Thursday 25 April 2013

The Odds, They are a-Changin’

By Kee Thuan Chye

The Opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat must be very careful between now and polling day not to make any colossal mistakes that could deny it victory at the 13th general election. I’m thinking of something about the same magnitude as or greater than the faux pas made by Tengku Razaleigh in wearing the Kadazan headgear with a cross on it on the eve of the 1990 general election.

As it looks, a few days past nomination day, the odds are changing to favour Pakatan, although at the time of the dissolution of Parliament, the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) seemed to have the upper hand.

BN appears to be in trouble now with so many of its members having abandoned the coalition to stand as independents. Umno, the biggest component party, alone suffered the defiance of 61 mutineers. This is totally unprecedented and comes as a huge blow for the party of caretaker prime minister Najib Razak. It could well mean a loss of confidence in the party.

What’s more, BN must also be hurting from the defection of one of Umno’s stalwarts, Muhammad Muhammad Taib, to PAS. As a former menteri besar of Selangor, he will be influencing Malay voters to help Pakatan retain the government in Selangor, much to the chagrin of Najib, who has been gunning to get it back for BN.

Pakatan, too, is faced with the plight of members standing as independents. On top of that, after nominations were over, component parties PKR and PAS found themselves competing with each other over seven seats. This might have been due to lack of coordination, but whatever the reason, the matter has been resolved, with each party taking three seats.

The seventh, which concerns the Kota Damansara seat, is more tricky because the candidate standing on the PKR platform is from PSM, a socialist party that PAS finds itself at odds with ideologically.

On the whole, the picture that emerges of Pakatan is that PKR, PAS and its third partner, the DAP, have coalesced as a united force with the required team spirit. Reinforcing this could have been the threat to the DAP’s legitimacy to stand under its own symbol posed by a surprising letter sent by the Registrar of Societies (ROS) only two days before nomination day.

Thrown into a quandary, the DAP sought the help of its partners and was readily granted it, as both PKR and PAS offered to let it stand under their party symbols. In the end, it didn’t turn out to be necessary, but the bond between the grateful DAP and the other two parties appears to have been strengthened.

Now the coalition appears to be positively charged to take on BN. The latter seems to have nothing innovative to offer except more threats – like the Iskandar region in Johor being halted in its progress if Pakatan were to win Johor or that there would be racial strife if the DAP’s Lim Kit Siang were to win Gelang Patah – and more vote-buying handouts, like the cash vouchers spotted in Alor Setar and Nibong Tebal by the election watchdog Pemantau. On the other side, Pakatan is going full steam ahead with post-election pledges.

For Sarawakians who want change – or, in Malay, ubah, which is the rallying cry of many Malaysians throughout the country – Pakatan promises that if it wins federal power, it will instruct the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to investigate the current chief minister there, Taib Mahmud, for corruption, resulting perhaps in the eventual appointment of a new chief minister.

As for the Iskandar region, Pakatan will honour commitments already made to current investors, but it will ensure, according to Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, that business deals are “more transparent” and that opportunities are generated “for the locals”. It will also continue to encourage investment and development.

That Pakatan is more positive in its campaign is also reflected in the newspaper advertisements put out by both coalitions. BN’s tend to focus on showing up what it considers the potential negative scenario in the event of a BN defeat, like the MCA questioning the wisdom of ubah or reiterating the threat aimed at non-Muslims that a vote for the DAP is a vote for PAS and therefore an Islamic state.

Pakatan, on the other hand, has one of DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng taking a winning attitude: “Not anti-Malay, not anti-Islam, only anti-CORRUPTION.” 

In terms of public perception, BN has also suffered a credibility gap for fielding Ibrahim Ali and Zulkifli Nordin, two of the candidates most dreaded by voters who want ubah.

Both are leaders of the right-wing NGO Perkasa of which ex-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is the patron. In fact, before nominations, Mahathir had publicly endorsed Ibrahim – deemed an extremist for calling on Muslims to burn Bibles that carried the word ‘Allah’ – as a candidate for Pasir Mas, and said there should be more Ibrahim Alis so that Malaysia could be saved.

But when Najib announced the candidates’ list, Ibrahim was not included although Zulkifli was. Ibrahim then announced he would stand as an independent. He was quick to add, however, that the reason for it was not to go against BN. In fact – and this sounded stupid – he urged all Perkasa members to back … not him, but the BN candidate! Why on earth would Ibrahim contest only to face defeat?

The shadow-play behind it all became apparent on nomination day when Najib’s nominee, Che Johan Pa, arrived at the nomination centre but didn’t submit his papers. This automatically allowed Ibrahim to take on his PAS opponent in a straight fight.

Che Johan reportedly said his withdrawal was to “make way for BN to win” because a three-cornered fight would have benefitted the PAS candidate. It’s striking that he mentioned BN when Ibrahim is standing as an independent. It’s also striking that the large group of BN supporters who accompanied Che Johan to the centre actually cheered when they heard he was not contesting!

One could speculate from this that Najib didn’t dare name Ibrahim outright for fear of being exposed for contradicting his own 1Malaysia sales pitch. At the same time, he apparently dared not go against Mahathir and therefore opted for a decoy.

The ploy has not fooled the public, however. Neither has the fielding of Zulkifli as an unprecedented “friend of Barisan Nasional” candidate purportedly because he is a “winnable” one. Najib should know that Indians offended by Zulkifli’s insensitive remarks about them and their religion have not forgiven him although he has apologised to them, so his selection must be due to some other reason.

Anwar spoke what was on the mind of many sensible Malaysians when he asked, rhetorically, why Najib would field Zulkifli. The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind.

So, what will it look like on election day? A victory for Pakatan Rakyat as the call for ubah rings ever more loudly each day, boosted by the support of legions of overseas voters who are organising to come home and vote?

Who knows? If the elections are fair and free of fraud, that might just be the result.

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, and the latest volume, Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More!

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