POSTSCRIPT / March 21, 2004 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Malaysian polls today boring to visiting Pinoy

PUTRAJAYA — Malaysia’s national elections today (Sunday) could be boring to a Filipino observer used to the rough and tumble excitement of politics back home.

Peppering a rival candidate with lead, stuffing or snatching ballot boxes, stoning a miting de avance with a grenade and such naughty Pinoy antics would be as unlikely here as Malaysian peace-keepers being imbedded with American occupation forces in Iraq.

In contrast with our politicos’ endless campaigning, with the Commission on Elections looking the other way, Malaysian candidates had only over a week to campaign when elections were set after the dissolution of government early this month.

Kung sa bagay, there was no need for Malaysians to stretch out the campaign period as the results were more or less a foregone conclusion.

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BN VISE GRIP: Not much is expected by way of loosening the vise grip of the ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) in the 219-seat Parliament or radically revamping policies that have achieved a 6.3-percent growth rate (compared to our 3.5 percent).

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who is running in his home district in Penang is expected to retain his seat and continue being Prime Minister. Overall, the fearless forecast is that the ruling coalition would capture some 85 percent of Parliament.

Malaysia’s 25-million population is slightly less than a third of the Philippines’ 84 million. Against our 40 million Filipinos of voting age, Malaysia has some 10 million voters at least 80 percent of whom are expected to cast their ballots today.

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ABDULLAH NO SHOW: The other day, we went to a political rally in a fairly big town some 30 minutes out of Kuala Lumpur upon a whispered tip that the Prime Minister himself would drop in unannounced.

It was not a big rally by Philippine standards. Most people were probably at their jobs elsewhere. There were buntings, posters and a milling crowd all right, although not in the runaway fashion we would do it back home.

We would have fallen asleep in the drone of the speeches that we could not understand in the first place, but the sticky heat kept us awake fanning ourselves and gulping bottled water.

The Prime Minister, btw, was a no-show. Our tipster, who shall remain nameless except for his being with the think tank Institute of Strategic and International Studies, was so profuse in his apologies.

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VOTER-FRIENDLY: Nobody could give us sample ballots for examination. The reason offered was that it is against the law to reproduce or make facsimiles of the ballot. We felt that was a lame excuse, but that’s it.

There is no raging debate here over counting machines and commissions for their purchase. Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos may want to come over and find out how come Malaysians are able to determine the results in just one day after the votes are cast.

Their procedure is voter-friendly. The voter does not have to write on the ballot the names of his chosen bets. He merely puts an “X” mark opposite the logo of the party he favors, doing in effect what we in the Philippines call “block voting.”

Remember that their constitutional monarchy runs on a parliamentary system. The dominant coalition apportions among its stalwarts the key posts and takes collective responsibility for state affairs and the general well-being of the people.

It is highly improbable for the opposition to score an upset today and be able to grab enough seats to control the bicameral Parliament.

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MUST VISIT: Filipino officials visiting Malaysia to learn a few things must come to Putrajaya, the administrative capital some 45 minutes outside Kuala Lumpur.

Named after the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, this government center is the site of magnificent office buildings of the Prime Minister and various ministries laid out on over 4,600 hectares of landscaped rolling land.

A visitor from the slowly dying (from pollution and neglect) city of Manila will spot immediately the greenery and water bodies, principally a 600-hectare man-made lake covering more than 70 percent of Putrajaya.

Even just a smaller adaptation of this architectural and landscaping jewel within an hour’s drive from Manila could draw part of the madding mall crowds and the Rizal Park hoi polloi.

That is, if we have the site, the genius and the money for it. This project costs — hold your breath — 20 billion Malaysian ringgits. At MR 3.8 to the US dollar, the price tag runs to $5.263,157,895!

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OSAMA CONTRIBUTION: We had a hard time deciding which was the most beautiful or imposing structure.

We were attracted to the Putra mosque with its 116-meter-tall minaret serenely standing by the lake. Done in Islamic architecture, the mosque meant to accommodate 15,000 people was designed largely after the Sheikh Oman Mosque in Baghdad.

Mention of Baghdad brings out the other detail that Osama bin Laden, the best friend of George W. Bush, was allegedly the one who built the mosque — for free!

The Prime Minister’s office complex, a massive building with the blue dome, stands out with its mixture of European influences overlaid by Malay and Islamic elements. Complementing it is the Seri Perdana, his official residence also designed along Malay and Islamic architecture of the Mogul era.

We spotted an unusual bridge. While it looks like a suspension bridge, it is unlike the Golden Gate in San Francisco in that the cables holding up the span are anchored from just one end and not symmetrically from both ends.

To the tired visitor, a welcome spot is the public area with fast food eateries that could put to shame the food courts of our malls. As for the fare, we dare say it could satisfy even our discriminating food editors.

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COST PER CAPITA: Kaya lang, while billions were poured into Putrajaya, we noticed that there are not that many natives coming over to visit the place (open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or to transact business with the various government offices.

The massive and magnificent buildings are just too quiet and deserted for comfort.

The nagging question is: How can the Malaysian government justify such gargantuan expense versus the number of Malaysians being directly served by it? We found the cost per capita disturbing.

But then, it is their money. And, we were told, Malaysia rising from the wetlands like a bounding tiger can afford it.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 21, 2004)

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