Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A triumphant return

Wednesday August 27, 2008


The return of Permatang Pauh’s most famous son to Parliament does not change the equation in the House but his impressive win is a critical stepping stone for his political plans.

MEDIA people making their way up the sloping road to the elections centre at the Tuanku Bainun Teachers Training College at about 7pm to wait for the results of the Permatang Pauh by-election noticed there were very few Barisan Nasional supporters.
That was the first hint the election outcome was not good for the Barisan.

About an hour earlier, news had filtered out that PKR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had won in several polling stations where the votes were being tallied and leading in all the other centres. Not long after that, the unofficial account was that Anwar had won in every one of the 25 polling stations.

Initially, he had thought of announcing his own victory at 7.45pm at the PKR operations base at Yayasan Aman in the heart of Permatang Pauh. But there would have been a crazy media crush as well as supporters wanting to be part of the victory, so he decided to proceed to the Tuanku Bainun centre where he arrived in grand style with a cheering motorcade, horns blaring and flags flying.

Permatang Pauh’s political son had come home. He had won convincingly, exceeding the 13,398-vote majority of his wife Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail in March.
The Barisan’s Datuk Arif Shah Omar Shah fought hard but could not match the charisma of Anwar or the dazzling campaign machinery and manpower behind him.

“Where Permatang Pauh people are concerned, you can say whatever you like about him. They don’t care. They just want Anwar Ibrahim. He is very strong in Permatang Pauh,” said Datuk Seri Dr Ibrahim Saad, his old friend and one-time Umno strongman in the area.

The constituency had stood by him during his time in prison, keeping his wife as their MP. In that sense, the victory they gave him is also a sort of redemption for the tribulations he had gone through in the first sodomy controversy.

This is the first by-election since the March polls and he has shown that he has grassroots support and that the tide has yet to turn for the Barisan. And given the way the sodomy allegations dominated the campaign, Anwar can now claim that people, particularly the Malays in Permatang Pauh, do not believe it.

His team took a multi-racial line in their campaign and the fact that it worked in a Malay-majority constituency is food for thought.

The inner circle around Anwar, which meets to strategise every day, had not been sure that Anwar could do better than his wife shortly after the campaign began.

Rural Malay sentiments were a bit different but they decided to tackle the Saiful issue head-on using some of the top ulama in the country and even the imam who witnessed Saiful’s swearing episode to argue their case.

Their effort paid off as did their campaign, which has been the talk among journalists who had never seen anything like it before.

The early indications also suggested that PKR swept the young Malay vote, especially those in their twenties and thirties. It should set off alarm bells for Umno Youth, which seems to still be disconnected from the young Malay ground. The Chinese and Indian votes have flown from the Barisan coop.

“There is only one sumpah or swearing action that Anwar needs to do and that is being sworn in as the new MP for Permatang,” said Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi.

Anwar’s supporters inside and outside the Pakatan Rakyat are relieved he is back in Parliament.

The last time he was inside the House, he was seated on the front bench, waiting rather impatiently to become the next Prime Minister. This time, he will still be on the front bench but on the opposite side, and he is still waiting to be Prime Minister.

But he will probably find that winning Permatang Pauh is the easy part. Becoming Prime Minister may be as elusive for him as it was before.

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