Tuesday, March 19, 2013


As political parties gear for the final stretch to the 13th General Elections, Malaysians must not forget, our country is not a democracy. It is an electoral authoritarian regime.

An Electoral Authoritarian Regime

An electoral authoritarian regime is one that uses “a democratic façade” to cover authoritarian rule. The pretense of holding elections is “the lipstick on the crocodile”.  The most common form of autocracy today is hidden behind elections. “The dream (of these regimes) is to reap the fruits of electoral legitimacy without running the risk of democratic uncertainty”[1]

A democracy is defined to include at least the following 5 attributes: (1) regular elections that are competitive, free and fair; (2) full adult suffrage; (3) broad protection of civil liberties including freedom of speech, press and association; (4) absence of non-elected “tutelary” authorities such as military or religious bodies that limit elected officials from having effective power to govern; and (5) the existence of a reasonably level playing field. 

An electoral authoritarian regime does not have such attributes. Elections in an electoral authoritarian regime are competitive and real but they are not free and fair.  The incumbent uses government resources and power to undermine legitimate procedures by illegitimate practices such as electoral fraud, vote rigging, disenfranchisement, media bias, repression or legal controls to make it difficult if not impossible for opposition parties to sustain public campaigns and to exclude opposition leaders from contesting through technical and legal disqualifications, bans, imprisonment or exile.

Malaysia is an electoral authoritarian regime in the same class of Kenya during the rule of Daniel Arap Moi and his Kenyan African National Union (“KANU”) who perfected the use of patronage, large scale ethnic violence to divide opposition parties, disenfranchise voters and ultimately tilted the playing field in his favour. Others in the class include Mexico under President Miguel de la Madrid of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (“PRI”), Zimbabwe under President Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (“ZANU-PF”).

We need only look at the past 2 weeks to confirm the authoritarian nature of the Malaysian regime.

Malaysia will be heading for the polls without a clean electoral roll.

On 4 March 2013, Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his closing speech at the International Conference On Malaysia 13th General Elections reminded Malaysians that fundamental reforms for a free and fair elections have not been implemented. 

Anwar Ibrahim said:

“The paramount importance of Bersih is undisputed. Bersih, as we all know, has made tremendous contributions to the cause of electoral reform…The protests and demonstrations to demand for free and fair elections clearly signify the dissatisfaction with the state of things…

 Our election commission is supposed to be the electoral watchdog but among other things, its epic failure is that both the commission’s chair and deputy chair were card carrying members of the ruling UMNO party prior to their appointment.  So merely calling it an electoral commission does not guarantee its independence and impartiality…

The existence of hundreds and thousands of fictitious names as well as names of dead people plus widespread duplication of names in the electoral rolls point to blatant fraud in voter registration…  The problem is becoming rampant as evidenced by the daily exposes on this.  The RCI in Sabah on the notorious Project IC underscores the reality of the fear”

On 8th March 2013, the Deputy Chairman of the Election Commission confirmed Anwar’s fears. He said “this is normal” for 28% of new voters to be untraceable!  Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, Selangor Menteri Besar, on 3 March 2013 voiced his concerns that 134,675 out of 500,000 new voters in Selangor cannot be identified or traced.

All hopes for a free and fair election were dashed on 14th March 2013, when the High Court dismissed Klang MP, Charles Santiago’s application for judicial review. Charles produced sufficient evidence to show the existence of phantom voters in his constituency’s electoral rolls. However, the judge declined to strike down section 9A of the Elections Act 1948 as being unconstitutional. The Judge instead held he was bound by the provision that the Court cannot review, set aside or quash the electoral rolls after they are published in the gazette. Section 9A was enacted after the Sabah High Court declared the Likas by-elections null and void due to the existence of phantom voters. The government instead of cleaning the electoral rolls, introduced section 9A to prevent the Court from reviewing the electoral rolls.

The Court’s lack of robustness in dealing with section 9A has in the words of Charles Santiago “legalized phantom voters”.

Opposition Lack of Media Access

The lack of media access is a hallmark of an electoral authoritarian regime.  There is no possibility of fair elections when opposition parties lack access to media to reach out to the electorate. Scholars noted in electoral authoritarian regimes, media are owned or are under the control of the incumbent.  They are not only biased in favour of the incumbent, but also form part of the incumbent’s propaganda machine. The scholars cite the media in Malaysia as examples of this.

