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Close race expected for Malaysian election
Jim Middleton speaks with Saifuddin Abdullah, the Malaysian Deputy Minister for Higher Education.

Malaysia's ruling Barisan Nasional is confident it will win the country's upcoming elections, despite polls suggesting the Opposition will sweep into power for the first time in 56-years.
JIM MIDDLETON: Minister, welcome to the program.


JIM MIDDLETON: In his election announcement, your prime minister had this to say: "If there is a change of power, it will and must happen peacefully. This is our commitment", quote, unquote. Do you think defeat is really a possibility?

SAIFUDDIN ABDULLAH: No. I am looking at the numbers from independent research houses and I think we are very, very optimistic that we will win at the federal level, and we are also quite confident of probably winning one or two out of the four states now under Pakatan Rakyat. So we are quite confident.

JIM MIDDLETON: Barisan Nasional did get a big shock in 2008, so do you think that at this election you can restore your two thirds majority in the parliament?

SAIFUDDIN ABDULLAH: Two-thirds majority is not really our main objective, though we still feel that it is a possibility. You see, 2008 is something else. This time around, we are more prepared.

I think in 2008, for instance, we lost a lot of support from the Indian community and from the young voters. But this time around, we like to believe that the Indian community are coming back to us and we are more engaged with the young voters. We are very active in the cyber war, so to speak, and I think that is why, among others, we are quite confident. We are more confident this time.

JIM MIDDLETON: Announcing the election Najib Razak also had this to say: "This election will determine not only the future of the country but also of your grandchildren". Is this poll really seen by Barisan Nasional as a watershed election in Malaysia's history?

SAIFUDDIN ABDULLAH: Well, this GE13 is set to be the mother of all elections in Malaysia. It is probably the most competitive. But, in a way, it is also going to be a milestone election because whatever happens in this coming election, government is going to be a new kind of government. We are optimistic that BN will be returned, but I am also very sure BN will come up with a new version of BN when we come back and form the government.

JIM MIDDLETON: If this is a watershed election, the credibility and legitimacy of the result will be even more important. The integrity of the electoral rolls has already led to much public protest in Malaysia. Given the importance of this election, why hasn't the Electoral Commission done more to ensure there can be no doubt about the credibility of the result?

SAIFUDDIN ABDULLAH: I think the parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform has done quite a good job. In trying to address most of the questions and most of the critics addressed to the Election Commission. I think out of the 22 proposals, 18 of the proposals are already being executed upon by the Election Commission. I believe this is quite a huge departure from whatever that we were having before.

Now coming back to the result of the coming election, I think what is more important is the kind of parliament, the kind of parliament that we are hoping to have upon completion of the election. I am hoping for a parliament that is going to be more engaging with the public, with other stakeholders. I'm hoping for a parliament that is going to be more bipartisan where BN, when we are returned into power, will be more consultative with the Pakatan Rakyat.

JIM MIDDLETON: What about the fact, though, that in Selangor, for example, fully 28 per cent of the electoral roll is suspect. The election commissioner there has himself admitted there are dubious votes on the roll. Isn't that going to have an impact on credibility, on legitimacy?

SAIFUDDIN ABDULLAH: I think the Election Commission is doing what is humanly possible to clean the electoral roll, but of course there will be some dissatisfaction from certain quarters. That is understandable. Now I'm not saying we should put aside those complaints but, as far as the Election Commission is concerned, I believe they are trying their level best to clean the roll.

JIM MIDDLETON: The government has spent an awful lot of money, something like $2 billion, on key groups in the electorate. Anwar Ibrahim has branded those payments to voters bribes. That is what they are, is it not?

SAIFUDDIN ABDULLAH: Well, you know, even Pakatan Rakyat India manifesto in the last general election have the same kind of promises. And in Penang, they have been giving some one off goodies to some of the deserving members of the population. So I think this is not a graft, this is part of our way of sharing the economic cake to the poor, to the deserving.

We don't look at it in that manner. In fact, on the contrary, I think this is our innovation in trying to share the cake with those deserving.

JIM MIDDLETON: You mentioned opinion polls a little earlier. According to the polls, corruption ranks very highly as a concern with the voters. You've been in power for more than half a century. Why haven't you been more successful in stamping corruption out in that time?

SAIFUDDIN ABDULLAH: First of all, we are not in denial. We accept the fact that corruption is a big issue. We have ensured that all government agencies, for instance, back procurement with an integrity accountability index. Ninety per cent of the government agencies have passed the integrity accountability index.

And if corruption is so blatant then how is it that, in some of the rankings – and these are international rankings we are doing quite well in terms of competitiveness, in terms of doing trade and so on and so forth.

So yes, it is still a problem. We are trying our level best to address it, to overcome it, but at the same time I think some of the actions taken thus far has been producing results.

JIM MIDDLETON: Minister, thank you very much.

SAIFUDDIN ABDULLAH: Thank you, thank you for having me.
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