The temperature was close to sizzling. So I decided to remain indoors and seek respite from boredom in the realm of online videos. Then I chanced upon an epic scene.
The hero flips a cigarette into the air, whips out a pistol, points it upwards, and fires without looking. The bullet ignites the cigarette, which he then catches between his lips with ease.
For the uninitiated, this might lead to a stabbing pain in the chest medical practitioners refer to as myocardial infraction. But for the rest of us, this is Rajnikanth! The reigning superstar of Indian cinema, whose outlandish celluloid antics have defied logic and the laws of physics for decades.
But far from being ridiculed, he is revered and loved, with a fan base numbering in the millions, transcending racial, age, language, cultural, social and even geographical barriers.
Peculiarly, it is the same people who cheer and applaud when Rajnikanth executes his mind-numbing stunts, who are quick to condemn other heroes for bludgeoning common sense.
Somehow the superstar has been given a carte blanche to push, or rather butcher, the boundaries, which his critics and rivals have trouble understanding.
Across the ocean. In Malaysia, there is an individual with similar appeal. He is not an actor but is often accused of theatrics worthy of an Oscar, or at least, the Indian movie award.
And like Rajnikanth, Anwar Ibrahim too is an enigma. Both rising above the odds when none expected them to do so.
BN undone by its own doing
Despite having advanced well into their 60s, the two men still possess an electrifying presence and the voltage is lethal when in front of the camera or on stage.
From being labeled a racist and religious bigot when he was the second-in-command for the coalition which fate later dictated that he opposed with a vengeance, Anwar is now perceived as a messiah (by the loyalists) as well as a necessary evil (by the rest) to deliver Malaysia from the stranglehold of a diabolical and corrupt regime.
Much to the frustration of his adversaries, the mud-slinging fails to deter or weaken him. On the contrary, the attempts to soil his reputation tend to backfire and make him even stronger.
All allegations against him are dismissed as baseless, all videos and photos doctored, all evidence – including traces of semen – tampered with or planted, the police and judiciary are in cahoots with their political masters to throw him behind bars.
And those within the opposition who crossed swords with him have, from riding atop the wave of popularity, sunken into the political abyss with a Judas-like infamy.
With the Sodomy II appeal now being heard, the powers-that-be are also in a conundrum as to which Anwar is more dangerous – the one who is left to roam the streets as a free man or the one kept locked behind bars.
But the people cannot be blamed for disbelieving the allegations leveled against the opposition leader and his comrades.
Decades of arrogance, blatant abuse of power, corruption, racism and a slew of other misdeeds have led them to view with contempt and disdain all that is associated with BN.
Exacerbating the situation, characters like Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Dr Mahathir Mohamad never fail to remind Malaysians that no matter how bad Pakatan Rakyat and Anwar are, BN is much worse.
Take for example how Zahid, without the slightest regret nor reprimanding those responsible, had dismissed the calls to punish the NGO which offered a bounty to those who would film themselves slapping a woman DAP MP.
When confronted with such remarks, one cannot be blamed for feeling the urge to put a palm to his face instead, hoping that it would jump start the portion of his brain that is responsible for sensible thinking.
These statements serve to only strengthen the speculation that it is Umno’s hands which are stained with chicken blood and an assortment of other mindless antics designed to stoke tension with the aim of safeguarding the balance of power regardless of the consequences.
Neck on chopping block
So against this backdrop, it is not surprising that many in BN consider the Kajang by-election a waste of time and funds.
In the past, the queue of hopefuls would have been around the block but now it would be difficult to find even one, apart from a handful of court jesters, who would be willing to put his or her neck on the chopping block.
Contesting a PKR seat won with a comfortable margin is bleak enough a prospect, let alone having to lock horns with a superstar.
Imagine 12-days of grueling campaign, traveling on foot from door-to-door in the heat, shaking countless of sweaty palms, speaking at various ceramah, visiting morning and night markets, kissing babies and elderly aunties, planting trees, grilling satay… And doing all of these, knowing that an electoral whipping is in store.
