Sunday September 16, 2012
Going solo could backfire on Selangor
By Joceline Tan
Pakatan Rakyat is taking a big gamble in deciding not to go along with the general election if it takes place by the end of this year.
DATUK Seri Anwar Ibrahim made a grand entrance at the PAS Hari Raya open house in downtown Kuala Lumpur last week – he arrived in his campaign bus. It is still quite a novelty seeing him in the glammed-up double-decker and there was excitement as the bus rolled in.
The PKR de facto leader has been quite a newsmaker over the last few weeks. First, there was the nasty business of the bus getting splashed with red paint when it stopped over in Kota Baru. A couple of flying bricks also left two starburst shatters on the front windscreen of the bus.
Before the buzz could subside, his bodyguard, a former Mr Kuala Lumpur contestant, caused a sensation when he drew out his automatic pistol and pointed it at a group of people in Malacca. The police are still investigating the bodyguard, known by his nickname “Zimbo”, and a video of that is still playing out on YouTube.
Pointing a gun at people is serious business and it was quite indefensible no matter what PKR leaders may say. A professional bodyguard should not behave like a nightclub bouncer.
But more shocks lay ahead. A few days after the pistol incident, Anwar announced that if the general election is called in November, Selangor may not come along. There were gasps from both sides of the political divide. It was a high level decision and quite a hasty one because Pakatan Rakyat politicians were as surprised as those from Barisan Nasional.
Anwar said the decision was because the Election Commission (EC) had not cleaned up the electoral roll for Selangor, something that Pakatan has been complaining about since last year.
“Selangor has the highest number of new voters, about 450,000. Unless the EC looks into it, we are prepared to go the full term,” said PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution.
The announcement, coming on the heels of the bodyguard incident, was rather too timely to be coincidental. Anwar is famous for diverting public attention to his advantage and this one had his signature all over. It looked like he was trying to distract attention from the bodyguard incident.
If it was indeed a distraction tactic, it has worked beautifully. Selangor’s so-called plan to go its own way is all that everyone is talking about the last few days.
Pakatan leaders have toyed with the idea of holding separate polls as far back as 2010 when talk of snap elections first surfaced. It was mostly in the form of brainstorming by an exclusive circle around Anwar and opinion was divided about which road to take.
PKR was then riding high but a key member of the group thought it would be better to do it in one shot rather than to have “every canon pointed at us”. The discussions were not conclusive but the understanding then was that all the Pakatan states would have to adopt the same line.
This week’s announcement on Selangor suggests how things have changed. Kelantan is sticking to tradition, Kedah is playing coy while Penang said it had yet to decide.
A coalition that is on the way to Putrajaya cannot be behaving like this. It must have unity in purpose rather than going the way of every man for himself.
The popular Sinar Harian headline read: “Pakatan tidak sepakat” (Pakatan is not together).
The impression given is that Anwar’s fancy campaign bus may not even make it back to Shah Alam, let alone arrive in Putrajaya. And that may explain why Selangor is opting for separate polls. The stakes are very high for PKR. Without Selangor, PKR is nothing – it will be reduced to what Gerakan is today.
Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim has been a consistent advocate of going full term because he wanted time to implement his ideas and policies.
“Khalid wanted to go full term so that he could show his report card,” said a PAS politician from Selangor.
But if he has still not done what he set out to do by November this year, he is not going to accomplish much more by April 28 next year when his government’s term expires.
Around April this year, Khalid obviously thought that elections would be called in June. His party flushed Selangor with banners and billboards showing him looking sanguine and smiling sweetly with the slogan, “Terima kasih atas keyakinan anda” (thank you for your trust). But June came and went and the colours on the billboards are starting to fade.
Umno Youth exco member Datuk Zaki Zahid said that if election is called in November, it is as good as going the full term.
“It is no longer a snap election and it’s not going to reflect well on them if they don’t come along,” said Zaki.
The response from Pakatan politicians in Selangor has been muted. It is a big decision and they are still not quite sure what to make of it.