The media has gone into overdrive since the Lahad Datu incursion. The focus is not on the security situation but in spinning that Anwar Ibrahim is the mastermind behind the incursion. Anwar had in October 2012 long before the incursion sang a song. One line of the song is:

“Tanya sama Najib, mengapa kau goyang.  Nanti jawab Najib, Sabah dah hilang”.

A complete viewing of the video shows Anwar was referring to the swing in Sabahans’ support from BN to Pakatan Rakyat and that Najib is worried BN will lose Sabah in the coming polls. TV3 featured this one line together with news of the incursion thereby falsely accusing Anwar to be behind the Lahad Datu incursion. This is propaganda in its worst form. The 13th GE campaign will see the media engaged in the worse gutter politics ever.


In many electoral authoritarian regimes, the courts, electoral authorities and other nominally independent arbiters of the rules of the game are not only controlled by the incumbents but are also employed as partisan tools against the opposition. An example is the Fujimori government’s control of the Peruvian judicial and electoral authorities to carry out bribery, illegal surveillance, stripping of media owner Baruch Ivcher’s citizenship, massive forgery of signatures and passage of constitutionally dubious legislation permitting Fujimori to win a third term in 2000.

Another example of “legal repression” is Vladimir Putin’s use of the courts to destroy Mikhail Khodovsky, the owner of the enormously powerful Yukos oil company by jailing him for tax charges and seizing his company, property and stock after Khodovsky began financing opposition parties.

In charging Tian Chua on 14 March 2013 under the Sedition Act 1948 for his alleged comments on Lahad Datu, the selective and partisan use of the prosecutor’s powers is clear for all to see. Those on the other side of the political divide, who incited racial and religious strife, promoted feelings of ill-will and hostility between the different races and religions have been left untouched. They remain scot free to spew hatred and contempt with impunity.   

Anwar Ibrahim remains the most wanted and persecuted opposition leader in the history of Malaysia. He has been detained without trial and imprisoned, castigated as an outcast and labeled a traitor to his race and religion. All these are because of his conviction to reform Malaysia’s politics of race and fear while advocating good governance free of corruption. The international community and experts have noted the government’s use of corruption, repeated sodomy and other charges to carry out a political assassination of Anwar Ibrahim. This has been vindicated by his acquittals and recently by Saiful Bukhari’s father, Azlan Mohd Lazim on 8th March 2013 revealing the second sodomy charge was an “evil conspiracy” against Anwar. The call by the Minister of Home Affairs for investigations into the mastermind behind the Lahad Datu incursion after the media frenzy against Anwar Ibrahim will surprise no one if the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act is used to take out their biggest nemesis and threat in the coming elections.

Intimidation and Thugs   

Another hallmark of an electoral authoritarian regime is the use of violence and intimidation. Robert Mugabe’s use of bully boys to intimidate voters is well documented. So is the increasing frequency and escalating violence of thugs waving UMNO flags disrupting Anwar Ibrahim and Pakatan Rakyat’s campaign. 

On 8 March 2013, Keadilan’s campaign bus on its “Merdeka Rakyat Tour” carrying Anwar Ibrahim was attacked. They also stormed his ceramah in Kampung Bukit Katil, Melaka. They smashed the bus windows causing the glass shards to injure passengers, supporters, reporters and also Anwar. Keadilan supporters have been injured by stones thrown at Anwar’s rallies. In Lembah Pantai, flower pots were thrown injuring those at the rally. In Gombak, one supporter was slashed by a kerabit. UMNO thugs have attacked Tian Chua at two of his ceramahs. These bullying tactics will become more severe as the campaign heats up. Authoritarian regimes turn to their nastiest levels of repression, intimidation and fraud when they are most vulnerable not when their political domination is secured.[2]

Liberalizing Malaysia from the electoral Authoritarian Regime

Law-abiding and right thinking Malaysians must put an end to the authoritarian regime and restore democracy. Elections in an electoral authoritarian regime may become moments of liberalization and provide a new beginning. 

