Zaid Ibrahim Blasts Election Irregularities in Malaysia

Zaid Ibrahim, the Malaysia opposition coalition standard-bearer who lost a by-election last Sunday to P Kamalanathan, a Malaysian Indian Congress spokesman, coalition, has issued a blistering statement charging the national ruling coalition with "blatant bribery starting from…party workers right up to the Prime Minister himself."

Zaid, a prominent Kuala Lumpur lawyer and onetime justice minister under former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who left the United Malays National Organisation to join the Parti Keadilan Rakyat headed by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, called on international observers to monitor future elections in the country. The opposition lost the race in the Hulu Selangor constituency northeast of Kuala Lumpur by 1,725 votes.

Other observers said both sides had used the power of government to attempt to influence the results. The Pakatan Rakyat coalition, composed of Parti Keadilan, the ethnic Chinese Democratic Action Party and the Islamic fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia, won control of the government in Selangor in the 2008 national election. Certainly in the past, UMNO has shown no hesitation at promising contracts to likely voters, used government-owned transport to move voters to the polls and taken many other steps to seek to ensure victory although vote-counting has largely remained clean and fair.

Kim Quek, a Pakatan Rakyat spokesman, charged in his own message that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak "made innumerable on-the-spot grants of cash and promises of goodies (many were conditional upon a Barisan Nasional win) that ran easily to hundreds of millions of ringgit during that compact campaign period. These included the construction of a university and several schools, an expressway interchange and many other infrastructures, several low-cost housing projects, upgrading of mosques and temples, grants to community guilds and associations, cash payments to individuals etc."

In particular, Quek wrote, Najib himself handed RM5 million (US$1.56 million) in cash to 10 100 rural dwellers being resettled by Malaysia's Federal Land Development Authority. The settlers, Quek wrote, were among victims of a failed project committed to a private developer 15 years ago.

Zaid's loss was a setback for the Pakatan Rakyat coalition.which has been suffering increasing attrition as party functionaries leave and return to the UMNO, from whence many of them had come before the 2008 election. Zaid was being seen as the logical successor to Anwar if the opposition leader goes to jail in what has become known as Sodomy II after a former aide charged him with sexual perversion.

Zaid charged that voters' names had been removed from electoral rolls, that others had been intimidated, bribed or given other inducements to influence their choice. He said his legal team would file an election petition against the poll, which took place in the Hulu Selangor constituency northeast of Kuala Lumpur. He said he would also sue the country's election commission.

"The conduct of free and fair elections is the constitutional duty of the Election Commission," Zaid wrote. "I maintain that they have violated that duty in the recent by-election. They have allowed intimidation, false information, and unfair and illegal electoral practices by the Barisan Nasional machinery without any attempt to stop them. In fact, it was obvious to me that the Election Commission was on the side of Barisan Nasional and wanting Barisan Nasional to win."

He said he also intends to file suit against the UMNO-controlled Utusan Malaysia newspaper for calling him a kaki botol or drunk. "I was never an alcoholic," he said. "Whatever I consumed was no more than whatever (former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad) and other UMNO leaders had consumed. The Election Commission should not have allowed for such a malicious and false campaign."

The opposition, he said, would launch a "Pakatan International Support group" in London in

July to seek international support for free and fair elections in Malaysia. He invited overseas Malaysians to provide information to other countries and international organizations on what he described as election excesses in the country.