What more if the candidate is from MCA and is forced to explain to the large number of Chinese voters how come there are people slaughtering chickens, spilling blood on banners, calling them ungrateful immigrants, wanting to revoke their citizenship, while Umno leaders keep silent and MCA leaders can only issue press statements in protest and nothing more.
Despite the avalanche of criticism about the engineered by-election, no political pundit would dare predict a defeat for the PKR candidate. So apart from Anwar being struck by lightning before filing his nomination papers, the outcome appears to be sealed.
During a recent interview with Malaysiakini, Anwar, in responding to Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim’s description of the former as a “political animal” and himself as a “corporate animal”, replied in jest, “We are not animals”.
But if one observes the animated and calculated responses to the questions posed during the interview, and the glint in his eyes when answering them, it is obvious that he is a political beast that thrives on a diet of challenges.
One only hopes that the beast does not devour the trust and faith that the majority of the Malaysian electorate has placed in him.
In one ancient fable, a frog falls into a pail of milk. Unable to scramble out, the creature thrashes around, seemingly drowning. Eventually, however, his frantic struggles churn the milk into butter – and he hops away.
The lawyers for Anwar Ibrahim are hoping for something like the successful coda to the above struggle when they try today for probably the last time to disqualify senior counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah from prosecuting the appeal of the Sodomy II acquittal.
The appeal is scheduled to be heard at the Federal Court tomorrow and the day after (Feb 12-13).
Previous attempts by the Anwar defence at Shafee’s disqualification were rejected by adjudicating panels whose vision of the law leads them to prioritise normatively inert and liberally amoral technical grounds over what gives the law ballast: its need to locate its reason to be on moral principle.
Thus far Anwar’s lawyers’ arguments have revolved around Shafee as being unable to be the disinterested officer of the court he would have to be to prosecute the case in the service of justice.
His past involvement as counsel in cases brought by Umno or people linked to the political party was said to have rendered him an interested party and therefore unable to prosecute, in the requisite disinterested manner, the appeal of the acquittal of Anwar in Sodomy II.
To assume a position that past involvement in Umno does not disqualify a lawyer from playing the deputy public prosecutor’s role in a court case against Anwar Ibrahim would be like arguing that Bashar al-Assad’s behaviour in the Syrian civil war does not disqualify him from a major role in any post-war arrangement for peace in that country.
Adjudicating panels in this saga of attempted disqualification held that they needed more flagrant grounds for Shafee’s removal as DPP from the appeal of the Sodomy II acquittal.
The most recent attempt at disqualification was marshaled on the grounds of Shafee’s involvement in an episode that had also involved former senior police officer, Mat Zain Ibrahim, a cop whose past experience of the subterranean byways beneath the surface of our criminal justice system has left him with a lasting legacy of suspicion.
The episode’s convoluted threads allegedly led up to embroil attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail but again the courts remained unconvinced that Shafee’s part in the tangled trail disqualified him from being DPP.
The smoking gun
Going into today’s proceedings, the Anwar team’s due diligence of the case has unearthed what could be regarded as the ‘smoking gun’.
This is the final bit of evidence that should expose like no previous argument Anwar’s lawyers had adduced in past disqualification exercises did – that the grounds on which Shafee has proposed to proceed for the appeal possess a fundamental flaw.
Shafee has said the main issue in the acquittal was whether the DNA exhibits that were under the care of investigating officer, DSP Jude Pereira (right), were tampered with.
He has said that he found no evidence to indicate that the exhibits were tampered with by Pereira.
The problem here, as it has been with Shafee himself, is the track record of Pereira.
In an inquiry conducted by the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) on the arrest of five legal aid officers in May 2009, Shafee as chairperson had found key witness Pereira seriously short of integrity in the latter’s testimony.
The matter is on public record in the Suhakam archive. Pereira was a key witness in the Sodomy II trial. At the High Court trial judge Zabidin Mohd Diah found he could not rely on Pereira’s testimony to vouch for the DNA exhibits’ integrity.
