Losing formula

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 March, 2004, 12:00am

There is a distinct similarity between Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and F1 racer Michael Schumacher: both won handsomely in their respective races in Malaysia last Sunday.

For the record, Mr Abdullah led the National Front coalition to its best victory in its 30-year history by winning 198 out of 219 parliamentary seats.

But the country's 11th general election also saw several 'firsts'. Never has the election process been plunged into so much controversy. To begin with, the Election Commission incurred the wrath of opposition parties when it allowed only seven-and-a-half days for campaigning, the shortest in Malaysia's 47-year history.

While the National Front was jubilant on Nomination Day (March 13), winning 14 parliamentary seats uncontested, it also experienced an unprecedented embarrassment when its candidate for a state seat in Johor was disqualified for having a non-voter as a proposer for her candidacy. It gave the impression that the government had fielded someone who did not know the rules.

The National Front's bounty went up two days later when two opposition candidates withdrew. Rumours were rife that candidates could be bought for about M$100,000, (HK$205,000).

But what struck me as unprecedented was that three men were detained by police for having persuaded some candidates to back off. Although the would-be givers or takers were not identified, it was assumed that they had tried to bribe opposition candidates.

When I voted, I took comfort from the commission's pledge that a voter would not have to wait more than five minutes. I was lucky - it took me 10. A colleague text-messaged me to say she had been waiting three hours. And she was not alone.

In nearby Selangor state, thousands were denied their right to vote from 8am. This compelled the commission to extend voting time by two hours to 7pm for the first time.

The biggest gaffe occurred at Sungei Lembing, once the world's deepest underground tin mine in Pahang state: the commission printed the wrong party symbol on ballots, thus forcing 11,790 voters to return tomorrow. But the result will be academic, as the National Front had already captured Pahang.

There were red faces during the vote count at the Bukit Bintang constituency of Kuala Lumpur, when one ballot box was found to contain only rubbish. Election Commission Chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman blamed the fiasco on poor co-ordination between headquarters and state offices, as well as 'borrowed employees' from government departments.

Heads will roll, as many see this as a failure in the government's delivery system as the commission is closely linked to officialdom, even though it is a non-governmental organisation. And yes, the polls did take its toll on F1 racing, as only 85,000 die-hard fans braved the heat at Sepang last Sunday, instead of the anticipated 120,000.