Abdullah”.
Among the 369 “Fatimah binti Ismails”, 10 pairs were found to have same/similar date of births.
Among the 346 “Fatimah binti Abdullahs”, 13 pairs were found to have same/similar date of births.
This seems like too much of a coincidence especially when one considers that Terengganu experienced a significant percentage increase in the number of voters from 1999 to 2004, after the state fell to PAS in the 1999 general elections.
This example illustrates how conventional methods of data mining conducted by Mimos for the PSC on Electoral Reform are insufficient to detect problems in the electoral roll.
More refined searches such as looking for same names with similar or same date of births (the first six digits of the IC number) are required.
4. Voters who have IC addresses with the state of birth as ‘7x’, indicating that they are born overseas
Voters who are not born in Malaysia have ‘71′ as their 7th and 8th digits in their IC number. There has been much speculation that non-Malaysian have been given citizenship and hence, voting rights, in order to have them vote for the ruling government.
Malaysiakini recently reported on a certain ‘Mismah’ being originally listed as a permanent resident and registered as a voter and then later being listed as a citizen in the NRD website.
A preliminary analysis of the September 2011 electoral roll for voters in Selangor turned up 30 voters with ‘Indonesian’ sounding names (only one name). For example, Juwairiyah (IC: 560317715158), is a ‘71′ voter in the Gombak parliamentary constituency.
Table 1 below shows the full list of these 30 names.
Table 1 below shows the full list of these 30 names.
This is not to say that those who the digits 71 in their ICs and who appear on the electoral roll are necessarily suspicious voters. But the precedent of illegal immigrants in Sabah, many of them from Indonesia and Philippines, being given fake ICs to register as voters should make one especially wary of such cases.
There were over 167,000 ICs with the state of origin digits listed as ‘7x’ (71, 74 and 75) in the 3Q 2011 electoral roll.
Our findings are thus only a small sub-sample of this larger dataset. While many of these names are of Malaysian citizens born in China and India, much more in-depth analysis needs to be done in order to ascertain the percentage of voters among this dataset, which are legitimate citizens and those who have been given IC numbers through less than legitimate means.
5. Voters in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur in 3Q and 4Q of 2011 who do not have house addresses, even though other newly-registered voters in the same locality have house addresses
One would not expect that voters who are newly registered in Kuala Lumpur or Selangor would still be registered in addresses without house numbers.
Given the 100 percent urbanisation rate in Kuala Lumpur and an almost 100 percent urbanisation rate in Selangor, it is surprising that some voters would still have IC addresses without house numbers.
What is even more surprising is that there are still voters who are registered in addresses without house numbers in the same locality, where other newly-registered voters are registered in addresses with house numbers.
For example, according to Table 2 below, Syahrul Ali Mansur (IC: 691023715099) is a newly-registered voter in 3Q 2011 in Kampung Puah, which is in the Wangsa Maju parliamentary constituency.
Table 2 also lists nine other newly-registered voters in 3Q 2011 in the same locality which do have house numbers.
Voters who fall into this category are still being compiled from 3Q 2011 and 4Q 2011 in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.
In Part 2 of this article, five problems which have to do with postal voters will be examined in greater detail.
ONG KIAN MING holds a PhD in political science from Duke University. He is currently a lecturer at UCSI University.
ETP: Part 6 — The ETP will make the rich even richer
The ETP will be bad for wage-earners. Workers’ share of national income under the ETP will be just 21 per cent compared to 28 per cent currently. Wage-earners’ losses will be corporate gains. The corporate share of ETP income will be 74 per cent, up from 67 per cent today. We fully support a vibrant corporate sector, but a healthy middle class is also crucial for sustainable high-income status. In developed economies, wages take about 50 per cent of national income.
Income disparity will continue. The top 20 per cent of households currently gobble up 49 per cent of all household income. Under the ETP, the top 15 per cent of wage-earners will take 40 per cent of all wages. The bottom 36 per cent will have to make do with just 12 per cent of total wages. It appears that KR1M thrift stores and Menu1Malaysia austerity meals will still be required in 2020 as the promised “high incomes” benefit only a small minority.
The ETP will double our dependence on cheap foreign labour. If the ETP succeeds, there will be 16.2 million jobs and just 14 million workers to fill them. Who will fill the 2.2 million shortfall? The lower 1.2 million jobs the ETP creates will pay just RM1,100 in today’s terms. We would hope that Malaysians take the higher-paying jobs, which means that low-paid, poorly-skilled foreign workers will be required.
“E” for socio-economic impact. The newly generated wealth that the ETP promises to create will not produce a balanced economy where the fruits of its transformation are fairly shared by corporations, wage-earners and the government. Instead, it will do the reverse. The ETP may, in fact, exacerbate the already wide gap between the few rich Malaysians and the very many poor ones.
● The ETP will further reduce wage-earners’ share of national income — to 21 per cent under the ETP from 28 per cent today.
● The smaller wage-earners’ share will continue to be shared by a few elite employees. The top 15 per cent of wage-earners will take 40 per cent of all wages.
