MALAYSIA: Rocked by polls result?

Election results stun media, break Barisan Nasional's two-thirds majority in Parliament

The Straits Times
Monday, March 10, 2008

By Ling Chang Hong

Kuala Lumpur -- Take heed of what the voters are saying.

That in essence was the message yesterday from the Malaysian media to the Abdullah Badawi government as it reacted to the stunning election result that saw the opposition seizing five out of 13 states, including urban Selangor.

Saturday's election also left the government without its two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time since 1969.

The shocking nature of the outcome was captured in headlines suggestive of massive earthquakes or other natural disasters.

'Political Tsunami,' screamed the headline in the top-selling Sunday Star newspaper. 'BN Rocked,' said the New Sunday Times (NST).

While the swing against the BN among Chinese and Indian voters was widely expected given the tensions over race and religion ahead of the polls, the shift of Malay votes to the opposition was not.

And it was something that left not just the government surprised, as a commentary in The Star acknowledged.

'Last night's results stunned Barisan leaders and the media. The voters, especially those in the urban areas, obviously wanted to send a strong message to the leadership,' wrote The Star Group chief editor Wong Chun Wai in his commentary, 'Winds Of Change Sweep Malaysia.'

He called on the ruling coalition to view seriously the electorate's unhappiness over issues that cut across all races.

'The electorate has spoken,' said the NST editorial, in similar vein and despite having been aggressively pro-BN in its campaign coverage earlier.

'The issues of the day... crime, the cost of living, educational and employment opportunities, equity distribution... must receive the untrammelled attention of the incoming government.'

The Chinese-language Sin Chew Daily pointed out that the BN had failed to grasp the groundswell of unhappiness and a growing unwillingness to be fobbed off with platitudes.

'Peace, security and prosperity are no longer in tune with the needs of the people,' it said in its editorial, referring to the BN slogan.

Instead, people are concerned about issues such as reducing fuel prices and narrowing the rich-poor divide, it said.

The election also drew international media attention, appearing among the top items on news websites including the BBC and CNN.

In weighing the results, however, the local media studiously avoided comparisons with 1969, when the coalition government of the day suffered a similarly spectacular upset, one that led to the infamous May 13 racial riots.

Lectures aside, the usually government-friendly media also stopped short of asking Premier Abdullah Badawi to resign.