Monday, November 28, 2005

Malaysian Abu Ghraib Fallout - PAS Benefits?

There is a State by-election in Malaysia’s north-eastern state, Kelantan on 6 December, in one week’s time. The by-election for the Pengalan Pasir constituency has been called following the demise of the elected representative, Wan Abdul Aziz Wan Jaffar, a PAS member.

PAS is the Malaysian Islamic Party, and the only opposition party to control one of the Malaysian States, Kelantan.

In the last election Pengkalan Pasir had around 18,000 voters and PAS won by just 55 votes. The Islamic Party must corner the Chinese votes, all 863 of them, to ensure a victory again. Though the Chinese votes represent only 4.69% of the electorate, the slim margin of the last victory has impressed upon PAS the importance of ‘every single vote’.

While by-elections are usually won by the opposition, the situation is a bit hazy in Pengkalan Pasir because one may ask ‘who is the opposition?’ In Malaysia, sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between the federal or state governments. One shouldn’t be surprised that some Kelantanese PAS supporters may view themselves as the ‘opposition’ to their federal government nemesis, UMNO.

Usually, PAS won’t have a ghost of a chance getting any (non-Muslim) Chinese votes because of their political religious character. But in the fallout of the recent Malaysian Abu Ghraib police scandal, and the very poor handling by and perceived failure of the police chiefs in reassuring the public that stern action would be taken against the abuser, there may well be Chinese protest votes.

One may ask what has the mistreatment of female Chinese nationals have to do with a State by-election? There has been a growing swell of Chinese Malaysian frustration at the unaccountable misbehaviour of the Malaysian police. The unsatisfactory resolution of the local Abu Ghraib scandal demonstrates the arrogance and unaccountability of the police force.

If PAS plays its cards right, it can well capture most of the Chinese protest votes. Some opposition parties are already assessing the potential fallout benefits of the police scandal for their election prospects in 2008.

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