Agenda Daily


The Permatang Pasir by-election results — with the Pas candidate winning by a big majority — once again show up the fact that the voters remain unimpressed with the ruling coalition's leadership changes despite the Opposition coalition's loose fit.

THE BARISAN NASIONAL (BN)'S FAILURE TO wrest the Permatang Pasir state seat in the Aug 25 by-election was not unexpected. The coalition faced an uphill battle from day one.

Permatang Pasir is a Pas stronghold in Penang within Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's Permatang Pauh Parliamentary constituency. That made it harder for the BN to prise it open.

But the BN's real problem has more to do with the continued unfavourable voters' perception of the coalition and the questionable honesty of its candidate, Mohd Rohaizat Othman.

That the BN had overlooked the credibility issue of its candidate is an indication that its vetting process is ineffectual. Hours after Mohd Rohaizat was announced as the BN candidate, news that he had been barred from practising law by the Bar Council over allegations of misappropriation of a client's money surfaced.

When the voters finally made their choice, the Pas candidate, Mohd Salleh Man, polled 9,618 votes against Mohd Rohaizat's 5,067 to give the former a majority of 4,551 votes.

On a lower voters' turnout of 73% compared to 82.57% during last year's general polls, the Pas candidate garnered 65.59% of the votes compared to 66.39% previously. The BN's popular votes thus rose by less than i% from 33.61% to 34.51%.

This is in contrast to the July 13 Manek Urai, Kelantan state by-election when the BN drastically cut Pas' majority and was only 65 votes shy of victory in the Malay-dominated hinterland constituency.

The Parmatang Pasir results suggest that the non-Malays, who make up about 30% of the electorate, are still not supporting the BN despite the new administration's numerous concessions for them inrecent months. The Malays remain divided.

The outcome of this election is comparable to that of the Bukit Gantang Parliamentary by-election where Pas also retained the seat with an increased majority on the strength of non-Malay support.

The Permatang Pauh outcome also suggests that the BN is still far from making any inroads into the state after the -dismal 2008 general election results.

It has to be noted that it was in Penang that the BN suffered the most humiliating defeat despite the fact that the-then Prime Minister, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, came from the state.

In the eyes of the voters, Umno and its BN partners are yet to get their act together. Even among Umno members and supporters, the distaste for the behaviour and attitude of the party's leaders remains widespread.

More BN drama ...

THE BN parties continue to face internal problems and defections of key members to the Opposition.

BN leaders continue to be projected in a negative light despite the fact that all the main component parties had either gone through leadership changes or are going through one.

The most recent being the squabbles over who is to be blamed for the Port Klang Free Zone scandal that led to MCA President and Transport Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat facing-off in court with the Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP)'s treasurer Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing.

Ong has filed an RMSoo-million defamation suit against Tiong for making `unfounded and malicious defamatory allegations' that he had received RMio million from him for MCA-related activities.

What makes the Ong-Tiong mudslinging damaging to the BN is the fact that both the MCA and SPDP are parties that derive their support from the Chinese.

To complicate matters, businessman Tiong is also the chairman of the BN Backbenchers' Club in Parliament and the chief executive officer of Kuala Dimensi Sdn Bhd, the main contractor for the PKFZ project.

In his statement of claim, Ong demanded that Tiong fully withdraw his defamatory remarks and publish an apology in all major Malaysian newspapers of all languages.

Ong's counsel Ronnie Tan said that whatever the amount awarded by the Kuala Lumpur High Court would be used for educational and other charities.

But the fallout from the PKFZ scandal, if not decisively handled, could affect the BN in its entirety and the taxpayers as a whole since the project is guaranteed by the government via a letter of comfort.

One possible way out of this quagmire is for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to investigate and charge those responsible in court.

But Pakatan Rakyat leaders have not been spared either. On Aug 21, the High Court ordered the Selangor Menteri Besar, Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, to pay Bank Islam RM66.67 million, being the loan he took to purchase Guthrie shares in 2001 when he was the company's chief executive officer.

Abdul Khalid was then riding high as one of the favoured Bumiputera executives of Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB) and a staunch Umno supporter. The sale of minority shares to him was the preamble to him being handed the management of the iconic plantation company. But after failing to make good on his promises, the company was taken back by PNB.

On May 18, 2007, Abdul Khalid initiated a suit against the bank, seeking damages and a declaration that there existed a collateral contract between him and the bank in relation to a loan agreement dated April 30, 2001.

The bank counter-sued Khalid on May 24 the same year, claiming that Abdul Khalid had breached its contract in the Al Bai-Bithaman Ajil (BBA) loan agreement in the purchase of Guthrie shares.

PKR — a one-man show

THE Opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition too has its fair share of problems, led by Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). The latest being the decision of its Luna, Kedah State Assemblyman, Mohd Radzhi Sallel, to quit the party.

This is an unkind cut to the alliance's de facto chief and Parliamentary Opposition Leader who is being reminded by the pro-establishment Press of the approach of the anniversary of his failed bid to topple the government on Sept 16 last year.

It is recalled that soon after last year's general election, Anwar made a widely publicised claim that he was on the verge of inducing mass defections of BN legislators to the side of Pakatan Rakyat that would enable him to take over the Federal Government on Sept 16, the anniversary of the formation of Malaysia.

Instead of gaining control of the Federal Government, the Pakatan Rakyat soon lost the state of Perak tothe BNwhen two PKRlegislators and a DAP assemblywoman quit and pledged their support to the grand coalition.

Mohd Radzhi's defection is not only a slap in the face for Anwar but also reduces PKR's minority role in the Pas-led state government. With Mohd Radzhi's departure, the PKR is left with four state assemblymen, all of whom are non-Malays, in the 36-member assembly.

It does not augur well for PKR to have no Malay legislators in the State Legislative Assembly, considering that Kedah is a Malay-majority state. The two Perak PKR legislators who quit earlier in the year are also Malays.

The defections of Malay legislators would pose a major problem to PKR in its effort to retain its multiracial outlook. Even before the defections of the three assemblymen, the PKR Malay state legislators were already outnumbered by their non-Malay counterparts.

Whatever excuses the PKR and its People Alliance allies gave to cushion the impact of the defections, including portraying the defectors as undesirables, the fact remains that PKR is in danger of losing Malay support.

This is even more glaring when only days before Mohd Radzhi's defection, the party noisily welcomed some big Chinese and Indian names to its fold — the likes of former MCA vice president, Datuk Chua Jul Meng, the former MIC vice president, Datuk S S Subramaniam and former Umno Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.

While Anwar may be basking in the glory of successfully enticing the disgruntled former BN bigshots to his side, it may be useful for him to consider the sentiments of the existing PKR leaders, especially those who originated from his own reformasi movement.

They certainly do not cherish seeing the interlopers from the BN being given a hero's welcome and who may some day take control of the party.

In the final analysis, unless Anwar succeeds in retaining the dominance of the Malay caucus and attracting more Malays to join his party, the PKR couldbe in danger of going down the same road that turned past multi-racial parties into parties dominated by one particular race like the DAP and Gerakan, which were once multi-racial but are now essentially Chinese.

Or are we seeing the process of PKR mutating into a version of the BN, of which Anwar was a key player for a good 16 years? For a start, PKR has always had a strong Umno character. Most of its Malay leaders originated from the party.

They were joined by the remnants of Parti Rakyat Malaysia and a rag-tag army of Chinese and Indian liberals, idealists and human rights activists.

But whatever forms the PKR may eventually take, the party has and will always be about Anwar and his perjuangan (struggles) — real or otherwise.

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