● Corporates’ share of national income will rise to 74 per cent under the ETP from 67 per cent today.
● Corporate and wage-earners’ shares must be balanced for sustainable high-income status. The ETP fails to address this.
The ETP is elitist
The ETP claims that its projects and initiatives will transform Malaysia into a high-income economy. In 2020, GNI (gross national income) per capita will be RM48,000, and 3.3 million new medium to high-income jobs created. RM48,000 per year, or RM4,000 per month is far higher than the average RM2,500 income for the lower 80 per cent of Malaysian households. It seems most of us will be rich!
Sadly, the reverse is true. If PEMANDU achieves its ETP investment and income targets, only a small group of people and businesses will reap a disproportionate share of the new wealth, leaving the vast majority of Malaysians to pick up the crumbs, as it were.
We now focus on Socio-economic impact — the “S” and the final criterion of the DEEDS framework with which we are evaluating the ETP. We are disheartened to find that the ETP will not transform real wages and the standard of living of the vast majority of Malaysians. Of the RM800 billion additional GNI that the ETP targets:
● 74 per cent will go to corporate profits. This is much larger than the already high 67 per cent today. Put another way, the corporate share of gross national income is three-quarters under the ETP compared to two-thirds today;
● Only 21 per cent of the incremental income will go into the pockets of wage-earners. This is even lower than the 28 per cent today. The ETP will in fact take us further away from the norm in high-income countries, where wage-earners’ share of national income tends to be closer to 50 per cent;
● The small share to wage-earners will be very unevenly distributed. The top 15 per cent of wage-earners will take 40 per cent of all wages. Put another way, the average real wage for the vast majority 85 per cent of wage earners will be just RM2,300 per month in today’s terms;
● The ETP will double our dependence on cheap foreign workers — at least an additional two million foreign workers will be required if the ETP is achieved.
It’s the bosses who will be the very big winners
Gross national income (GNI) is the value of the products and services produced by all Malaysians and Malaysian companies. As such, GNI comprises the profits generated by Malaysian companies and the incomes earned by the rakyat, and the portion of these profits and incomes that are taken by the government in the form of taxes.
The big winners of the ETP are entrepreneurs and capitalists:
● RM594 billion of the incremental RM800 billion GNI that the ETP creates will go to corporate profits;
● Just RM166 billion will go to wages for employees; and
● RM40 billion will go to the government in net taxes.
The 28 per cent proportion of national output that is currently given to wages in Malaysia is relatively low. In contrast, approximately 40 per cent and 46 per cent of national outcome is given to wages in the newly developed countries of Singapore and Korea respectively. In the older developed countries of Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, this figure exceeds 50 per cent.
The ETP, if it goes as planned, will take us even further from developed status as just 21 per cent of the incremental income it anticipates to generate will go to wages. In fact, our calculation errs in PEMANDU’s favour. The 21 per cent share is based on gross wages. It should rightfully be wages net of tax. We do not strip out taxes as the information is not available, but if we did, it would very likely take wages share to below 20 per cent of the incremental income that the ETP targets to generate.
Sustainable high-income is about balance
We are not against enterprises and corporations making profits. We believe a healthy and vibrant private sector guided by a light government hand is the basis for sustainable economic growth.
However, sustainable economic growth is also dependent on a healthy and vibrant middle class. If Malaysia is to reach the status of a high-income nation, the share of national income that goes to wages should increase and should eventually approximate that of developed economies. It should be closer to 50 per cent of GNI rather than the 21 per cent or less level that the ETP targets.
In addition, the ETP does little to address the income chasm in Malaysia. The top 20 per cent of households in Malaysia currently gobble up 49 per cent ,or nearly half, of household income. The bottom 40 per cent of households make do with just 15 per cent of all household income. The World Bank says income inequality in Malaysia is one of the highest in Asia and not far from Latin American levels.
The 3.3 million “medium to high-income” jobs that PEMANDU aims to create under the ETP will do little to redress the situation:
● The top 15 per cent of wage-earners will take 40 per cent of all wages;
● The bottom 36 per cent of wage-earners will take just 12 per cent of the already small wage pie.
From another perspective, 85 per cent of the 3.3 million “medium to high-income” jobs that PEMANDU promises by 2020 will pay an average of less than RM3,000 per month. That may sound high, but remember that just like RM100 today is worth a lot less than RM100 nine years ago, RM3,000 in 2020 will be worth a lot less than RM3,000 today.
Based on PEMANDU’s own inflation estimates, RM3,000 in 2020 is equivalent to only about RM2,300 today. That is an improvement over current levels, but is nowhere near high-income status. It is equivalent to just S$975. Put another way, 85 per cent of the jobs created by the ETP will, on average, pay less than half the S$2,400 that a fresh graduate in Singapore can expect to earn.
Is the ETP creating more low-paid jobs for foreigners?
The number of available jobs in Malaysia will rise to 16.2 million by 2020. The 3 per cent per year job growth rate is three times the 1 per cent per year population growth that PEMANDU anticipates. As population growth is slower than job growth, the gap has to be filled by:
● Raising the labour force participation rate, that is the percentage of Malaysians choosing to work;
● Net migration — which could be in the form of tempting our vast, highly-qualified diaspora back; and/or
● Bringing in foreign labour.
