Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Anwar’s Imminent Road Trip

By Khairil Anhar, N Shashi Kala and Zedeck Siew,,

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) supporters wait for the results of the Permatang Pauh by-election to be announced; 26 Aug 2008. De facto PKR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim would win by a majority of 15,671 votes over the Barisan Nasional’s Datuk Arif Shah Omar Shah

THE road to Putrajaya lies open, but Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim can expect it to be riddled with landmines. Having survived the most violent and vicious by-election in the country’s history and emerged victorious in Permatang Pauh, Anwar knows his opponents will not slink off quietly into the night. Instead, he can expect the Barisan Nasional (BN), and Umno in particular, to begin plotting anew to halt his march to power.

Now it is up to the de facto Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leader to deliver on his promises to convince enough BN Member of Parliaments (MPs) to jump ship and join Pakatan Rakyat to form the federal government. The deadline most often quoted is 16 Sept — Malaysia Day — but it is unclear if Anwar will be able to muster the necessary numbers.

Having secured a larger majority than what PKR president and former opposition leader Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail did in the 8 March 2008 general election (15,671 votes compared with 13,398 on a slightly lower turnout — see chart below), Anwar now faces a Herculean task: to deliver on the promises to form a new federal government in two weeks’ time. And to do this, he has to convince 30 BN MPs to cross over.

A hefty task

“It is quite a hefty task that he has set himself,” says associate professor Dr Joseph Chinyong Liow, who is a specialist in Malaysian politics with the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

“But above and beyond that, the issue of how the new government comes into being also raises questions”.

“Coming into government as a result of crossovers — it gives you the numbers, but whether it gives you the moral authority is a different thing altogether. It is something that would be a shadow hanging over the foundation [of the new government], if indeed it materialises,” he tells The Nut Graph.

It is also foolhardy to count the BN out of the equation altogether. They may have lost in Permatang Pauh, but that was always going to be the case for the self-styled “underdogs”. And the winning margin does not really reveal all that much about Anwar’s ability to win over Umno loyalists.

According to political analyst Wong Chin Huat: “The result sent a shockwave to the BN, but [it in itself is] not an immediate and severe blow. It wasn’t a disastrous defeat that can trigger defection straightaway.”

Wong explains how the election results reveal that the BN’s 30% base ground in Permatang Pauh wasn’t eroded as had been predicted by analysts, and as such, it won’t signal the death knell of the present government overnight.

Implications of new government

Still, political scientist Dr Mavis Puthucheary, a former lecturer at Universiti Malaya's Faculty of Economics, says the results do show that the BN faces a crisis of credibility.

Despite handicapping Anwar with a sodomy charge and denting the Pakatan Rakyat’s image with the Anti-Corruption Agency’s investigation into corruption and abuse of power by PKR politicians in Perak, the former deputy prime minister still managed to win the by-election handsomely.

“This is likely to have repercussions within the BN and especially within Umno. The BN, under Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s leadership, had expected to contain Anwar. But since that did not happen here, it is almost a certainty that Abdullah will be challenged in the 2008 Umno general assembly in December,” she says.

There are also lingering concerns about the kind of government Anwar would head, and the viability of the Pakatan Rakyat as a ruling entity.

Tricia Yeoh, director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies, addresses this: “Many people are still unsure what the Pakatan Rakyat’s government is going to look like, and the past five months [since five states fell to the Pakatan] can be considered a period of uncertainty.”

Anwar will also have to consider the impact the implementation of a new government would have on various institutions in the country.

A lot of planning has to be done, Yeoh points out to The Nut Graph. “Various institutions will be dismantled; the heads of prominent agencies such as Bank Negara will be changed; and there’s also the response of the Royalty to consider... this [shift] will affect different pillars of society, and also private sector conglomerates.”

There are also other challenges and issues that the opposition coalition, which is made up of PKR, DAP and PAS, have to deal and reconcile with in the near future if they want to form a stable government, says Liow.

I wouldn't say that it is clear that PAS is prepared to go all the way to the end. They have indicated that they support the Pakatan Rakyat, and that they support Anwar as opposition leader.

“Whether or not they support Anwar's plan to enact this government change is still questionable. There are a lot of doubts about Anwar compromising the pro-Malay, pro-Muslim agenda,” he says, in reference to Anwar’s multiracial approach and campaign platform that champions “Ketuanan Rakyat”.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim surrounded by PAS and DAP leaders after his win“ (Photo left -above).

Anwar’s track record

The DAP could also prove to be a wild card. Liow points out that while the party has come out strongly in support of Anwar, his chequered history may translate into residual sentiments concerning what sort of leader the former Umno rising star is going to be.

“Anwar has a track record of switching from issue to issue, position to position. I think the DAP leadership, certainly the senior leadership, are aware of this. Many of them have had their own encounters with Anwar.

“They, too, will have to ask themselves what sort of permutation an Anwar-led government will take,” explains Liow.

The question is, will he become so obsessed with gaining power at the federal level that he looks for short cuts? And could this result in the break-up of the Pakatan Rakyat before it has time to work out a common programme for uniting the three parties?

Most importantly, will the new opposition leader Anwar be allowed to carry out this task without constant harassment from the government?

Faced with such considerations, Anwar has to tread warily if he is to move forward. Puthucheary observes: “It is a sad indictment of our system that the only way to escape the tyranny of those in power is to assume that power oneself.

“If Anwar feels that it is only by assuming power that he can escape the tyranny of the government, he may concentrate his efforts on gaining power instead of using valuable time in the next four years to build the base of support for the Pakatan Rakyat.”

And if that happens, he could well lose the support that has propelled him on the road to power in the first place.

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