Sunday, December 28, 2008

Fishing in a deeply segmented society

Sarawak target a camouflage?

(Shahnaz - The Star Monday, 01 December 2008)

PKR has turned its guns on Sarawak, its latest target to wrest control from Barisan Nasional in the next elections. But questions remain about its plan to take over the Federal Government through crossovers.

DRESSED in a nondescript white shirt and casual black sports jacket, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim drew attention when he sat among the PKR delegates instead of on the stage with other party leaders for the ceramah on Saturday night at the PKR national congress.

With his wife PKR president Datuk Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail seated by his side, he remained there for hours listening to speech after speech until it was his turn.

He got on stage and explained why he had sat among the delegates.

“Pundits and cynics say ‘what is PKR without Anwar?’ But what I see before me is a good line-up of leaders. There is no shortage of great leaders.

“In the six years that I was ‘resting’ in prison reading books, it was Azizah and this line-up that rose and did the work despite being sprayed countless times (with tear gas by the FRU),” he said in his oratorical best.

As for his shirt, he said that it might not be the nicest looking but he wore it with great pride.

“This shirt was made for me by a poor tailor from Datuk Keramat. Every year, while I was in prison, he would make me a shirt or a baju melayu and I would wear them. And he just sent this one to me,” he said.

On cue, the crowd of PKR delegates and members at Stadium Malawati clapped and cheered.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political science lecturer Dr Ahmad Nidzamuddin Sulaiman says that while the “common man approach” may be a tactic, it works.

By sitting with delegates, he says Anwar wants to show that PKR is egalitarian, it is not feudal, the hierarchy is not all that strict, and that the party is very different from Barisan Nasional.

“PKR will now post pictures and clips of him sitting with delegates on the blogs and YouTube. I think he purposely did that for effect,” he said.

Dr Ahmad Nidzamuddin, however, concedes that even when Anwar was Deputy Prime Minister, he was the sort who always went down to the ground to win people’s hearts and minds.

And the PKR de facto leader did manage to do so with voters during the March 8 general election.

This is PKR’s first congress since the elections which saw a dramatic change in the party’s fortunes. From a miserable one parliamentary seat in 2004, PKR now has a whopping 31 parliamentary seats, 42 state seats, a PKR Mentri Besar (Selangor) and the Opposition Leader in Parliament.

Those who expected dramatic announcements of defecting Barisan MPs at the congress come away a little disappointed. Anwar had whipped up expectations and excitement that Pakatan would take over the Federal government on Sept 16. But that date has come and gone.

As for answers to what happened and what the next course of action to wrest power at the federal level would be, Anwar spoke of his dilemma.

“Nak cakap salah, tak cakap salah, jadi semua serba salah (If I tell, that would be wrong. If I don’t, that’s wrong too. Either way it’s wrong),” he said.

All he would disclose was that some Barisan MPs who had promised to defect and even signed pledges turned around the very next day and verbally attacked him because Barisan suspected them of being possible defectors.

He asked members to keep the faith, that Pakatan would still get to Putrajaya.

In the meantime, he urged all PKR MPs and state assemblymen to take turns every week to go to Sarawak to cause tremors there in the bid to take over the state in the next state elections.

Some have dismissed this. They say it is merely to divert members’ attention from PKR’s failure to deliver its promise to take over the Federal Government.

Dr Ahmad Nidzamuddin is not so dismissive.

Even though Sarawak is a Barisan stronghold, he says there are many internal conflicts among the political parties there and PKR could benefit from that.

But he too believes that Sarawak is a camouflage: “Its main interest is still in getting the MPs and getting to Putrajaya.”

“Anwar won’t give up. His intention in making a return to politics is not just to be the head of the Opposition. Before (when he was DPM), he was so near and yet so far. Then after the elections, he was again so near and yet so far,” he said.

Dr Ahmad Nidzamuddin believes that Anwar did have the number of MPs to cross over. But the PKR leader made the mistake of making public his plans, which of course gave Barisan time to counter them and many of the would-be defectors backed out.

This probably explains why PKR is now less vocal on its proposed takeover.

Perhaps, it is like the nondescript white shirt Anwar was wearing. He could have worn it and just kept quiet about it or told the world about it.

The next few months will continue to be interesting times in the country’s political landscape.

It would be a mistake to underestimate Anwar and PKR just because they have gone quieter.

Friends and foes easily change in this land...

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