The labour force participation rate in Malaysia was 63 per cent in 2010. Assuming this rises to the 65 per cent average in developed economies such as Australia and the United States, there would be approximately 14.0 million workers in 2020. Assuming all these local workers are employed, there will still be another 2.2 million jobs to fill from the 16.2 million total jobs anticipated in 2020.
Who will fill this gap? The ETP Roadmap does anticipate “150,000 high-skilled Malaysian Diaspora to return”. That covers the high-paying jobs, but scarcely makes a difference to the 2.2 million gap. It appears that more foreign labour will be required.
What type of foreign labour? 1.2 million or 36 per cent of the new jobs that the ETP aims to create in 2020 will pay an average RM1,400 per month in wages in the year 2020 . This is about RM1,122 in today’s terms, which is not particularly high. We would assume and hope that most Malaysians will be in the jobs that pay better. So the bulk of the remaining jobs will be low-paid, and likely filled by unskilled foreigners.
At a time when we are trying to reduce our dependence on foreign workers, it does not make sense to have an economic transformation programme that requires a minimum addition of two million foreign workers on top of the existing two million legal foreign workers in the country. The continued over-reliance on cheap foreign labour lessens the incentive for productivity improvements and capital investment necessary to increase average wages and the share of national output given to wages.
Conclusion: E for socio-economic impact
We give the ETP “E” for socio-economic impact. The newly generated wealth it promised to create will not be broadly spread across all Malaysians. It will not create a balanced economy where the fruits of Malaysia’s success are fairly shared by corporations, individuals and the government.
The reverse is true. Most Malaysians will not be much better off. The ETP will not help, and in fact may, exacerbate the already wide gap between the few rich Malaysians, and the very many poor ones:
● Corporations will take an even bigger slice of national income — three-quarters under the ETP compared to two-thirds currently;
● The share of national income going to wage-earners, under the ETP, will shrink to about 20 per cent, much less than the 28 per cent today and take us further away from the developed countries norm of about 50 per cent;
● The small share to wage-earners will, in turn, be largely devoured by a few Malaysians. The top 15 per cent of wage-earners will take 40 per cent of all wages; and
● The ETP will double our dependence on cheap foreign labour — it requires at least another two million foreign workers, on top of the two million legal foreign workers who are already in Malaysia.
If not the ETP, what then?
Following the many weaknesses which we have identified, we have been asked a recurring question. What would we do?
There are two parts to our response. The first part comprises recommendations we have made in this series, such as improving data integrity and transparency, applying a high bar when naming projects related to politically influential entities as EPPs and making sure that the red tape cut for EPPs does not come back to stifle other entrepreneurs with ideas but not EPP status. Our hope is that this series results in constructive dialogue that will improve the ETP for the benefit of Malaysians, and sets some foundations for more effective policies by future governments.
The second part involves proposing a transformative strategy or framework or programme of our own if we had the opportunity to start over or if PEMANDU, for whatever reason, is dissolved. We will cover this in a series of subsequent Focus Papers.
A sneak peak: We consider productivity crucial. One of the main reasons a larger share of income in developed countries is given to wages is because of the higher productivity of workers in these countries. This could be due to higher skill levels, higher levels of capital per worker (in the form of machinery, for example) and involvement in higher value-added economic activities (such as research and development and design rather than low end manufacturing, for example). We think the ETP focuses too much on pushing through EPPs which may create many jobs but fail to significantly increase the productivity of the average worker. We believe measures to improve the productivity of the existing and future labour force need to be put in place. This involves not only improving the skill levels of the workforce but also making politically difficult decisions to reduce our dependence on unskilled foreign labour.
The story so far
Part 1, Let’s evaluate PEMANDU on its DEEDS, introduced this series. We assess PEMANDU and the ETP on the goals, plans and targets stated in the ETP Roadmap document. Doing so facilitates constructive debate as it uses the framework which PEMANDU has chosen to work within. In that vein, and in keeping with the spirit of the alphabet soup of NKEAs, NKRAs, SRIs, EPPs, GNI surrounding the entire GTP, we evaluate PEMANDU and the ETP on its DEEDS:
Data transparency was covered in Part 2, We won’t really be twice as rich in 2020. We declared, “It does not compute!” PEMANDU’s target is to double nominal income per capita to RM48,000 by 2020. But using its forecasts for income and population growth, and inflation, the target should be RM54,145, not RM48,000. Can this “roadmap to transformation” be trusted when even the basic maths is wrong?
Execution took three Focus Papers:
Part 3(i), PEMANDU strengthens the “know-who” cancer, focuses on PEMANDU’s practice of taking credit for pre-existing projects and its role in cutting red tape. PEMANDU is institutionalising the role of middleman if it cuts red tape only for EPPs. Malaysian innovation, creativity and productivity will continue to lag if long-term policy changes are not made. It does not matter how good your product or idea is, or how efficiently you can make it, it depends on who you know to get it through the system.
