Welcome the new Malaysia

I have flown back in time to vote. My wife, Kim, returns on May 4 from Indonesia where we have been serving as missionaries for the past three years. The next day we drive up all the way to Taiping to cast our precious votes. The following day on May 6, I turn 65 and wake up to a new Malaysia. It’s the best birthday present I will ever get. My colleagues are less optimistic.

”How sure are you Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition coalition, will win?” one disagreed with me.

That’s the wrong question. It makes no difference whether Pakatan Rakyat opposition or the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition wins. The truth is that following May 5, the King will appoint a new Prime Minister. We may see a new face or re-branded one in Putrajaya.

Things have changed much since 2008. Yet things will never be the same again. Following the untiring efforts of Bersih, the electoral reform movement, Malaysian voter education has become an unprecedented phenomenon. Apart from putting tremendous pressure on the Elections Commission to conduct a free, fair and clean election, it has also persuaded overseas voters to fly home.

Meanwhile, Tindak Malaysia, an independent polls watch movement, has quietly and efficiently over the years trained and built up an army of independent polling and counting agents to help keep an eye on electoral fraud on polling day itself. Still the cheating will go on but now under scrutiny.

My friend, Kit, flew in from Sydney last week all geared up to cast his vote, the first time since emigrating to Australia. Yesterday, another friend from my NST days, William, flew back. His wife, Helen, joins him tomorrow. Several thousands more like them all over the world are also back or on the way back or have registered as overseas voters.

”I didn’t come back in 2008. It will be upon my conscience not to fly home and vote this time although it cost us a fair bit. This is my patriotic duty,” says William.

Some 2.6 million Malaysians have registered to vote for the first time, making up a fifth of the 13.3 million eligible voters. That is much higher than the 638,000 new voters five years ago. If we take all voters aged 40 and below, the number goes up to over five and a half million or every two out of five voters are in this age group. This is the unpredictable Starbucks and i-Pad crowd. They can swing the results either way.

There’s a lot of hype and anxiety over electoral fraud. Sure there will be cheating but I am optimistic this huge block of young voters can significantly offset whatever fraud there may be.

Department of Statistics figures show that 65,500 graduates were unemployed in 2010 and they were predominantly in the 20 to 29 age group. The bulk of them are Malays. Living on government handouts may not be a long term solution. Change may be a good option.

The young voters are also born after 1969 so it is not as easy to drive the fear of May 13 into their hearts in the same way that it frightens their parents. This is also the generation who knows of no other prime minister other than Dr Mahathir. They may have gotten tired of living under such a regime and change may be an attractive option.

Since 2008, the urban landscape has shifted decisively toward the opposition. The Malay heartland has shifted too. An indication is the revolt from within Umno, the dominant partner in the ruling coalition.

The party was forced to sack 61 of its members who broke ranks by fielding themselves as independent candidates against their own party’s preferred candidates. Among them is former deputy Wanita Umno and a former deputy minister.This is unprecedented. Half of these rebels are in Sabah, a “fixed deposit” state like Sarawak. Looks like someone has made an early withdrawal from the vote bank.

The opposition is also facing internal division between Pas, the Islamic partner, and the predominantly Chinese-based DAP, over the contentious hudud issue to the delight of the opposing coalition.

I have been following the polls since 1955 when I was just seven; first to see my late grandfather elected to the Federal Legislative on an MCA ticket in Nibong Tebal only to watch him lose the seat to the Labour Party in the first parliamentary elections after independence.

Win or lose I have learned to pick up the cues intuitively. This general elections is too close to call. My intuition tells me a hung parliament is unlikely. The winning side is likely to have a comfortable margin with help from the fixed deposit states with more compounded interest, of course.

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