All sorts of scenarios have been tossed about. Some think the decision will benefit Pakatan, others think it will be to Barisan’s advantage.
“It is a double-edged sword type of situation,” said Fui Soong, CEO of the think-tank CENSE.
One argument is that if the Barisan wins the general election, Pakatan can then play the sympathy card and appeal to Selangoreans to deliver the state to them so that there will be better check and balance. After all, Kelantan has pulled it off so many times.
However, Selangor people are not like Kelantan folk and Khalid is hardly in the same league as Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat.
Another argument is that Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak will be spread very thin in a general election. The Prime Minister needs to secure Sarawak and Sabah, he wants to take back Kedah, he has to tackle Kelantan and he wants to deny Penang the two-thirds majority.
But if Selangor goes its own way, said Soong, Najib will be everywhere in Selangor for 11 solid days of campaigning. Add to that the combined machinery and weaponry of the Barisan and it will be uphill all the way for Pakatan.
“But you’ve got to watch out for this thing called momentum. If Najib wins Parliament with a 2/3 majority, Pakatan will have a hell of time holding on to Selangor. Once the momentum starts, you cannot hold back the wave,” said a seasoned Umno politician.
This is a very possible scenario as Najib goes from strength to strength.
The other aspect is the psychology of Malay voters. The conventional wisdom is that the average Malays want to go with the winner. Malays are not interested in playing opposition or check-and-balance. They want to safeguard their intrinsic priorities of Islam, King and country and to do that, they need to be in power.
Critics say that Pakatan’s complaints about the electoral roll are the behaviour of a sore loser resorting to scare-mongering.
“When they won in 2008, everything was fair and okay. Now they are not sure of winning, they say it’s unfair and dirty. What is so strange about Selangor having more new voters than other states? It is a fast growing state, with all sorts of people coming and going,” said Kuala Terengganu Umno chief Datuk Wan Farid Wan Salleh.
But PKR’s Saifuddin claims that there are instances of multiple names in one address. He said that in one case, there were more than 50 names under a single address. The onus, he said, is on the EC to look into such cases and until it is cleaned up, Pakatan will reserve their option of separate polls.
“It is not true that we are afraid of losing. On the contrary, we think Khalid has done a good job and we are very confident of holding on to Selangor,” he said.
Blogger Syed Akbar Ali, well-known for calling a spade a spade, accused Pakatan of “chickening out” in Selangor.
“How come Kelantan and Penang do not complain about the electoral rolls? All the pro-Pakatan analysts should read the tea leaves here. They have done their checking at the ground level. The signals are not too great. Selangor will be won back by the BN,” he said.
There were high expectations when Khalid came in as Mentri Besar but he has not really shone. People do not have deep grievances about him nor do they find him indispensable. Ambivalence is not a good thing in politics.
The Talam land recovery deals have affected his corporate image. Instead of taking matters into his hands and facing the public to explain everything, he seems to be dodging his critics. It is fine if he thinks he is above taking on MCA’s Datuk Chua Tee Yong in a public debate but he should not be hiding behind three Pakatan MPs and his political secretary Faekah Husin. People want to hear it from the horse’s mouth.
Businessmen in Selangor are also quite concerned about water supply and they say that he could have handled the water issue in a more business-like fashion instead of turning it into a political one-upmanship.
Pakatan came to power in Selangor because people were fed-up with Datuk Seri Dr Khir Toyo and angry with Barisan.
The tragedy is that Pakatan is preparing to seek a new mandate based on more hatred and anger for the Barisan rather than a convincing report card and a masterplan of what lies ahead. People want to see a government that has matured, not an alliance that hates the Barisan.
Despite so much talk about a November election, those around the Prime Minister say there has been no hint whatsoever from him. Some people have blamed The Star for whipping up the fever with its front page report highlighting possible polling dates in November.
The last four years have been one long political saga. It’s been politics day and night and people are getting tired. An oft-heard remark is that we should get the general election over with so that life can go back to normal.
That is wishful thinking and the thought of another contentious election after the general election is exhausting, to say the least.