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Cablegate: Power Struggles in Perak: Ruling Coalition Working Hard to Regain Voters' Support

VZCZCXRO7559
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHKL #0107/01 0500949
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 190949Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3866
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 2924
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0713

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 KUALA LUMPUR 000107

SIPDIS

FOR EAP/MTS AND INR

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/18/2020
TAGS: PGOV KDEM KJUS MY
SUBJECT: POWER STRUGGLES IN PERAK: RULING COALITION WORKING HARD TO REGAIN VOTERS' SUPPORT

REF: A. 09 KUALA LUMPUR 342 -- PANDEMONIUM IN PERAK
STATE ASSEMBLY
B. 09 KUALA LUMPUR 78 -- NAJIB LEADS TAKEOVER OF
PERAK
C. KUALA LUMPUR 92 -- COURT DECISION IN PERAK

Classified By: Political Counselor Brian D. McFeeters for reasons 1.4 b
and d.

Summary and Comment
-------------------

1. (SBU) Poloff and Pol Specialist visited the politically
turbulent state of Perak from February 1-3. Perak is one of
five states won by the opposition People's Alliance (PR)
coalition in the March 2008 general elections, but through
political defections in February 2009 it subsequently
reverted back to authority of Malaysia's ruling National
Front (BN) coalition (refs A and B), and is firmly under BN
control after a February 9, 2010 Federal Court decision
affirming the BN Chief Minister (ref C). Perak is a
microcosm of Malaysia's ethnic diversity with party
affiliation drawn clearly along ethnic and religious lines.
Ethnic Malays are split between the BN's dominant United
Malays National Organization (UMNO) party and the
opposition's People's Justice Party (PKR) and Islamic Party
of Malaysia (PAS), while nearly all ethnic Chinese and a
slight majority of ethnic Indians support the opposition PR
over the BN, according to a February 5 Merdeka Center poll.

2. (C) Comment: Events in Perak are significant for two
reasons. First, for the past year it has been ground zero
for the fight between the two political coalitions. Perak is
the only state that had an active fight over control of the
state for the past 12 months, so the issues there reflect
national sentiment. Second, the fight and ultimate victory
by the BN in Perak was a successful political power play both
in terms of brute and refined power, reminding us that of the
two coalitions, only the BN has the clout, money, and ability
to manipulate the government system (election commission,
courts) to muscle its way to power. The BN now has firm
control of Perak and is working to regain some of its lost
influence among voters, having allocated resources into
projects to win back support of the people. With the Chinese
vote firmly supporting the opposition, the deciding votes in
any future election rest with the ethnic Malays, not because
they hold a majority among the populace (they represent just
over 50%), but because their support is most split between
the ruling coalition and the opposition. That said, while
the opposition PR is united in its criticism of the ruling BN
coalition, they remain somewhat fragmented both within their
coalition, and within their component parties. End Summary
and Comment.

Setting the Scene: Political Background
---------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Perak had been a bastion of the ruling BN coalition
since Malaysia's independence in 1957 until the March 2008
general election, when the opposition PR coalition stunned
the BN and took control of the state government by winning 31
of 59 state assembly seats. Within the PR, the Democratic
Action Party (DAP) won 18 seats; the People's Justice Party
(PKR) won 7 seats; and the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS)
won 5 seats. Although the DAP earned more seats than their
coalition partners combined, the position of Chief Minister
went to PAS assemblyman Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin, because the
Perak state constitution stipulates that only a Muslim can
hold the position of Chief Minister (CM). On the BN side,
the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) won 27 of
their 28 seats while the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA)
took the remaining seat. Two other BN partners, the
Malaysian Peoples Movement Party (Gerakan) and Malaysian
Indian Congress (MIC), were all but rendered obsolete as
neither won a single contested seat. The DAP's dominance
came as a result of ethnic Chinese and Indian discontent with
the MCA, Gerakan, and MIC, who traditionally have represented
their interests within the BN coalition. In February 2009,
after 11 months in power, the PR state government lost its
majority in the state assembly following the defection of
three PR state assembly members to become independents
friendly to the BN. The net change in 3 seats left the BN
with the majority of seats and resulted in a protracted
controversy when the Sultan of Perak replaced PR Chief
Minister Nizar (equivalent to a governor of a U.S. state)
with BN's Zambry. The Federal Court ruled on February 9 that
the change of chief minister was legal (ref C).


