15 February, 2009

There are “two governments in Perak and no opposition”.

The Perak coup was a boost for the Barisan Nasional but it now has to do well in the coming by-elections to keep the momentum.

It has been an emotional and drama-filled couple of weeks in Perak politics.

The controversial change of government dominated news headlines and events are still unfolding at a pace that is giving politicians and the media sleepless nights.

Politics will continue to rank high on the agenda of Perak folk with the Bukit Gantang by-election set for April 7.

The air is thick with speculation of more cross-overs to come. The new administration has yet to fill several state exco positions and many see the vacancies as “dangling carrots” to tempt more assemblymen from the Pakatan side.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s I-have-the-numbers-game has backfired and it looks like his nemesis Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is the one holding the numbers.

And most interesting of all, neither side can claim the moral high ground because they are all players in the same game.

But the Perak coup has been a boost for the Barisan Nasional after months of being taunted with threats of MPs crossing the floor in Parliament.

“This is politics, it’s not illegal. Whoever commands the majority forms the government,” said Bukit Chandan assemblyman Datuk Wan Khairul Anwar.

Some Umno politicians even see the Perak development as a turning point for the party.

“It’s like the crack in the dam. Hopefully, it will lead to a flood,” said Wan Khairul.

But first there is the by-election in Bukit Gantang to deal with.

The Barisan’s edge is that it is going in as the ruling party. Toppling Pakatan has re-energised its rank and file and it will definitely not be taking the contest with a loser’s mentality.

Moreover, Najib who is the new Perak Umno chief will be Umno president by the time the contest starts and that will be an added shot in the arm for the Umno campaign.

On the other hand, the conventional wisdom is that Pakatan will be riding into the campaign on a wave of sympathy even though it was their own people – two from PKR and one from the DAP – who ended their spell in power.

State PAS deputy commissioner Asmuni Awi has described the by-election resulting from the sudden death of incumbent Roslan Shaharum as “God’s way for us to retest our strength.”

The three defectors who paved the way for the Barisan to return to power will definitely not be campaigning.

They are not exactly prime campaign material. Two of them are defending corruption charges in court whereas Jelapang assemblywoman Hee Yit Foong has become the most vilified woman in Perak.

Hee has been in hiding since her defection although a Chinese vernacular newspaper reported that she recently returned briefly to her mother’s house in the early hours of the morning.

The former DAP politician has been bombarded with insults and even threats. Hee, who is lame in the right leg as a result of childhood polio, reportedly received SMS threats from people vowing to lame her other leg.

She has had to bear the brunt of the people’s fury because she was the straw that broke the back of the Pakatan government. Some have said DAP leaders had encouraged the outpouring of condemnation so as to deter other would-be defectors.

“Defections from DAP are not new but she caused the Government to collapse. For that, no one can forgive her,” said DAP national Youth chief Anthony Loke.

In fact, it is difficult to imagine how the three can continue as wakil rakyat given the degree of public opinion against them.

Malay opinion is split down the middle on whether to have fresh polls or accept the palace role in the issue. A total of 51% of Malays were willing to accept the new Barisan government while 50% approved of the palace role.

In that sense, Pakatan did the right thing in distancing itself from Karpal Singh’s move to take the Sultan of Perak to court. No Malay politician in his right mind would want to be labelled as “penderhaka” or traitor.

Thus, even though the other half of the Malays are quite critical of the palace role, the Pakatan is unlikely to dwell on the palace factor in the by-election campaign.

However, a staunch defence of the royal house will be a key campaign prong for Umno in the by-election.

The death of the incumbent MP shocked many people but its timing, smack in the middle of the most explosive politics that Perak has seen in a long while, has many in PAS reading it as a divine sign.

The more rational in Pakatan prefer to see it as a perfect storm in the making.

“The way things have fallen into place, how else but to see it as a potential perfect storm,” remarked one DAP politician.

Neverthelss, the Perak imbroglio has thrown up many issues and many players on national stage from royalty to politicians, some hungry for their 15 seconds of fame and eyeing a bigger role in the future.

Datuk Seri Khir Toyo (who tried to march to Karpal Singh’s house), Khairy Jamaluddin (who called for banishment), Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein (who has been calling for action against treason) and Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib (who has been calling for action against bloggers who have commented on the Perak sultan).

Of the four, Khir and Khairy are running for the Umno Youth chief post, Hishammuddin is eyeing a vice-presidential slot and Muhammad is hoping to win as deputy president.

But they all seem to be oblivious to one fact: they are not only auditioning for support in Umno polls but, by virtue of being leaders in Umno, they are also Malaysian leaders.

Therefore, their constituents are also those outside the party, not just the Umno delegates who will likely vote them in for higher positions with the Malay nationalist party that been dominant in Malaysian politics since before Merdeka.

However, the sabre-rattling and political posturing may fly in Umno but not with those outside the party.

Does the country need such emotional, reactionary and irrational leaders as such, who fly at a moment’s anger or upset with political rivals to consider a march, a banishment, rallies and harsh action against those who differ with them in philosophy and opinion?

Does the country need leaders willing to risk public safety and order to prove a point and score points for their party politics?

These are leaders who must rise above party politics and lead the country towards enlightenment and progress, not the dark ages of marches and torches and threats of harm to mind, spirit and body.

In the campaign for Umno votes, and the heaven-sent opportunity of Perak providing a national stage, these leaders must consider that their every word and move is also being considered and evaluated by the public at large.

There is no use of being the king in a small pond but nothing in the big lake that is Malaysia.

These are the days for the wisdom of statesmen not the wild rhetoric of demagogues. These are the days for calm and not chaos. These are the days when you wished these Umno leaders will rise above petty party politics and play a leadership role in the country, just like the ones before them who led the way to Merdeka and, later, Malaysia.

Fortunately, we have options now even if Umno doesn’t realise it yet.

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