Shafee would have to explain how a person he found wanting in truthful testimony in the Suhakam inquiry can, in the sodomy acquittal appeal, be relied on for integrity of his handling of the DNA exhibits.
In other words, the past is about ready to catch up, if not with Shafee then with Pereira.
Had Tunku Abdul Rahman been still around, he would have been disappointed with the elements that are trying to divide Malaysia and its people.
The nation’s first prime minister had considered himself to be the happiest premier in the world, but had he been alive today, he would be Malaysia’s saddest man due to the raging racial religious tensions.
With his legacy of unity being threatened, speakers at a forum held to commemorate Tunku’s 111th birthday last night in Kajang said there is a need to secure his legacy to ensure the nation remains united.
“Never before has Malaysia been so divided and polarised, with the last eight to nine months being the worst. Today’s forum is for us to think of what we have lost in our 56 years of nation building.
“Tunku would want to see a united country. Is Malaysia more united or divided now? Has the issue of race and religion become more polarising?” he said at the forum in last night.
The veteran politician noted that during Tunku’s time, there was certain civic and gentle chivalry that seemed to have gone down the gutters today.
Described as a prime minister for all Malaysians, Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said her father and his colleagues were among the ones who were inspired by the Kedah prince turned premier to work together to develop the nation.
“At that time, the spirit of nationalism was reigning high but what inspired people to work for the country was Tunku – he made everyone feel they belonged and that was crucial to build and develop the country,” she said.
If Tunku was alive today, what would he say to the way Malaysia is today?
“I would think he would say the same thing… that unity is our fundamental strength. He would be disappointed at attempts to divide us. He hated racism, as shown by his vocal views against apartheid,” she said.
Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said during Tunku’s time, the former premier, widely described as a gentleman, was accepting of criticism even against his leadership to ensure the country continue to grow.
In sharing a personal anecdote of Tunku in his twilight years, the former deputy prime minister said he hosted a dinner which was attended by the statesman.
“He was telling the attendees ‘you know this young man? He was a great fighter but he became tired. So he joined Umno’. I just bowed my head and didn’t say anything,” he said.
Anwar, who was sacked from his post and party after falling out with former long-serving prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1998, reminded Malaysians to adhere and return to the spirit of the Federal Constitution.
“We must have tenacity of purpose to defend the spirit of the Constitution. We will be stronger if we remember and adhere to some of Tunku’s principles which many had forgotten,” he said.
He also took to task those who condoned the actions of groups who threaten assault against DAP Seputeh MP Teresa Kok over her Chinese New Year YouTube.
A group of Islamic NGOs had slaughtered two chickens and offered a RM1,200 to anyone who slapped Kok over her video which allegedly insulted Malays.
“You have every right to question Teresa, but you have no right to insult the intelligence of Malaysians and giving the go ahead for everyone to be threatened with slaps. This is crazy,” he said.
PAS’s election director Dr Hatta Ramli said despite his Islamist party and Tunku being political rivals, they had always respected the former prime minister for being down to earth and non-confrontational.
He said during Tunku’s governance from the mid-1950s until 1970, there was no such thing as Malay supremacy.
“If we ask Tunku whether he is a Malaysian or Malay first, he would have said the former,” Dr Hatta said.
Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim regaled the audience with a series of anecdotes about Tunku, whom he had heard much about from the former prime minister’s peers, especially former Bank Negara governor Tun Ismail Mohamed Ali.
In calling Tunku a “real gentleman with integrity”, Khalid said Tunku was instrumental in starting the Merdeka tournament football competition and the Islamic Development Bank. He also mooted the regional political and economic grouping Asean.
In sharing a personal experience, Khalid said when he was a student in Australia, he went to a Melbourne Cup horse race and was surprised to see a man with a songkok with the winning horse.
“I realised that was my prime minister. His horse won the Melbourne Cup,” he said.