KUALA LUMP 00000107 002 OF 004


Insights from Perak Politicians
-------------------------------

4. (C) Poloff and Pol Specialist visited Perak from February
1-3, and met with representatives from every major political
party in peninsular Malaysia: from the ruling National Front
(BN) coalition, the coalition-leading United National Malays
Organization (UMNO), the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA),
Gerakan, and the Malaysian Indian Coalition (MIC); from the
opposition People's Alliance (PR), politicians from the
People's Justice Party (PKR), the Democratic Action Party
(DAP), and the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS). In a
February 1 meeting with PAS Perak committee members at their
headquarters, including former Perak Chief Minister (CM) Mohd
Nizar Jamaluddin and Perak PAS Chief Ustaz Abu Bakar Hussain,
Nizar called the policies implemented by the PR government
from March 2008 thru February 2009 "successful and people
friendly." He noted that the current BN government has
copied and implemented many of the PR's government policies
while claiming full credit for them. DAP MP Fong Po Kuan
later told Poloff that she didn't mind if the BN claimed
credit for these policies, stating that it was more important
that they were implemented, and that "they clearly benefitted
the people." Nizar also claimed that during his term of
office, the PR state government had managed to increase
revenues by cutting waste and promoting open tenders. In the
past the BN government only extended "negotiated tenders to
their cronies."

5. (SBU) In a brief February 1 meeting, current Chief
Minister Zambry (UMNO), exuded confidence in his performance
during his first year. He saw himself as the rightful Chief
Minister because "it is clearly the will of the people."
Zambry opined that the BN in Perak has acted in a more
professional and competent manner than the PR did when they
were in power. Noted Zambry: "We were a responsible
opposition for eleven months," but when the opposition lost
the majority, they "refused to abide by democratic
principles." Zambry commented that in the 12 months since
the BN took back control of Perak, the BN has been working
very hard to gain the confidence of the people, noting that
the BN had embarked on "people friendly policies" -- the same
term Nizar used -- by focusing on poverty eradication
irrespective of race and a good economic development policy.
Perak State Secretary Dr. Abdul Rahim Hashim reiterated that
the two policies were the main thrust of the BN government
policies in the state. Zambry said the results of the BN
were showing, noting that when compared to opposition
gatherings, "there is marked increase in support for BN
gatherings" and that he has received feedback that "the
people are generally happy with the BN state government."

6. (C) On February 2, Chang Ko Youn, the state chief and
national deputy president for the marginalized Gerakan party,
admitted that the Chinese voters "deserted the BN by droves"
in the last general election. (Note: Gerakan went from 10 to
2 MP seats in the March 2008 general elections, and from 4 to
0 seats in the Perak state assembly. End Note.) He cited
UMNO's "racist policies" as one cause, adding that the
Chinese media were "unfriendly" towards BN. Chang pointed
out that, unlike the government-influenced mainstream media,
the Chinese newspapers are more independent and at times
favor the opposition rather than BN parties. The veteran
leader said it would be difficult for BN to win over the
Chinese voters in the next general election.

7. (C) Dr. Mah Hang Soon, the MCA state youth chief and sole
non-UMNO state assemblyman for the BN, was a bit more
optimistic. Mah noted that the BN is "now more aware of the
Chinese problem" and is "working on overcoming it." He cited
the case of Chinese farmers, who have farmed on state land
for decades, who were recently given land titles. The state
government has also started funding the nine independent
Chinese schools in the state, whereas in the past the BN
state government had completely ignored the plight of
independent Chinese schools. Mah opined that the previous PR
government only "made promises" but the BN state government
"is now delivering" on them. Dr. Mah also noted that the
Chinese community was especially concerned about the ongoing
inquest into the July 2009 death of political aide Teoh Beng
Hock while under investigation, opining that the Malaysian
Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) needs to get to the bottom
of this soon, even if they themselves are to blame.

8. (C) MIC Perak state secretary and new Perak state Speaker
R. Ganesan echoed Mah's views, claiming that the 12-month old
BN government has enacted numerous polices for the benefit of
non-Malays. Ganeson proudly stated that for the first time

KUALA LUMP 00000107 003 OF 004


the state government has allocated funding for Hindu temples.
(Note: The previous PR government started the policy of
allocating funds to non-Islamic religious institutions, but
it is the BN who is seeing this through. End Note.) Ganesan
added that he could see the Indians returning to the BN based
on the number of people attending BN-sponsored meetings and
political rallies.

Both Sides at Risk as Snap Elections too Risky to Consider
--------------------------------------------- -------------

9. (SBU) Prior to the February 9 court decision, both Zambry
and Nizar publicly claimed that they had enough support from
voters to win any snap election, fueling speculation that
regardless of how the decision panned out, the legitimized
Chief Minister would call for elections and end the
controversy once and for all. Zambry told Poloff on February
1 that if snap elections were held, he was confident the BN
would win 34 out of 59 seats in the state assembly, citing
discontent with PKR and PAS among voters. When asked by
Poloff if he would call for snap elections should he win the
February 9 decision, Zambry said he would not dissolve the
state assembly, saying that "the Perak BN state government
does not operate based on the dictates of the opposition."
Nizar, in turn, countered that he had the support of 80% of
the Chinese and Indian vote, and at least 50% of the ethnic
Malay vote, challenging Zambry that the only way to prove his
claim would be to call for a snap election in Perak. Nizar
told Poloff that even with fresh elections, there is no
guarantee that the PR would win a majority of seats to form a
government. Nizar stated that the BN has managed to "poison
the minds of the rural Malays" by convincing them that he was
"a lackey of the DAP" and "had committed treason by defying
the Sultan" after the defections. PAS State Treasurer Abdul
Rahim Ariff concurred with Nizar's view, adding that if
elections were held today the Malay votes would split evenly
between UMNO and PAS, unlike in March 2008 when there was
clear swing of Malay votes towards PAS and PKR.

