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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Will Anwar Win the War?

by Syed Zahar

A lot has transpired since the unforgettable March 8 General Election which embodied the changing tides in Malaysia’s socio-political scene thanks to Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (pic) and his team of strategists. Credit also goes to his partners in the coalition - PAS and DAP, as well as the Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties themselves that were evidently perceived as complacent and arrogant at that time. Like it or not, one can no longer deny that the Pakatan Rakyat has gained a plenty of confidence (and grounds) owing to Anwar’s charisma, charm and doggone tenacious nature.

..So confident is Anwar that he had said that people will still vote for the Opposition even if he is in prison during the process. Meanwhile, PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat has said that his party is ready to face a general election any time. The move to establish an opposition pact was more than a stroke of genius; it was practical and absolutely necessary. Now with and the possibility of snap election happening anytime soon (rumour has it that it is going to take place next year), will this newfound adversary of BN under the leadership of Anwar be able to unleash a second tsunami in the 13th General Election with what they have achieved so far?

PKR-Pakatan vs Umno-Barisan: The Plan So Far

The 12th General Election is over and done with. Substantial gains were secured by Pakatan Rakyat but this is just beginning. The newfangled political climate requires a different game plan and, in terms of image-building, it must be said that the Opposition has fared pretty well considering their disadvantages in terms of media exposure, non-authority Federal government side and their lack of experience in governing. Somehow, these drawbacks are met with counter-actions like their clever use of new media (blogs, websites, news portal, twitter, Facebook etc) and alternative news providers (The Rocket, Suara Keadilan, Free Malaysia Today, Harakah Daily). PKR, while for some are newbie and somewhat less experienced, to others they come across as a fresher, friendlier, more energetic and proactive alternative.

..It is definitely not going to be smooth road to Putrajaya for PKR-Pakatan Rakyat and there will always be some potholes along the way. Strings of departures by PKR MPs, Anwar’s ongoing Sodomy 2 / Fitnah 2 trial and the sand thieveries in Selangor are just some major ones. Datuk Zaid Ibrahim’s (pic) defeat in Hulu Selangor in April – the last by-election contended by PKR – was only by a 1,725 (out of 48,269) vote majority – that’s just 3.57 percent margin. The result does indicate that PKR is not as popular as it would like to be but at the same time it also shows that BN still don’t get to enjoy the massive winning margin it used to or let alone achieve their targeted 6,000.

Last Three By-Elections

The loss of that precious Selangor seat to MIC’s P Kamalanathan is not near as bad as PAS contender Zulkefly Mohamad Omar’s defeat to Umno’s Tan Sri Isa Samad by 5,435 vote majority (51.32 percent). Almost immediately after Hulu Selangor, DAP’s narrow victory (1.07 percent margin) in Sibu by way of Wong Ho Leng over MCA’s Robert Lau Hui Yew was also a reminder that both sides still have a long way to go before they can guarantee a comfortable win in the next general election and by-elections for that matter.

That’s as far as by-elections go. They may not be a reliable indication of the most likely winner of the upcoming general election but they do more or else impart us on the latest voting trends and swings (for the certain districts anyway). The last three (N.31 Bagan Pinang, P.94 Hulu Selangor and N.31 Sibu) are the most recent ones that were contended by all the six biggest parties – three from both sides – and the score sheet looks like this:

Last three by election results:

Sibu (16 May, 2010): MCA 18,447 – DAP 18, 845 – Independent 232

Hulu Selangor (25 April, 2010): PKR 23,272 – MIC 24,997

Bagan Pinang (11 October, 2009): Umno 8,013 – PAS 2,578

Total parliamentary seats:

Pakatan Rakyat - DAP: 29, PKR: 24, PAS: 23

Barisan Nasional - Umno: 78, MCA: 15, MIC: 4

One thing is for sure though. To win the next general election the Opposition must win over the rural population and fortunately for them, PAS happens to carry substantial weight in this department. In Hulu Selangor we could see how desperate PKR was in getting the Felda settlers to swing their way. At time of by-election, Anwar went as far as promising the Felda settlers’ children the right to the ownership over the estate lands they’ve been working and living on – that how precious the rural votes are to PKR and Pakatan as a whole. After all, the people in the rural areas make up the majority of the population.

..Tackling Issues

The Perak MB power tussle was no doubt an ugly and somewhat confusing affair that left the nation wondering more about the ins and outs of the Constitution. For the first time, the whole nation gets to witness the rakyat actually protesting in front of a royal palace. Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin (pic) did all he legally could to take the power back from Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir as to take the matter to the highest court but his efforts proved futile. But what the PAS man did achieve was to make people more aware of our rights according the Constitution. The whole affair also reminds us that the Opposition are competing on uneven playing field.

The ‘Allah’ usage dispute which led to mindless church burning and foolish pig head in mosque stunt that came about later was quite significant too as it brought about a few unexpected reactions from certain parties. For one, Nik Aziz (pic) and PAS (most of them anyway excluding Datuk Ibrahim Ali that is) agreed that it is okay for the Christians to use the word ‘Allah’ in their texts – a stance that was seen as progressive, moderate and most definitely a far cry from the traditionally stringent image of the party that we had become accustomed to.

..Also surprising in a good way were the calm reactions of Christians and Muslims amid the infringements of their respective places of worship. These rational responses showed how far our people have grown mentally. So if the claim that Umno was behind the church and mosque as a plot to create unrest between the races were at all true then it didn’t work; instead, the Opposition, PAS and PKR in particular, rose the occasion by sticking to their stance and they managed to make themselves look good in the process.