Part 3 (ii), The hothouse labs probably killed innovation posits that large companies would naturally dominate the vaunted ‘labs’ that chose the EPPs. Also, the tight 8-week time frame to research best practices, distil them and support them with detailed analysis would have incentivised participants to select EPPs for which research was already ready, rather than pursue genuinely transformative alternatives.
Part 3 (iii), Doubtful EPPs; doubtful achievements and due diligence says the selection of projects with very little hope of success as EPPs raises serious doubts about the due diligence process at PEMANDU. The RM10 billion Karambunai Integrated Resort needs 2.8 million visitors per year to break even – more than all the travellers arriving at Kota Kinabalu airport! The multi-billion ringgit plan to transform Tanjong Agas from a fishing village to a petrochemical hub has REFSA aghast. It creates redundant infrastructure, and goes against the government’s own master plan identifying the already established Kertih and Gebeng as the focus areas for such activities in the Eastern Corridor Economic Region (ECER).
Enterprise is severely lacking so far. Part 4, Private enterprises are rejecting the ETP highlights that the private sector makes up only 35 per cent of the total investments in EPPs, far below the 60 per cent that PEMANDU says is required to take Malaysia to high-income status by 2020. It is understandable that priority is given to government-led, big-ticket infrastructure project in the early days of the ETP. However, PEMANDU’s attempt to paint a rosier picture by citing figures excluding large public sector projects like the MRT draws suspicion that something is amiss. REFSA debunks PEMANDU’s selective figures with a simple cake analogy and some telling numbers.
Diversity, or the lack thereof, was the focus of Part 5, The ETP so far is just a handful of mega-projects. 131 EPPs across 12 NKEAs are supposed to take us to high-income status. But two mega-projects — the MRT and Petronas RAPID project — account for more than half the apparently impressive RM176 billion of investments achieved in the first year of the ETP. The Oil, Gas & Energy NKEA dominates. There has been zero progress in Financial Services, which is crucial to high-income and the Palm Oil, Agriculture and Business Services NKEAs also languish. Broad-based transformation is not happening. Not yet.
Note on PEMANDU’s response
Upon hearing that we were writing an evaluation of the ETP, the communications team at PEMANDU kindly arranged interviews with a director from the minister’s office who is also the director of the Oil, Gas and Energy & Financial Services NKEAs, the director of the Wholesale and Retail (W&R) NKEA and the assistant director of the Tourism NKEA. We are grateful for these interviews and will include clarification points from these interviews in our evaluation. These interviews were recorded by the ETP communications team and we hope that they would be made available online for public access. — REFSA (Research for Social Advancement)
* Dr Ong Kian Ming and Teh Chi-Chang wrote this analysis for REFSA.
This article was published by The Malaysian Insider.
Read Dr. Ong’s critiques of the ETP in full here.
ETP: Part 5 — The ETP so far is just a handful of mega-projects
ETP: Part 5 — The ETP so far is just a handful of mega-projects
Dr. Ong Kian Ming & Teh Chi-Chang
Just two mega-projects and oil, gas and energy, really. Behind the apparently impressive RM176 billion of investments achieved in the ETP so far is a sobering picture. The MRT and Petronas’ RAPID mega-projects make up 55 per cent of total investments in Entry Point Projects (EPPs). Going by National Key Economic Area, 53 per cent of investments were in just one NKEA — Oil, Gas & Energy.
Zero progress in Financial Services. Not a single EPP has been announced in this NKEA which is targeted to deliver up to 15 per cent of the income boost envisaged in the ETP. The Kuala Lumpur International Financial District is not a Financial Services EPP and is not even mentioned in Bank Negara’s Financial Services Blueprint 2011 to 2020. Is PEMANDU in sync with the key financial regulators Bank Negara and the Securities Commission?
Broad-based investments are necessary to transform Malaysia. The RM800 billion of investments targeted by the ETP are spread across 131 EPPs in 12 NKEAs. This will deliver the broad-based growth that will turn Malaysia into the high-income nation that PEMANDU envisages. But progress has been skewed towards just one NKEA and a few mega-projects. The ETP currently appears to be business-as-usual, government-linked mega-projects rather than private sector-led transformation.
By design or necessity? The initial focus on a few mega-projects and one NKEA might be a sensible strategy. Or it might have been forced by the lack of private sector interest in the ETP. PEMANDU will no doubt claim the former. We think it is the latter. Time will tell. We shall be monitoring.
● The ETP is about transforming Malaysia through 131 projects across 12 National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs).
● Investments achieved so far are mainly due to just two mega-projects, and are dominated by the Oil, Gas & Energy NKEA.
● There has been zero progress in the Financial Services NKEA which is crucial to high-income jobs.
● Right now, the ETP appears to be business-as-usual, government-linked mega-projects; not private sector-led transformation.
Diversity of projects is as important as size of investment
The ETP team at PEMANDU has achieved nearly a quarter of its investment target in just over a year. RM176 billion of investments in EPPs (Entry Point Projects) have been announced. This is equivalent to 22 per cent of the cumulative RM800 billion investments targeted for the entire ETP until the year 2020.