Pakatan Rakyat’s decision to field Anwar Ibrahim in Kajang ignited a firestorm and drew many dissenting views.
But for Pakatan to break out from the stalemate since the May 2013 election, this is a brave and strategic move.
Kajang could be the fiercest battle in Anwar’s decades of political career, as well as his riskiest bet – it certainly appears that the daggers are out for him. But these are necessary birth pangs as we search for a post GE13 breakthrough.
My political scientist friend Wong Chin Huat reminded me that in 2005 I had mooted the idea of Anwar contesting a state seat in Selangor.
The logic was to gun for Putrajaya by first controlling Shah Alam. However, at that time Anwar was barred from contesting until after April 2008.
There were two reasons for the Putrajaya via Shah Alam route.
Firstly, although the menteri besar holds limited powers, as far as the Malaysian public is concerned, the MB position befits a high profile almost on par with the prime minister.
An internal GE13 post mortem by the Pakatan secretariat found that among Malay voters, there was no nationwide voting trend.
In Terengganu and Perlis, due to Umno infighting over the respective MB’s post, Pakatan’s popular votes increased. In Kedah dissatisfaction against the late MB Azizan Abdul Razak (right) cost Pakatan precious votes.
In other states, Pakatan’s Malay support increased as well as decreased without a unified voting pattern. In several states Pakatan’s lack of a clear MB candidate also proved to be a chink in its armour.
The point is that state politics is very important in the minds of the Malay voters.
Secondly, the ground often shifts faster than we think. There is a huge difference between the political scenario in 1998 and that of 2005, the stark contrast between Reformasi and the post-Mahathir era.
In former prime minister Abdullah Badawi’s (right) heyday, BN controlled 91 percent of seats and 64 percent of the popular vote – it was a bleak season for the opposition post-GE 2004. Hence I mooted the idea for Anwar to go for Shah Alam.
By the time the embers of 2008 smouldered, ten years had passed since Anwar was the deputy prime minister, something the younger generation of voters are too young to remember. Hence the need for Anwar to reinvent his political legacy.
The GE14 must be held before or by 2018. By then, a child who was one year old when Anwar was sacked in 1998, would have reached the voting age. It would have been 20 years since the ‘98 Reformasi era.
In 2008, there were 10 million (10,740,227) registered voters with 76 percent turnout on election day. In 2013, the total number of registered voters was 13 million (13,268,002) while another three million or so had reached 21 years, but had yet to register as voters.
Each year there are about 500,000 Malaysians turning 21. All in, total number of voters could potentially reach 18 million in 2018, almost double that of in 2008.
To reach this generation of new voters, we need to translate the idealism and spirit of 1998 into practical policies and results.
In the current soul-searching period since GE13, both BN and Pakatan are seeking for a point of breakthrough.
Prime Minister Najib Razak struggled and failed to find a way out and he has nothing new to offer to the discourse.
As Najib’s (right) handling of economic matters has aroused public anger, his approval ratings have taken a nosedive and left him vulnerable to attacks from the usually racially charged pro-Mahathir camp.
After GE13, Anwar too seemed to be stuck politically. At the same time it would not be prudent for the Pakatan-rule Selangor leaders to continue its public spats. Something serious must be done now.
In politics, standing still is as good as losing ground. Although in GE13 Pakatan managed 51 percent of the popular vote, it was not good enough to win federal power.
Pakatan needs to demonstrate a breakthrough in terms of discourse and results as to maintain that margin, and gain more fence-sitters’ votes.
People actually ask, is the timing right? To me, if we need to start over, it is better to do so now than wait for another two years. If we wait further to make this move, then it would really be too late.
For those who question whether Kajang is a ‘demotion’ for Anwar, I will say this: Anwar is Pakatan’s candidate for prime minister, and the move to raise his profile as a state leader before aiming for national leadership is a strategic move for this season, in line with our overall strategy.
The Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF) has apologised to PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was denied entry to Japan last month when he arrived to speak at an event.
