Jan 29, 2007

Opposition must rethink boycotts for future elections

What a great piece of news from NSTP. Remember bloggers vs NSTP?

(NST) WHAT next for the opposition? They spent the last two years criticising the government at their ceramah, in their party organ and on the Internet.

The boycott of the Batu Talam by-election was to have been the culmination of this campaign, that everything in Malaysia was heading in the wrong direction.

But, going by last night’s results, voters were not buying what the opposition has been dishing out over the last two years, including their call for a boycott on the grounds that the Election Commission was biased towards Barisan Nasional.

Rural Batu Talam folk came out in droves to vote, and sent a resounding message: BN rules OK.

A respectable 67.8 per cent of the voters or 7,131 voters came out to vote. The increase in the majority votes to 5,857 raised questions about the opposition and what they had been saying about the government.

Senator Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib, Umno information chief, said the by-election was a mid-term review of the administration.

"The voter turnout is an indication of the people’s acceptance of our policies. The opposition has obviously failed," he said.

On hindsight, what BN leaders had been saying about the opposition was true: They were scared of a beating and so they had to find a way out.

The boycott was a good and convenient way: Blame the Election Commission. At least their supporters would buy it, and they would not have to suffer the humiliation of a beating at the ballot box.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said: "If there are people who abstained from voting, it’s only their supporters.

"Those who understand the principles of democracy did not boycott. The opposition clearly failed."

But Pas deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa was unfazed by the result. He said it should not be taken as a benchmark of the government’s performance.

"With the entire national BN machinery in that rural area, the result should have been better for the government. I believe the result is not an indictment of our strategy to boycott."

No one knew who boycotted the by-election. Even fence sitters, usually constituting about 20 per cent of registered voters, appeared not to have been influenced by the opposition’s call to boycott.

What more when the turnout was eight per cent less than the 2004 turnout. No one can claim that these registered voters were boycotting the by-election because they could be outstation or they were lazy to vote.

The lessons for the opposition are:

• Go back to the drawing board and rethink the boycott strategy, and

• Engage BN in any election while continuing to lobby for reform of the Election Commission.

The other thing the opposition has to realise is this: As long as the rural folk agree that things are fine under the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, they will continue to vote for the government they can trust.

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