That is indeed a remarkable achievement. However, the ETP is not just about large investment numbers. Those investments must ultimately transform Malaysia into a high-income nation. To that end, the ETP Roadmap chose to prioritise 131 Entry Point Projects (EPPs) across 12 National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs).
The 12 NKEAs are a broad mix, ranging from service-based economic activities such as Business and Financial Services to heavy engineering-oriented Oil, Gas and Energy projects. The EPPs range in size from RM3 million to RM84 billion.
Zero progress on financial services NKEA
We now focus on Diversity — the second “D” in our DEEDS framework. We compare the composition of the EPPs heralded in the eight ETP updates with the spread envisioned in the ETP Roadmap Report.
How spread out are the 114 EPPs and RM176 billion of committed investments achieved so far? A diverse distribution of project sizes across the 12 NKEAs indicates a healthy and balanced progress. Conversely, a narrow distribution raises questions about the lack of broad progress and concerns about the overall viability of the ETP.
The prognosis is poor:
1. Mega-projects dominate. Just two projects — the MRT and RAPID by Petronas — account for 55 per cent of the investments so far.
2. Just one NKEA accounts for the majority of investments. The Oil, Gas & Energy NKEA contributed 53 per cent of the investments so far. In fact, six of the top 10 investments so far are in this NKEA.
3. Of greater concern is that there is no EPP in the Financial Services NKEA.
Is PEMANDU in sync with Bank Negara and the Securities Commission?
Financial Services is mainly under the purview of Bank Negara Malaysia and the Securities Commission — key policy “enablers”, in PEMANDU’s parlance. Bank Negara recently released its Financial Services Blueprint 2011 to 2020.
Nearly all of the EPPs under the Financial Services NKEA can be found in the Blueprint. However, the similarity ends there. The language and thrust of the Blueprint differ markedly from that of the ETP Roadmap and the ETP updates. We found only one mention of the ETP and no reference whatsoever to the other metrics that PEMANDU emphasises — EPPs, incremental GNI contribution and amount of public and private sector investments.
The Financial Services NKEA is important to the ETP. PEMANDU anticipates it will contribute RM121 billion or up to 15 per cent of the incremental GNI (gross national income) targeted. It is imperative that progress within this very important NKEA be tracked. It would be most helpful if PEMANDU, together with the two other main stakeholders — Bank Negara and the Securities Commission — would issue a joint communiqué clarifying the likely investments, jobs and incremental GNI contribution from this NKEA in the short, medium and long term.
KL International Financial District is not a Financial Services EPP
The proposed Kuala Lumpur International Financial District (KLIFD) by 1MDB was initially listed as a common enabler under the Financial Services NKEA. KLIFD was subsequently elevated to EPP status, but reclassified under the Greater KL/Klang Valley NKEA. The reclassification is puzzling. The scant details are worrying. The fact that KLIFD is not mentioned at all in Bank Negara’s Financial Services Blueprint 2011 to 2020 is alarming.
The ETP Roadmap Report says, “The Kuala Lumpur International Financial District … will allow Kuala Lumpur to attract higher calibre financial human talent to together help promote a vibrant financial services industry. This will also raise Malaysia’s profile in the international arena and support the country’s brand.”
But buildings alone cannot make a financial centre. What is more important is the soft infrastructure — the rules and regulations and general environment — fostered by Bank Negara as the primary regulator. The Labuan International Business and Financial Centre (Labuan IBFC) is mentioned 25 times in Bank Negara’s Blueprint. KLIFD is conspicuous in its omission.
The absence of clear support from Bank Negara and its reclassification into the Greater KL/Klang Valley NKEA suggests that the Kuala Lumpur International Financial District is another massive construction project rather than an important foundation of efforts to develop the financial services sector. This view is given credence by the various tax incentives granted to KLIFD in the 2012 Budget announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
The inducement for more new office space is puzzling. International real estate service firm CB Richard Ellis Malaysia points out that projects such as the KLIFD would exacerbate the oversupply in Kuala Lumpur. In this environment, it is even more crucial that policy enablers such as Bank Negara are fully on board to help create new opportunities and demand to fill the fresh supply of office space.
Progress so far is just mega-projects and one NKEA
Leaving aside Financial Services, the diversity of EPPs still leaves much to be desired. The EPPs are heavily skewed towards a handful of mega-projects and one NKEA in particular:
1. Firstly, just two mega-EPPs — the RAPID project by Petronas and the MRT — contribute 55 per cent or RM97 billion of the announced RM176 billion investments#.
2. Secondly, investments in EPPs in the Oil, Gas and Energy NKEA dominate. Oil, Gas and Energy EPPs make up 53 per cent or RM94 billion of the announced investments.
From another perspective, 6 of the top 10 EPPs are in this NKEA.