10. (SBU) State senior UMNO Cabinet Minister Ramly Zahari
concurred with the Chief Minister's views that the BN has no
reason to dissolve the state assembly. He stated that the
opposition is the one who "started the game" by wooing BN
Members of Parliament and state assembly to cross the floor.
As such the veteran state UMNO leader added that when the BN
managed to outflank PR, "the opposition now wants to rewrite
the rules." (Note: Ramly is referring to an UMNO assemblyman
who crossed over to the PR in January 2009. A few days after
the crossover, he returned to the BN and was joined by the
three ex-PR assemblyman who claimed to be BN-friendly
independents. The opposition believes that the initial
crossover was orchestrated by UMNO to prepare the ground for
the three others to jump to the BN side. End Note.)

11. (SBU) DAP Perak State Chief Ngeh Khoo Ham and DAP State
Secretary Nga Kor Ming (who are first cousins) were
optimistic on February 2 that magic of March 2008 would
continue to prevail in Perak if snap elections were held.
While admitting that there is a slight shift in Malay support
in favor of the BN, Ngeh stated that a majority of urban
Malays and most of the Chinese and Indians would vote for a
PR coalition party.

After the Ruling: What's Next for PR and BN?
--------------------------------------------

12. (C) PKR Vice President and MP in Perak Lee Boon Chye told
Poloff on February 2 that despite the setback caused by the
BN takeover and subsequent court rulings, the PR is still
very popular in Perak. Lee claimed that "80 percent of
Perakians are still behind us." Ngeh and Nga (DAP) claim
that the opposition has continuously been harping in their
numerous political gatherings through out the state that the
current state government "is an illegal court appointed
entity" and vowed they would continue their disharmonious
campaign after the Federal Court ruling of February 9.
However, Nizar announced after the court decision that the
opposition would instead cooperate with BN.

13. (C) Zambry said on February 1 that PR leadership in Perak
was becoming increasingly desperate. Decreased numbers and a
general lack of enthusiasm at recent opposition rallies
showed that people were tired of the PR acting like a sore
loser, and were ready to move on. As a result, claimed
Zambry, the PR has embarked on a strategy to smear the image
of the BN-led state government. He cited two examples of the
smear campaign: that he was accused of being denied entry to
the US recently for "being involved in terrorist activities,"

KUALA LUMP 00000107 004 OF 004


and news reports that investors are shunning Perak since the
BN wrested power. Zambry is suing the PKR newspaper "Suara
Keadilan" for RM 400 million for what he says were libelous
claims about his US trip. He noted that investments have
actually increased since the BN took over, claiming that the
Perak state government has attracted RM11 billion (about USD
3 billion) in one year. (Note: Regarding the investments,
Nizar and other PR leaders in Perak dispute this figure,
claiming that some of the investments came to the state when
the PR was in power. End Note.) Zambry expected the
opposition to continue with their smear tactics, commenting
that "their position is increasingly under threat."

Coalition, Party Infighting Continue to Impact Opposition
--------------------------------------------- ------------

14. (C) DAP MP and Vice President Kulasegaran admitted that
all is not well with the DAP in Perak. Kula claimed that the
"Ngeh-Nga clan" referring to the cousins, is running the show
in Perak. The veteran DAP leader claimed that the top party
leadership is unable to control the two, as they have managed
to bring the state DAP machinery completely under their
control. Kula claimed that due to their dominance, the DAP
may face some problems in the future because they are not
popular among all the Chinese in the state. For example, the
cousins tried to force out popular DAP MP Fong Po Kuan from
running in the 2008 general election in order to replace her
with their own crony, but her constituency fiercely resisted
this move against the three-term MP, forcing the cousins to
back down. Poloff raised this topic while meeting Fong for
lunch, but she refused to be drawn into a conversation on
this issue.

Poll: Voters Split Along Ethnic Lines
-------------------------------------

15. (U) The independent Merdeka Center announced results of a
poll taken of Perak voters on February 5. Current CM Zambry
has an approval rating of 43%, while former CM Nizar has an
approval rating of 46%. Zambry's base of support comes from
2/3 of the ethnic Malays and 1/2 of the Indians; Nizar's
support comes from the remaining 1/3 of the Malays, the other
1/2 of the Indians, and nearly all of the Chinese. (Note:
the ethnic breakdown for Perak's 2 million citizens is
approximately 52% Malay, 32% Chinese, 13% Indian, and 3%
others. CM Zambry is an ethnic Indian but is Muslim by
religion. End Note.) In addition, 38% of respondents
believed Perak is moving in the right direction, up from 31%
polled in April 2009, while 44% believed the state was moving
in the wrong direction, with distinct differences of opinion
when broken down by ethnic lines.
KEITH

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