One of the reasons that electoral authoritarian regimes are able to survive is because of their ability to divide and fragmentize the opposition. The more divided the opposition parties, the more susceptible they are to governmental manipulation, cooptation and repression. In order for the opposition to gain victory over an electoral authoritarian regime, it “requires a level of opposition mobilization, unity, skill and heroism far beyond what would normally be required for victory in a democracy”[3]

Opposition Coalition

The formation of an opposition coalition is the first ingredient towards a liberalizing electoral outcome. The formation of an opposition coalition does not refer to the strength of the opposition per se and it is not based merely on the degree of hostility to a leader or party in power.  Many authoritarian incumbents are deeply unpopular.  Yet despite their lack of popular support, such incumbents often maintain their hold on power. This is due to the opposition’s inability to form effective organizational structures to challenge the government in the electoral arena. 

Political scientists have found that what is important is for the opposition to come together not by giving up their own party’s interest or submitting to a charismatic leader, but in forming a strategic coalition for the specific goal of winning the election.

An opposition coalition increases the probability of political liberalization: (1) by taking away votes from the ruling regime. When the opposition joins together, an unpopular incumbent is less able to use repression and patronage to coerce and induce people to vote for him; (2) it can prevent incumbents from playing opposition parties and leaders against each other; (3) it increases the risk and cost of repression and manipulation. The police, army, bureaucrats and judiciary are less inclined to employ illegal practices in favour of the incumbent due to fears of recrimination by the opposition if they calculate that the opposition is able to mount a credible challenge to the ruling party and wins; (4) it can mobilize people to vote against the incumbent as the electorate gets a sense that change is possible and view the opposition as an alternative governing coalition. 

Keadilan, PAS and DAP after 2008 General Elections, forged a coalition, Pakatan Rakyat. In coming together each retained their respective party’s interest and policies by agreeing to a Common Policy Platform in 2009. In 2010, the coalition announced a set of policies and programmes known as “The Buku Jingga” for the first 100 days of its administration. On 25 February 2013, the coalition unveiled its manifesto. Pakatan Rakyat has given Malaysians hope that change is not just a possibility but can be a reality.

Rise of the Moderates

The second ingredient for the liberalization of Malaysia is for moderates to act. In every authoritarian regime, notwithstanding its use of oppression and electoral fraud it retains support of a core group. There is also a core support group for the opposition parties. The election is ultimately a contest for the votes of the moderates. The incumbent relies on the media and the unlevelled playing field to entice the moderates. Moderates vote the incumbent due to their lack of information.

Unlike previous elections Malaysians today are aware that the nation is ruled by an electoral authoritarian regime. The moderates in general and Bumiputras forming 60% of the electorate in particular, must realize that electoral fraud cannot be condoned. Electoral fraud: (1) destroys the very essence of every citizen’s democratic right to vote for his or her government, irrespective of his or her race, religion or political ideology; (2) undermines the foundation of a nation, the social consensus of upholding legality; (3) cost the regime loss of legitimacy which damages both the autocrats’ and the nation’s reputation in the international community; (4) increases patronage, rent seeking corruption, abuse of power and plundering of the nation’s resources;

Moderates must therefore protest in the strongest terms by voting out the electoral authoritarian regime. Pakatan Rakyat is ready to knock on Putrajaya’s door. It remains to be seen whether the moderates will want to open the door or stand idly by watching their elections being stolen from them.

William Leong Jee Keen
Member of Parliament Selayang
19 March 2012

[1] Levitsky Steven and Lucan A. Way 2002 “The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism” Journal of Democracy Volume 13 No. 2 (April) 61-65; Shaedler Andreas 2002 “Elections Without Democracy” Journal of Democracy Volume 13 No. 2 (April) 36-50
[2]  Beatriz Magaloni “The Game of Electoral Fraud and the ousting of Authoritarian Rule” American Journal of Political Sciences Vol 54 No. 3 July 2010 pp 751-765
[3] Diamond Larry 2002 “Thinking About Hybrid Regimes” Journal of Democracy 13(2): 21-35; Marc Morje Howard and Philip G Roessler “Liberalizing Electoral Outcomes in Competitive Authoritarian Regimes” American Journal of Political Science Volume 50 No. 2 April 2006 365-381

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