The reliance on just two projects and the slant towards the Oil, Gas & Energy NKEA would be even more pronounced if:
1. The now much higher cost of the MRT is used. The RM36.6 billion investment value still being officially cited is a 2009 estimate subject to inflation. Also, the cost of land acquisition and rolling stock is not included. Some reports suggest the cost is now in the region of twice as much;
2. Investment numbers for the intensification of exploration activities by Petronas and the formation of the Malaysian Nuclear Power Corporation announced in Updates 5 and 6 respectively are included. The investment figures for these two very large EPPS were surprisingly not given by PEMANDU when they were announced during the updates.
Based on the Roadmap, the nuclear power plant (EPP 11) is expected to generate RM21.3 billion of investments while the Petronas activities (EPP 3) will contribute RM18.4 billion. Including these numbers, Oil, Gas and Energy NKEA would have accounted for even more of the total investments in EPPs announced so far.
Three mega-projects make up nearly two-thirds of non-Oil, Gas & Energy NKEAs
It might be argued that PEMANDU is a victim of its own success in stimulating EPPs within the Oil, Gas & Energy NKEA. The RM94 billion of investments committed to this NKEA so far is already 83 per cent of the RM113 billion envisaged throughout the entire ETP period.
The massive investments here would naturally dwarf the other NKEAs. However, leaving aside the heavy reliance on Oil, Gas & Energy, the same diversity issues afflict the other 11 NKEAs:
1. The slant towards mega-projects is even more pronounced. Just three mega-projects — the MRT, TUKAR and Karambunai Integrated Resort — account for RM52 billion or nearly two-thirds of non-Oil, Gas & Energy EPPS;
2. Just one NKEA — Greater KL/Klang Valley — accounts for RM40 billion or nearly half of investments within the non-Oil, Gas & Energy NKEAs. The Palm Oil, Agriculture and Business Services NKEAs languish at the bottom. And recall that there are no Financial Services sector EPPs.
Excluding the three mega-projects, just RM30 billion of investments was generated across the 11 non-Oil, Gas & Energy NKEAs last year. To meet its ETP target, PEMANDU must generate RM67 billion per year of investments for the remaining period of the ETP. Can it pick up the pace?
The ETP Roadmap does outline some other ambitious projects. But these are also projects we are dubious about. Our scepticism is further fuelled by PEMANDU not mentioning the investment numbers when it announced these EPPs in its updates. Two examples are: 1. The Unified Malaysia Sale (EPP 11) under the Wholesale and Retail NKEA. In the Roadmap, the EPP is supposed to generate RM4.7 billion of investments. We think RM4.7 billion is a massive amount merely to organise a sale; and we noticed hardly any publicity from May to August last year when the sale supposedly took place. No figures were given when this EPP was announced in Update 6; and
2. The Invest KL EPP under the Greater KL/Klang Valley NKEA. Attracting 100 of the World’s Most Dynamic Firms within Priority Sectors (EPP1) is supposed to require funding of RM82.2 billion. Invest KL was announced as an EPP in Update 7, without numbers. We think RM82.2 billion to attract 100 firms is very expensive — it works out to RM820 million per firm. For example, the global financial hub of oil services giant Schlumberger announced so far is expected to need only RM268 million of investment.
Grade “C” for diversity
Nevertheless, in keeping with our commitment to evaluating PEMANDU on its own terms, we shall not pass judgment on these projects at this juncture. However, we would also remind readers that private investments are running at only about half the target rate, which we covered in Part 4 — Private Enterprises are Rejecting the ETP.
PEMANDU now has the dual task of catching up on EPPs in NKEAs besides Oil, Gas & Energy and stimulating private investments. For now, we grade PEMANDU “C” for Diversity — its ability to deliver a variety of EPPs across a broad swathe of sectors.
The jury is still out on whether the focus on a few mega-projects and one NKEA is driven by design or necessity. On the one hand, it is sensible to prioritise the large-ticket items. On the other hand, the focus on government-linked mega-projects might have been forced by the tepid private sector response to the ETP. Time will tell. We shall be monitoring.
Appendix 1: Breakdown of Projected Investments by NKEA, EPPs and Business Opportunities
The RM1.4 trillion total investments that PEMANDU prefers to highlight comprises RM800 billion of investments in EPPs and RM600 billion in 60 business opportunities identified in the ETP Roadmap Report.
Business opportunities “capture the potential of the sector to grow organically. Some business opportunities will be triggered by the successful execution of EPPs”.
In its ETP Updates, PEMANDU furnishes information only on EPPs. Business Opportunities are not covered in the ETP Updates. As such, we consider RM800 billion the appropriate investment benchmark when evaluating PEMANDU’s progress so far on generating investments.
Appendix 2: The gap between progress on number of EPPs announced and investment values
Astute readers will wonder at the gap between the number of EPPs announced and the total investments so far. 87 per cent or 114 out of a total 131 EPPs have been announced. However, the RM176 billion of investments announced lags far behind at just 22 per cent of the total expected.