SPF chairperson Jiro Hany, who extended another invitation today, said he would do all he can to ensure that Anwar will be able to enter Japan this time, to participate in a forum on ‘Democracy in Muslim world’ slated for the end of this month.
“I am the host responsible for guests to be comfortable and I am very responsible for the great embarrassment to … Anwar,” Tokyo-based Jiro (left) told reporters today after a closed-door meeting between the duo in Damansara, Selangor.
“I apologise to him and ask him that good relations between Anwar and my foundation will not be affected by the incident.”
Anwar accepted the invitation and said he “forgives” Japan for the incident. Immigration officials at Narita Airport had refused him entry to the country on Jan 19 because of his prior conviction.
Jiro said the SPF had written to Japan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and Defence Ministry seeking an explanation.
“Up to the present (time), I am not satisfied with their explanation,” he said.
If it is proven that Japan made a mistake, he said, the government should also apologise to Anwar.
Anwar, asked if he still believes Putrajaya had a hand in the fiasco as he had earlier claimed, said he is over it.
“Let’s move on … this is just one experience. I will therefore accept his (Jiro) invitation to visit Japan on Feb 26,” he said.
The Lunar New Year celebrations last week ushered in the Year of the Horse, in which former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad may hope for some good fortunes, given that Chinese Malaysians used to refer to him rather fondly as Lao Ma, or Old Horse, based on the Chinese transliteration of his name. (These days, however, the nickname has come to be synonymous with racism and bigotry.)
As he is busy attending open houses across the country, it is quite certain that, his mind sharp as ever, the ex-premier has not lost sight of the political changes on the ground. We must not forget that the Pakatan-administered state of Perak fell to Umno exactly five years ago through treachery and conspiracy as, rather inauspiciously, many were lulled into a false sense of security during the Lunar New Year break.
It is also worth reminding that the Perak coup happened as the hawks in Umno – edged on by Mahahthir and tacitly supported by Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (left) – had been putting pressure on PM Najib Abdul Razak to prove his worth as successor to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The short-lived Pakatan rule in the Silver State is now history, but the painful lesson must not be forgotten.
Fast forward to 2014, it is increasingly clear that Najib’s hold on power is being weakened by forces beyond his control. Following Kedah MB Mukhriz Mahathir’s failure to make it to the Umno top leadership, Mahathir’s wrath can barely be concealed.
To pre-empt Mahathir and also to consolidate his position, it is only natural that Najib has been seeking to exploit the rifts within PKR, especially between Selangor Menteri Besar Abdul Khalid Ibrahim and the party’s warlord Azmin Ali.
Meanwhile, radical groups such as Perkasa and Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) are turning each and every public issue into a racial or religious dispute in an attempt to heighten tensions, hoping also that the rising crescendo will eventually warrant a rule by decree.
Mahathir was instrumental in the downfall of Tunku Abdul Rahman nearly 45 years ago, and the chances of his striking at Najib can never be ruled out. After 1969, both Penang and Kelantan, run by Gerakan and PAS respectively, went on to join BN, changing the country’s political landscape drastically.
Should Mahathir be successful in engineering another so-called crisis a la 1969, would Penang, Kelantan and Selangor be strong enough to resist the temptation of supping with the devil if their leaderships are not strong and cohesive enough?
A plot or a strategic move?
The latest political twist in Selangor has caught us by surprise. Some say it is a plot to outsmart Abdul Khalid, others see it as a strategic move to rein in Azmin’s faction. The truth is, it is a bit of both, plus a pre-emptive strike at Umno.
Since the Kajang state seat was vacated, I have seen many take great umbrage at opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for dragging the electorate into what is widely perceived as party infighting. The amount of criticism levelled at the entire PKR leadership is no doubt unprecedented, for want of a better word.
But let’s face it: power struggle is a normalcy, rather than an exception in party politics. In this regard, I would say the infighting within Umno is far more serious than Pakatan’s. But because Umno has at its disposal immense resources, the party can keep most grudgingly happy, hence the luxury of not having to resort to the electoral process in resolving the conflicts among the various factions.
