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Bets, secrets and safety

FROM 5 to 11 Jan 2009, the Chinese media highlighted the betting over the Kuala Terengganu by-election, the declassification of highway concession agreements, and the people’s concern over public safety.

On 7 Jan, Guang Ming Daily reported PAS candidate for the Kuala Terengganu by-election Mohd Abdul Wahid Endut as being the favourite among bettors, with 9-1 odds.

Since Abdul Wahid has been the state assemblyperson for five terms and is based in Kuala Terengganu, bookies gave him a 1,000-vote lead over Umno’s candidate for the Barisan Nasional (BN), Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh.

Meanwhile, some betting experts believe that the by-election is likely to be a 55-45 deal, with the BN having an edge over PAS. Bookies in Kuala Lumpur have also given a 100-vote handicap to the BN.

It was reported that the 100-vote handicap has attracted many bettors. Many believe they are able to win as long as the handicap for the BN is kept under 1,000 votes.

“There are still another 10 days before polling. Handicap and odds are bound to change according to trends, attendance at ceramah,  and the appearance of party heavyweights during the campaign period,” said betting experts. 

Some believed the BN may still win, albeit with a small majority. According to experts, “[T]he Kuala Terengganu by-election is important to Datuk Seri Najib before he takes office as prime minister, so he can’t afford to lose. We expect the BN to win.”

According to political observers, Malay voters initially felt alienated by Wan Farid’s elitist airs when he first campaigned in Kuala Terengganu. However, he has since softened his image after several days of visiting voters.

Wan Farid is also seen as having an advantage. He was able to meet more voters because the BN announced his candidacy much earlier than PAS did of its candidate.

On 8 Jan, the Guang Ming Daily editorial condemned election betting as irresponsible.

Careless about secrets

A commentary in Nanyang Siang Pau on 9 Jan by Lu Lu Rong, titled Behind the declassification of highway concession agreements, deemed the government as careless in dealing with official secrets.

According to the Official Secrets Act 1972, a minister may classify any official document as “confidential” if he or she feels it is necessary. Making classified documents public without any authorisation is deemed a criminal offence.

Lu explained: “Since highway agreements were classified as confidential, it should remain confidential unless the classification is no longer necessary. Today, the agreements are declassified because of a decision made in a cabinet meeting. This shows the decision to classify the documents was made hastily.” 

The writer said the agreements should not have been made official secrets to begin with, as these were commercial documents. Highway concessionaires used these documents to successfully apply for public listing on the stock exchange.

Lu also questioned the timing and method used to declassify the highway agreements. “The cabinet chose to expose the dealings two months before the Umno party election (to be held in March 2009), and this seems to put former government leaders or related individuals, namely Tun Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) and his son (Mukhriz), in a tight spot.”

Furthermore, the restrictions on the number of people who can view the document, and on duplication, are prolonging the issue, hence allowing the image of a corrupt and incompetent past government to register in the public’s minds, Lu argued.

The declassification was probably attempted to show that the present government is more transparent compared with the previous administration, Lu said. However, such attempts are a failure. “A transparent and fair government is not built on exposing the dirty laundry of the past government. The post 8 March cabinet comprises mainly the same old members from the past government. Dissatisfaction towards the past government is thus transferred to the present government.”

Disconnect on public safety

On 9 Jan, a commentary in Sin Chew Daily by Cai Yi Pin, titled Safety is our state of mind, examined the gap between official statements and how the public feels.

Despite the global financial crisis and increasing concerns that crime will be on the rise, CID director Datuk Mohd Bakri Zinin gave an assurance that crime has not increased significantly in Malaysia.

Bakri said the people should not just look at the number of cases per se because crime increases along with population growth. “In other words, Bakri is telling us not to blame the police as it is natural to have a higher crime incidence with a growing population,” retorted Cai.

Cai also took Bakri to task for saying “on average, there is only an increase of 10 incidences for every 100,000 people in 2008. Our crime statistics are moderate compared with Singapore’s.” Cai said Bakri’s statement contradicted his earlier advice for the public not to pay too much attention to statistics. The writer added that it was also difficult to imagine Malaysia being safer than Singapore.

Bakri had also urged the people to treat the police as their friends to strengthen crime prevention. To which Cai quipped, “Who does not know of the PDRM [police] motto, Tegas Adil Berhemah? But many choose not to lodge police reports. Could it be that the public is unwilling to cooperate, or that we distrust the police?”

The writer recalled an earlier incident where the Jalan Chow Kit police station was relocated “to a safer place”. Cai questioned: “Aren’t the police supposed to ensure public safety, instead of escaping to safer grounds?”

He concluded that the people do not believe in rumours and are not misled by the media and statistics. Instead, the public only believe their eyes. Although officials are calm in dealing with the global financial crisis and crime, the people feel insecure. Cai argued that national security is not determined by official promises or statistics, but by the people’s state of mind.

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