Thursday, August 28, 2008

Maybe not Sept 16, but Putrajaya is definitely in Anwar's sights

By Leslie Lau

AUG 26 - Now that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has expectedly been returned to Parliament by voters in his hometown, the big question is will he become the next prime minister? The odds are still against him doing it by Sept 16.

For one, he has less than three weeks to persuade enough MPs to defect from the Barisan Nasional. He also needs to quell the problem of mounting disputes between the secular DAP and the Islamist Pas in his coalition. There is also the sodomy charge he will have to fight in court.

But his victory in Permatang Pauh today does give him renewed momentum in his quest to lead the fledgling Pakatan Rakyat coalition to eventually take over the Federal Government. He will use his new position as Parliamentary Opposition Leader to up the ante against the weak administration of Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi.

Anwar will also argue that his victory in Permatang Pauh, a predominantly Malay seat, shows there is significant support for his multiracial approach. After all, the former DPM has openly declared he will put an end to the NEP-style pro-Malay affirmative action policies of the BN government by replacing Umno's "ketuanan Melayu," with his "ketuanan rakyat-. And still he won today's elections handsomely in a Malay seat.

Even the onslaught of attacks against his personal character, from the sodomy charge hanging over him to allegations that he will sell out the country to the Jews and that he approved gambling licences while still in government, did not prevent today's landslide.

Call Anwar the Teflon man if you will, since an independent survey found a majority of the Malay electorate in Permatang Pauh believed the sodomy charge against him is politically motivated.

What the BN leadership should learn from their defeat today is that it is not just about Anwar. Five months after losing five states and a two-thirds majority in Parliament, the BN suffers from a major perception problem. A significant number of Malaysians just do not believe in the BN anymore. The BN is now associated with arrogance, a sense of entitlement, corruption, oppression. The list goes on.

Anwar and the PR, fragile as the alliance may currently be, represents change to significant numbers of Malaysians. And with a flagging economy and high inflation, the sentiment now is against the BN government.

The BN coalition, for so long the best brand in Malaysian politics, is also facing insurrection from within. While the turmoil faced by Umno seems to have receded for now, the other BN parties are becoming increasingly unhappy with their dominant partner's more pro-Malay stance. There has been growing support from within the MCA, Gerakan and other parties to withdraw from the BN coalition.

What is certain is that Malaysia faces more political uncertainty ahead. So will Anwar eventually become prime minister? Maybe not on Sept 16, but a man who can win a by-election and become the leader of the strongest Federal Opposition this country has seen in 51 years just four years after being released from jail cannot be written off.

- The Malaysian Insider

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