While I do not fully agree with a by-election without a cause, I see far greater dangers in Umno exploiting the differences within Pakatan in Selangor for its own gains. Mahathir and his gang are working hard to weaken Najib’s administration by seeking to radicalise our society with the issues of race and religion, thinking that they can control the damage after Najib is gone while Mukhriz is put in a No 2 (or even No 1!) position.
While arousing the fear of the Malays, the Mahathir clan is also using Pakatan leaders’ personal issues to paint the latter in an extremely bad light. We have witnessed this in the utterly discredited Sodomy I & II, and also the virulent attacks on PKR assemblyperson Elizabeth Wong five years ago.
DAP MP Teresa Kok may have been unwise in producing a not-too-funny Lunar New Year video, but the hysterical reactions by some are indicative of the ugliness ahead. The great uncertainties, left unchecked and unaddressed, can eventually become a norm in the contest for public space.
One must not underestimate the impact of a small group of people as such. As Indian anthropologist Arjun Appadurai has rightly observed, where one or more of these forms of social uncertainty come into play, violence can create a macabre of certainty and become a brutal technique about ‘them’ and ‘us’.
So, expect more to come as both sides head to Kajang.
All that Umno needs to do is to successfully create an impression that Pakatan is equally as problematic, so why not opt for the devil you know?
‘Blood is thicker than water’
Through writing, social activist Marina Mahathir helped her father keep the support of the so-called neutral elites (or Bangsar liberals?) back in the late 1990s, and I can see she is employing the same tactic again, albeit far smarter this time. She may have an issue with Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor, and rightly so, but I doubt she would say no to her brother assuming Umno leadership. After all, blood is thicker than water.
And how on earth would a self-styled liberal have chosen the most illiberal prime minister in this country’s history to pen a foreword for her book, ‘In Liberal Doses’?
Until and unless Marina (left) has faced up to the fact that Mahathir is THE patron of Perkasa, I will continue to take her words (and publicity stunts) with a large pinch of salt. Of course, I won’t stop others from blindly worshipping her.
In short, the Mahathir clan is seeking a very formidable comeback with far more dangerous, destructive consequences this time. Ignore the deadly influence of the old man at one’s peril. He is getting old and time is not quite on his side.
Nothing will satisfy him other than having his son securely installed as a future prime minister and his ‘legacy’ safeguarded, and nothing delights him more than seeing his mediocre son emerge victorious and the Anwar-led Pakatan ruined to pieces. Only then would he be laughing all the way to his grave.
I may not go all out to argue for the strategic move by Anwar, but I will not at this time mount a campaign to undermine the opposition either, knowing all the odds staked against them.
Perhaps standing idly by is the best one can do. If you want to save your pride of non-partisanship by going all out against Anwar, go ahead, although I am quite certain history will not be too kind to those who have played some role in resurrecting the ghosts of Mahathirism.
Program Mesra Rakyat Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim di N25 DUN Kajang
10 – 14 Februari 2014 (Isnin – Jumaat)
10 Februari 2014 – Isnin
8.30 – 11.30 malam –
Forum Anjuran Institut Rakyat
Tema – “Legasi Bapa Kemerderkaan – TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN”
Lokasi : New Era University College, Jalan Bukit, Kajang
Pembukaan Oleh : Dato’ Ambiga Sreeveenasam
1. YAB Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim – MB Selangor / Pengarah PRK Kajang
2. YB Lim Kit Siang – Penasihat Umum DAP
3. YB Dr Hatta Ramli – Pengarah Pilihanraya PAS Pusat
Penutup oleh : YB DATO’ SERI ANWAR IBRAHIM
12 Februari 2014 – Rabu
8.30 – 12.00 malam – Ceramah Perdana -
Lokasi : Kompleks Penghulu, Batu 10 Jalan Cheras, Kajang
YB Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim, YAB Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim dan Pimpinan PKR & PR
14 Februari 2014 – Jumaat
1) 1.00 – 2.30 ptg – Solat Jumaat – Masjid Kg. Sungai Sekamat , Kajang
2) 7.30 – 11.30 malam – Sambutan Tahun Baru Cina – GONG XI FA CHAI
Lokasi : Tapak Pasar Sungai Chua, Kajang
Turut Bersama -
YB Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim, YAB Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim dan Pimpinan PKR & PR
3) 9.00 – 12.00 malam – Ceramah Perdana
Lokasi : Padang Permainan Taman Impian Murni, Kajang
YB Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim, YAB Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim dan Pimpinan PKR & PR
PEJABAT DATO’ SERI ANWAR IBRAHIM
“If I become MB,” he said, raising his voice on ‘if’, “it will be until I become prime minister.” He smiled.