Sand-Shifting in Selangor

PKR’s not-so-satisfactory handling of the rampant sand theft cases in Selangor is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges faced by the party since it took over the state. Elected MB Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim (pic) has been getting the heat from all directions and his credibility under constant attack especially from Umno leaders including, not surprisingly, the state’s former MB Datuk Seri Dr Khir Toyo. The predicament proved to be too big for Khalid to handle that he was forced to let his Selangor PKR Chief position go to Azmin Ali so that he could focus entirely on his MB job scope.

..At present Khalid had requested for more time to resolve the illegal sand mining issue but until significant results are achieved in protecting the state’s sand resource he will be under constant scrutiny. It goes without saying that Umno is very much bitter about losing Selangor as the state happens to be the country’s richest and most industrialised. With that said, they are more than happy to criticise PKR’s incapacity in governing the prized state any chance they get.

Anwar’s Alleged Jewish Links

It all started with Anwar alleging that the government had engaged public relations firm Apco Worldwide; a company which he claim, to have links with Israel. On top that, he also said that Apco which was awarded a RM4 million contract by the government also came up with the 1Malaysia concept which more or less emulated One Israel campaign that was launched in the 80s. Moreover, he told Dewan Rakyat that Israeli Intelligence agents have worked in Bukit Aman’s communications server room.

..The Home Ministry had denied Apco’s link with Israel and the whole1Malaysia-One Israel allegations. But later on, Umno leaders came up with their own allegations against Anwar linking him to prominent Jewish-American figures namely House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman and former World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz (pic). Anwar has yet to respond to the allegations which stemmed from aWashington Post article by Jackson Diehl entitled ‘Flirting with Zealotry in Malaysia’ that was published in June. The article told of Anwar’s recent visit to Washington DC where he met with a group of “pro-Zionist policymakers” and told them that he regretted using terms such as “Zionist aggression”.

It’s going to be hard for Anwar to wriggle out of this one if this part of the story is true in any way. Being pals with anything Zionist don’t fly well with Muslims and Malays especially after having led a 10,000-people demonstration against the Israel military raids on Gaza aid ships in front of the US embassy on June 4 where an Israel flag was burnt. To most, especially Muslims, this would be hypocrisy at its worst.

In this case, Anwar’s plan has backfired and he is faced with a dilemma: stay friends with the Jews and enjoy their moral and political support while losing his credibility as a Muslim leader or lose the Jews and the patronage that comes with them while staying true to the cause of Islam.

As the weeks pass news of another article, this time a Washington Times’ opinion piece by Joshua Trevino, came out in July entitled 'The End of an Affection'. Trevino, a former speechwriter in President George W Bush's Department of Health and Human Services from 2001 to 2004, wrote in the article that Anwar once commanded the respect of Americans but “that day is gone”.

Some may think that the Trevino’s article sets it straight in terms of Anwar having lost his American friends and support but as the Malay proverb puts it – there may well be a shrimp underneath the rock. We are talking about old hands in politics and PR here so this recent US publicity could just be a damage control spiel to convince Malaysians and Muslims that Anwar had already broken his ties with his Jewish-American friends. For all you know, behind the scenes, Anwar may already be planning on what to wear for Paul Wolfowitz’s grandson’s Bar Mitzvah.

..Wind Crying for Change?

One of the earliest political moves by Anwar after being released from prison (and subsequently visiting Washington DC) was to invite people in the creative industry for a roundtable meeting. 30 to 40 renown figures in the local arts and entertainment scene turned up at that meeting held at Shah Village Hotel in Petaling Jaya which lasted four hours. Apparently, Anwar just wanted to say “Hi” but we all know there’s more to it. He’s a smart man who was trained by the best at a young age and the reason for calling upon this creative group in particular was to instigate these people who are already rebellious in nature. These individuals were also makes the perfect target group for they already have credible influence especially among the younger generation. Idiosyncratic as it may seem, this was Anwar thinking outside of the box while he was stuck inside his prison cell.

PKR was formed and then the coalition with PAS and DAP was in place but there was still a lot to do in paving the road to Putrajaya. Patronage from the international community is also pretty much in gear as we can see that Anwar has already garnered support from sympathisers in Indonesia, Australia, Britain and the US just to name a few.

..Meanwhile, on BN’s side, prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's(left) approval rating as of June 9 had risen to 72 percent, up from 69 percent in April, according to opinion research firm Merdeka Center. The figure was so significantly high that it prompted Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (right) to remark sarcastically for Najib to consider calling an early general election if the figure is accurate. He also commented that it would be good to know who actually conducted the survey. The former premier also recalled that his popularity rating was only 60 percent when he led BN to an election victory which secured a two-third majority in parliament. "But if it is 72 percent, we hope to be able to win more than a two-third majority. Perhaps, you (Najib) can call the elections now!" he told reporters back in June. The poll also showed the highest approval rating among the Indians (80 percent) followed by the Malays (77 percent) and the Chinese (58 percent).

It’s always stimulating to hear what comes out next from Mahathir’s mouth. But it doesn’t take a smart aleck like him to recognise that the tides are changing and it is in the Oppositon's favour. And, hate him or love him, the man had and still has much to do with this changing times. Recalling the past, it was Mahathir who created and obliterated Anwar. And it was Mahathir who chose “Mr Clean” / “Mr Cleanup” Tun Abdullah Badawi, who’s largely to blame for the massive loss of seats in the last general election, as his successor. So contrary to popular belief that Datuk Seri Rosmah Mansor is the one making all the calls behind scene it is actually Mahathir who is still a force to be reckoned with in influencing the governments decision-making.

courtesy of Malaysian Digest

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