Do not be too quick to dismiss UMNO. With about 30 percent following in Permatang Pauh, the party has not been exactly ‘buried’.
In PAS strongholds like Guar Perahu and Kuala Mengkuang, the fight between PKR candidate Anwar Ibrahim and BN’s Arif Shah in some polling centres were ‘close’.
But I learned a few lessons about the Malaysian mind after following the campaign trail for almost 9 days in Permatang Pauh. I can tell you why UMNO failed (next post).
Indeed, there is a flicker of chance for a multi-racial Malaysia with better economic policies and bigger breathing spaces for civil society and the press, but whether a new government, touted by Anwar Ibrahim come September 16, will implement all its promises is yet to be seen.
It’s not that I think Anwar is going to deliver all of it on his own if the road from Permatang Pauh leads to Putrajaya.
He’s only going to be the driver, the rest – DAP and PAS – if the coalition still stands until then -I hope will be well-informed navigators.
How far is Anwar from the administrative capital Putrajaya?
History teaches us that rebels who assume power often become worse than the dictators they overthrow.
Then I hope the voices of civil society continue to speak loud, and ensure, that power do not get concentrated in the hands of a few.
The people, who has tasted power by lowering the influence of BN/UMNO in March 8, must be aware that they have the power to decide who is their leader, as the Permatang Pauh voters had done on August 26.
The voices of the people of Permatang Pauh, who gave Anwar a bigger majority of 15,671 may not represent the entire country but there is a rising spirit among Malaysians wanting to take a calculated risk and place their trust in Anwar, after 50 years of BN rule.
Not many are asking about Anwar’s past these days, or whether he can be trusted, as he was formerly a part of UMNO, the very party he now detests.
People are now saying that they have given UMNO’s “racist and corrupt” policies 50 years, can they do worse?
I believe the DAP and PAS leaders are not going to sit on their laurels if Anwar or PKR goes astray, in which case there might be massive conflicts between the three parties.
In any case the trio still need to iron out fundamental differences between themselves, like PAS’ Islamic state insistence, and DAP’s secular rule.
Hopefully, an amicable balance can be struck quickly and conveniently.
PAS must understand that no one refutes the fact that Islam is the official religion of this country. But people of other faiths want to ensure their freedom of religion and beliefs remain intact.
Can we be assured that there will not be anymore burning down of temples in the name of God? That Catholics can use the word ‘Allah’ in their magazine HERALD, that various laws affecting families in the name of religion can be discussed openly with patience and understanding?
This is the real test of a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-racial society.
As for unity between the three parties, who call themselves the People’s Alliance (PAKATAN RAKYAT), the unifying factor may be Anwar and PKR’s populist policies.
This formula seem to work well in Permatang Pauh, as we see DAP and PAS leaders coming from far and wide to throw their support behind Anwar in this by-election.
After a couple of elections, it may also have dawned on DAP and PAS, that it is not possible to survive at two distant poles, separately.
Both need Anwar, the whipper of sentiments and captor of imaginations, to draw a whole range of support, from rural Malays, Chinese and Indians, to their urban counterparts.
Would Anwar risk the chance of losing it all by gong back on his election promises after fighting so hard to install himself as leader of the Opposition pack, with a view to the PM’s seat?
Yes, he faces great challenges with regards to SODOMY II allegations (court case on September 10) and impending corruption allegations by his enemies, formerly good friends.
Although, after listening to Anwar’s arch enemies, Ezam Mohd Nor and S Nallakurapan in campaign speeches, ‘threatening’ to expose the former’s ‘dark secrets’, it is still uncertain if his foes would actually make good their promises to reveal truths about Anwar’s corrupt practices when he was formerly deputy prime minister and finance minister.
These road blocks on the journey to the country’s administrative capital may send Anwar packing out of Parliament into jail (a sodomy conviction carries a 20 year jail term), sealing his political ambitions forever.
But Anwar may have a way of ‘wriggling’ out of his calamities, though he spend 6 years in jail for the first sodomy charge in 1998.
He has many supporters in government, in UMNO and the other coalition parties – who may all have a stake in Anwar’s ambitions and political future.
So, while one sector may want to nail the coffin on Anwar, another might want to ‘use’ him for their own political gains.
The road to Putrajaya, you can say, is full of good intentions. We can only hope these good intentions do not lead us to hell.
In any case, it is interesting to see how events unfold following the sweetest victory for the PKR yesterday, followed by another euphoria of seeing Anwar actually seated right infront of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in the August house.
DAP and PAS have already installed Anwar as the Opposition leader, and he will take his oath as MP of Permatang Pauh today (Thursday).
“I will sit right infront of him (Abdullah) and stare straight into his eyes, to make sure he does not fall asleep,” quipped Anwar at one ceramah, sending the crowd into fits of laughter. Abdullah has often been accused of ‘dozing off’ during meetings.
Other Opposition leaders are already seeing the potential of turning Parliament into their ‘playground’.
“When Anwar speaks, we will ask him for ‘laluan’ (chance to speak), I am sure he will allow us. Sometimes,it would be me, then Lim Kit Siang, later Mahfuz Omar…and the list goes on,” said PKR’s political strategist Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, at a ceramah.
MPs usually have to compete to speak in the dewan due to lack of time and the quantity of questions waiting to be traded on the floor.
With two feet in Parliament, it is now time to see if Anwar’s clarion call to form the government on Malaysia Day, becomes a reality.
The debate about morality of jumping frogs, however, is still on-going, with some sector asking if the voters who voted for these MPs actually approve of the change of parties representing the particular constituency.
PKR denies it uses money as a bait to lure these MPs. Are there other motivations?
However, others remark that it is more immoral to perpetuate a “racist and corrupt” government like BN than to become a mere jumping frog.
They argue following the March 8 Tsunami, the grassroots have already shifted. So, what is the MP waiting for?
Some MPs may even be pressured by grassroots leaders to consider the option of joining PKR, because, the grass is always greener on the other side, and no one wants to drown with a ‘sinking ship’.
So far Anwar says he has the numbers. “With even one to spare,” he joked.
But the question of morals is still not of the biggest problems.
The question now is: will the Yang Di Petuan Agong actually accept Anwar as PM? That decision is in his majesty’s hands.
Next: Things I’ve learnt from the Permatang Pauh by-elections.