In the last video in a three-part series, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim shares his thoughts on Mahathirism, the future of the nation and family.
A resounding theme in Malaysia’s 13th General Election on May 5th had been the prospect of change, and the popular slogan being bandied about was ‘Ini kalilah! Ubah!’. Yet May 5th had passed, the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) that has ruled Malaysia for the past half-century still succeed to retain Putrajaya. And this, too, put a full stop to Pakatan Rakyat (PAKATAN)’s road to Putrajaya 1.0.
So, 267 days after the May 5th 2013, we have now witnessed the PAKATAN, or Parti Keadilan Rakyat (KEADILAN), to be precise, has taken the initiative to steer the electoral politics of Malaysia by calling for by-election in Kajang. Despite criticisms and contestation, think tank Political Studies for Change (KPRU) opines that Kajang by-election is a new departure for PAKATAN in the quest for Putrajaya, again – not by following the same old road, but hewing out a new path instead. It is a strategic move to re-deploy against the attack from BN – it has come to the time wherein PAKATAN does not passively combat in BN’s warfield by complying to their rules, but to become the game master. As the Chinese saying goes, catch an enemy off guard with a surprise attack. Kajang Move is definitely a strike beyond expectation, and this strike just come in time to invigorate PAKATAN’s quest for Putrajaya 2.0.
Losing the 13th general elections with 52% popular votes was indeed a great disappointment; it is a huge blow to people’s morale and confidence, as well as of the oppositions. Furthermore, the temperature of the general election last year had then cooled, the euphoria and excitement hoping for a regime change had evaporated. The following price hikes have furthermore rendered the ordinary folks in despair and helplessness. The recent hype on Prime Minister Najib’s ‘kangkung’ price remark has gone viral and spread like wildfire but nevertheless a harmless joke. Meanwhile, as Selangor PAKATAN government, as well as Pulau Pinang, has entered its second term, people will inevitably place higher expectation on its performance in every respect, and how Selangor, as a targeted state, play a strategic role to strengthen PAKATAN’s strategies to Putrajaya 2.0.
Recap PAKATAN’s Road to Putrajaya 1.0: From 308 to 505
The historic results of the 12th general election, later widely known as March 8th political tsunami, was an unprecedented massive swing towards the opposition, and since then a newly formed PAKATAN has begun to pave the way towards Putrajaya.
The results of the 2008 general elections were remarkably stunning, and it played a pivotal role as a stepping stone for the forming of KEADILAN-DAP-PAS coalition, later known as PAKATAN. Since then, we can hardly dismiss the evolvement of a new Malaysia with a brand new political sky, where opposition coalition taking 82 seats in Parliament and winning state power in four states on top of PAS’s Kelantan, namely Pulau Pinang, Selangor and Perak. However, Perak was later seized by BN, not through legitimate elections but unethical and unconstitutional power grab.