Using a simple ratio suggests that announced investments should be RM696 billion. Why the large gap? There are two main reasons:
1. PEMANDU omits investment numbers for some announced EPPs. The nuclear power plant, Petronas intensification activities, Unified Malaysia Sale and Invest KL mentioned in this Focus Paper are examples of EPPs which have been announced but for which investment figures were not disclosed;
2. Not all the investment value in each EPP is realised when it is announced. For example, RM39 billion is the figure given for EPP 12 — Improving Rates, Mix and Quality of Hotels in Malaysia. However, the projects announced so far — Majestic (Update 2), Datai (Update 3) and Pulau Gaya (Update 3) — total less than RM3 billion in committed investments.
Whether the total investment expected in this and other similar EPPs is realistic or can ultimately be realised, we leave to the judgment of our readers and the good hands of the ETP team at PEMANDU.
The story so far
Part 1, “Let’s evaluate PEMANDU on its DEEDS”, introduced this series. We assess PEMANDU and the ETP on the goals, plans and targets stated in the ETP Roadmap document. Doing so facilitates constructive debate as it uses the framework which PEMANDU has chosen to work within. In that vein, and in keeping with the spirit of the alphabet soup of NKEAs, NKRAs, SRIs, EPPs, GNI surrounding the entire GTP, we evaluate PEMANDU and the ETP on its DEEDS:
Data transparency was covered in Part 2, “We won’t really be twice as rich in 2020”. We declared, “It does not compute!” PEMANDU’s target is to double nominal income per capita to RM48,000 by 2020. But using its forecasts for income and population growth, and inflation, the target should be RM54,145, not RM48,000. Can this “roadmap to transformation” be trusted when even the basic maths is wrong?
Execution took three Focus Papers:
Part 3(i), “PEMANDU strengthens the ‘know-who’ cancer”, focuses on PEMANDU’s practice of taking credit for pre-existing projects and its role in cutting red tape. PEMANDU is institutionalising the role of middleman if it cuts red tape only for EPPs. Malaysian innovation, creativity and productivity will continue to lag if long-term policy changes are not made. It does not matter how good your product or idea is, or how efficiently you can make it, it depends on who you know to get it through the system.
Part 3 (ii), “The hothouse labs probably killed innovation” posits that large companies would naturally dominate the vaunted “labs” that chose the EPPs. Also, the tight eight-week time frame to research best practices, distil them and support them with detailed analysis would have incentivised participants to select EPPs for which research was already ready, rather than pursue genuinely transformative alternatives.
Part 3 (iii), “Doubtful EPPs; doubtful achievements and due diligence” says the selection of projects with very little hope of success as EPPs raises serious doubts about the due diligence process at PEMANDU. The RM10 billion Karambunai Integrated Resort needs 2.8 million visitors per year to break even — more than all the travellers arriving at Kota Kinabalu airport! The multi-billion ringgit plan to transform Tanjong Agas from a fishing village to a petrochemical hub has REFSA aghast. It creates redundant infrastructure, and goes against the government’s own master plan identifying the already established Kertih and Gebeng as the focus areas for such activities in the Eastern Corridor Economic Region (ECER).
Enterprise is severely lacking so far. Part 4, “Private enterprises are rejecting the ETP” highlights that the private sector makes up only 35 per cent of the total investments in EPPs, far below the 60 per cent that PEMANDU says is required to take Malaysia to high-income status by 2020. It is understandable that priority is given to government-led, big-ticket infrastructure project in the early days of the ETP. However, PEMANDU’s attempt to paint a rosier picture by citing figures excluding large public sector projects like the MRT draws suspicion that something is amiss. REFSA debunks PEMANDU’s selective figures with a simple cake analogy and some telling numbers.
Note on PEMANDU’s response
Upon hearing that we were writing an evaluation of the ETP, the communications team at PEMANDU kindly arranged interviews with a director from the minister’s office who is also the director of the Oil, Gas and Energy & Financial Services NKEAs, the director of the Wholesale and Retail (W&R) NKEA and the assistant director of the Tourism NKEA. We are grateful for these interviews and will include clarification points from these interviews in our evaluation. These interviews were recorded by the ETP communications team and we hope that they would be made available online for public access. —REFSA (Research for Social Advancement)
* Dr Ong Kian Ming and Teh Chi-Chang wrote this analysis for REFSA.
This article was published by The Malaysian Insider.
Read Dr. Ong’s critiques of the ETP in full here.
The Great Debate’s political impact – one week later
One week after the debate between MCA president Dr Chua Soi Lek and DAP secretary-general and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, after the passions have cooled down and the arguments digested, what is the likely political impact, if any, moving forward?
What most Malaysians may not have realised is the one cardinal rule associated with political debates – “Don’t Screw Up”. Most of the members of audience would not remember the substantive points made by politicians on salient issues during these debates but almost all of them would remember if any political gaffes were made.
For Richard Nixon, it was not so much something he said but rather his body language – nervous, withdrawn and sweating profusely – that made his younger, confident and more relaxed opponent, John F Kennedy, look more appealing in their first 1960 presidential debate.
More recently, during a debate featuring aspiring Republican presidential candidates, Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, infamously uttered “oops” when he could not remember the name of the third federal agency he had promised he would abolish. In other words, impressions of the debate matter more than the actual substance of the debate.
