Bersatu, Rashid and the fallacy of reform agenda

Bersatu vice-president Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Ab Rahman says the party would be ‘stupid’ not to use government resources to win the next general election by ‘hook or by crook’.

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 3 – The Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) general assembly ended with a bang on Sunday with a winding-up speech by the party’s vice-president Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Ab Rahman that will not be easily forgotten by those who voted for Pakatan Harapan in the 14th general election (GE14).

What he said reaffirmed the fears of many that Bersatu was in fact Umno 3.0 (let us not forget that Umno 2.0 was officially registered in 1988 as Umno Baru).

Two key points he made has caused a lot of fury among civil society groups, some Pakatan Harapan leaders and the public at large.

To much applause from the Bersatu assembly in attendance, Rashid said that the Federal Development Department (JPP), scrapped by the PH government after taking over Putrajaya, should be reinstated for the benefit of the Bersatu division and branch chiefs nationwide.

“Division and branch chiefs must get more money so that they can do more. Our people must be given all the development projects by the Federal government,” he was reported to have said.

Then he called for PH to ensure that it retains power in GE15 “by hook or by crook”.

Electoral watchdog Bersih was quick to respond, knowing that Rashid was the former Election Commission chairman and had been pivotal in helping Barisan Nasional over a number of general elections.

While Bersatu Youth (Armada) Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman criticised the proposal, chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad just said that whatever Rashid had expressed was a personal opinion, nothing more.

“How to keep Malays in power”

Regardless, if personal views are anything to go by, Rashid takes the cake.

After all, he joined Malay right-wing group Perkasa at the invitation of its president, Ibrahim Ali, in May 2013.

What the man who had managed six of Malaysia’s 12 general elections said after joining Perkasa still rings in the ear.

“This land has always belonged to the Malays,” Rashid said at a Perkasa division meeting, adding that as EC chairman, he “knew how to keep the Malays in power”. He was even reported to have admitted that three redelineation exercises done during his time as EC chief “had ensured Malays remained in power”.

The credibility of the EC was said to have gone downhill under his watch – he was EC secretary from 1979 and its chairman from 2000 to 2008.

Ironically, Rashid was appointed by Mahathir to lead the Election Reform Committee last August.

Wither reform under Pakatan Harapan?

The whole point of Pakatan Harapan’s massive victory in GE14 was to put in place institutional and electoral reforms that would help rid this country of the rent-seeking culture among politicians and their supporters over the past four decades.

The proposal by Rashid makes one wonder how the party can even consider itself as being involved in the pursuit of a reform agenda.

The only “reform” that has taken place, and is likely to continue is that those who were dumped by Umno, prior to 2018 and the rest of the Umno leaders, lawmakers and members who have joined after GE14, have decided to “re-form” themselves under Bersatu.

EC chief took instructions from former PM, says DAP

The silence from people like DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang and other DAP leaders, who had criticised Rashid of being a BN lackey during his tenure in the EC is very telling.

One would hope that DAP political strategist and now Deputy Minister for International Trade and Industry, Ong Kian Ming, could share his thoughts like he did in 2013.

Back in November 2013, Ong said: “In 2003, I was part of an Institute Kajian Malaysia dan Antarabangsa (IKMAS) study team from UKM looking at the constituency delineation process and I remember distinctly Rashid telling the members of the study team that he had received instructions from then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad not to add any seats in Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu and also to create more ethnically ‘mixed’ seats.

“The presumption then was that non-Malays would not vote for the opposition, namely PAS, and having more non-Malay voters in these seats would help the BN. I believe that Rashid was just taking instructions from the ruling coalition during the 2003 delineation exercise to maintain the status quo,” Ong had been quoted as saying by The Edge.

Proper systems, monitoring essential

Rashid’s speech at the Bersatu general assembly has showed up the party and left its PH allies in a bind.

Fortunately, the Armada wing took a stand immediately in response to Rashid’s comments criticising the proposal to give federal projects to division chiefs, and that bodes well.

There is also the hope that with the proper systems in place over the next few years, and the keen eyes of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, as well as that of the people, firmly on the PH government, such a proposal would never be put into action.