As the BN suffered a major setback in the 12th general election, yielding one of the worst results in the coalition’s history, former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was urged to step down in favour of his successor Najib Tun Razak during the UMNO General Assembly held on April 1st 2009, and the latter sworn in as the Prime Minister on April 3rd 2009. During Najib’s days in Prime Minister Office, he had and is still tirelessly launched various ambitious programmes with bombastic names, including the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and Government Transformation Prograam (GTP), as well as introducing one after another airy-fairy slogans – from ‘1Malaysia’ to the latest ‘Endless Possibilities’. Nonetheless, your average Joe and Jane on the street does not necessarily understand those big words, as they were, and are still being left out from the fruits claimed in his Janji Ditepati rhetoric.
Meanwhile, unceasing scandals broke out in corruption-riddled BN, from Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal to National Feedlot Corporation (NFC)’s “cattle and condos” scandal, from diamond to private jet, and the lists go on. People’s dissatisfaction and anger has been brewing and reaching its peak.
We have witnessed a growing social movement having bigger impact. Hundreds and thousands courageous Malaysian flooded the heartland of Malaysia during the third rally by the Bersih organization for free and fair elections on April 28th 2012. Also, between 300,000 to 500,000 Malaysians from all walks of life, gathered in the historic Merdeka Stadium just before the 13th general election on January 12th last year, showing that they are aware of the issues at stake in Malaysia, and they want their government to hear them. People’s political consciousness and awareness have underpinned the emergence of new political landscape.
PAKATAN has not only harnessed the dynamics, but at the same time also working hard to consolidate and strengthen its influence. PAKATAN had launched alternative budget in 2012 and 2013 prior to the tabling of federal government’s budget. Additionally, PAKATAN also presented its common manifesto, highlighting people’s most needs and concerns, and essentially making sure they are on the right track to capture Putrajaya.
However, the journey to Putrajaya 1.0 came to an abrupt end when PAKATAN failed to capture more than half of the 222 seats in parliament, although successfully garnered more than half of popular votes. What is worse, PAKATAN merely succeed to retain Kelantan, Selangor and Pulau Pinang, whilst losing Kedah to BN and failed to regain Perak.
Creating a level playing field
Anwar Ibrahim’s Kajang Move will be a new sheet of history in Malaysia politics. Malaysians, especially those young one will no longer recognize him as the ex-Deputy Prime Minister or ex-Finance Minister who were once holding the second most powerful post in the government, or merely a figure of politically active and of international repute, but a reformist-cum-office holder who dare to force the dysfunctional political system to evolve through the legitimate use of the electoral system.
To compete with the current Prime Minister Najib – who wields not merely executive power, but also resourceful enough, Anwar as the Opposition Leader, on the other hand, should at least have considerable power and resources, if not equal one, to compete competently with the federal ruling coalition’s top leader. Kajang Move provides such an opportunity enabling the shackles of restraint to be wrecked, and thus creating space for the rise of a stronger and more resourceful leader, who can then carries much more weight in a political and parliamentary system choosing to ignore its fundamental flaws. Worse still, the whole discussions about strengthening opposition forces used to ignore those fundamental flaws while assuming a Plato type of philosophical king as the leader par excellence.
Recognizing the hardship ahead
Sooner or later, the Election Commission (EC) is about to embark on an exercise to redelineate electoral boundaries, and the constituency re-delineation motion is most likely to be tabled in the March parliamentary sitting. It is doubtful that the redelineation will be done in a free and fair manner, considering the fact that EC had just help BN winning 60% of seats with a mere 47% of vote in the last general election. In addition, the substantial increase in the number of voters, which carve out new demography, will render another challenge to PAKATAN ahead of the 14th general election. All these lump together with the economic hardship laying ahead coupled with heightened political tensions currently faced by Malaysia, signals an urgent need that PAKATAN has no other alternative but to take initiative to master the game so that the road to Putrajaya will be possible, again.
Kajang Move, is beyond strengthening and entrenching PAKATAN’s foothold and influence in Selangor as to counter BN. Crucially, Kajang Move, as a starting point of the PAKATAN’s road to Putrajaya 2.0, will likely to determine PAKATAN’s fate on the coming 14th general elections. Nonetheless, what should be borne in mind is that, PAKATAN winning Kajang by-election must not be at the expense of ignoring criticism.