Undoubtedly, the lasting impression and the most significant political gaffe made from this debate did not involve either of the political leaders but came from a member of the audience who posed a question/made a statement directed towards Lim.
Jessie Ooi, an MCA member and ‘caretaker’ of the Selayang parliamentary area, accused the Penang chief minister of putting additional burdens on the people by raising the assessment rates and by towing cars parked illegally after 10.30pm, even though the streets were empty at that time. I suspect that neither Ms Ooi nor the two political leaders realised that the 38 seconds used to pose that question would make her an Internet sensation almost overnight.
One week after the debate, she remains a widely debated topic, especially among the Chinese community. Judging from the over 40,000 comments which have been posted on her Facebook fan page and the many thousands of other mostly negative comments in the rest of cyberspace – Twitter,YouTube, blogs, news items – she has sparked a greater backlash than when Ibrahim Ali handed out white packets to senior citizens during a Perkasa Chinese New Year event.
Her accidental rise to infamy has, to a large extent, taken some of the positive attention that Chua may have received as a result of him daring to go face-to-face against the DAP’s secretary-general and Penang chief minister. More worrying for the MCA is the very real possibility that the massive outpouring of anger/scorn/derision targeted at Ms Ooi could translate into a further loss of support by the MCA among the Chinese community.
‘Cheap shot’ at Tee Keat
The second likely lasting impression from the debate is Chua’s ‘cheap shot’ at former MCA president Ong Tee Keat. When responding to Lim’s reference to Ong’s admission to a US embassy official that the Chinese community in Malaysia had the perception that they were just getting ‘crumbs’ from the government, Chua seemed to take great pride in declaring that MCA had gotten rid of this non-performing leader after less than a year in office.
Not surprisingly, this prompted an immediate response from Ong who tweeted ‘But I wonder if he (referring to Chua) is not rottened, why MCA has got such a nosedive support’ (sic).
There was no question that Chua was intent on going all out to attack the DAP, especially with regard to its relationship with PAS.
While he raised some salient points, such as the lack of a comprehensive governing agenda on the part of Pakatan, his ‘swipe’ against Ong probably left a deeper impression than his attacks on the DAP.
By doing so, he allowed himself to be thought of as a vindictive and sarcastic person rather than someone who was raising relevant issues for public consideration. This move by Chua, coupled with the aggressive questions posed and statements made against Lim by the various MCA supporters and leaders from the floor, left the impression that MCA was more interested in making personal attacks than to debate and discuss policy issues.
Lim’s usual strategy of promoting the policies and accomplishments of the Penang state government probably exacerbated this perception.
The third likely impact may not get fully played out on the national stage until a later time. Chua has been doggedly trying to use the issue of Islam, the Islamic state and PAS to attack the DAP. But often, much of what he has said can and has been interpreted as insulting or belittling Islam. For example, he used arguments from a book – ‘Malaysia and the Club of Doom’ – to equate Islam with all sorts of negative indicators such as corruption and low literacy
In the Tenang by-election, he infamously criticised the PAS candidate for not wanting to shake hands with men during the campaign. In this debate, many Malays who were tuning into Astro Awani got a chance to listen to Chua’s non-stop attacks against DAP for being powerless against PAS to establish an Islamic state or to implement more Islamic leaning policies such as the banning of cinemas and not finding new locations for pork abattoirs.
Here, Chua is stepping on thin ice since he may end up losing more Malay support for the MCA than the little support he can gain from the Chinese community, given the relative lack of salience on this issue.
If his statements regarding Islam in this debate, together with some of his statements made in other context, gain a wider audience among the Malays, the potential backlash against the MCA could be significant enough to cause MCA to lose a few more parliamentary and state seats.
This is not to say that Lim gave a stellar performance and that Chua had a dismal outing. Both achieved most of their stated objectives. Lim did not want to just discuss issues of interest to the Chinese community but went beyond by bringing in corruption, economic management and his record in Penang. Chua wanted to show that he could go toe- to-toe with Lim and take him on in areas of supposed vulnerability such as hudud and PAS’ intention to set up an Islamic state.
Both also had some shortcomings. Lim failed to draw attention to some of the successes of other Pakatan states especially Selangor.
And he let slip the opportunity to re-emphasise DAP’s firm commitment against the implementation of hudud and the establishment of an Islamic state. Chua failed to bring up the prime minister’s name even once and no mention was made of any of Najib Abdul Razak’s transformation policies.
But these points have probably been forgotten by the public, including those who witnessed the debate live on TV or as a member of the audience. What counts are the lasting impressions from this debate and from this perspective, the negatives are much more apparent for the MCA than for the DAP.
Finally, if the next debate between these two leaders in English / BM, takes place as originally promised, it would ramp up pressure on Najib to have a much more politically significant debate with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. If this debate were to take place, the same cardinal rule would apply – “Don’t Screw Up!” In the meantime, all of us political junkies will be waiting expectantly.
ONG KIAN MING holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University.
This article was published by Malaysiakini.