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2008: A year of political drama

KUALA LUMPUR, 27 Dec 2008: Undoubtedly, this year’s political dramas have kept Malaysians and interested parties on the edge, as unexpected plots unfolded one after another.

People were left breathless right after the curtains were raised on 8 March as Malaysian voters cast their ballots in the 12th general election. Only four days earlier the Election Commission had scrapped its plan to use indelible ink to flush out phantom voters.

Political analysts, observers and politicians had expected the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition to win easily but the voters decided not only to hand over four more states to the Opposition but also to deny the BN its usual two-thirds majority in Parliament.

Out of 222 parliamentary seats, BN won 140, while the remaining went to the Opposition including one seat by an independent candidate.

It was the biggest victory ever by the Opposition, an alliance of three parties — Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), DAP and PAS.

PKR president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who retained her Permatang Pauh seat, became the first woman appointed as Opposition Leader.

Strengthening their grip on Kelantan, the Opposition also wrested Penang, Selangor, Perak and Kedah from the BN.

Political tsunami

Dubbed by political observers as a “political tsunami”, the 8 March general election triggered a chain of reactions throughout the year, and placed Malaysia in the “politically unstable” group of countries at one point.   

Despite the mandate to rule the nation for the next five years, it was the BN’s worst defeat while the Opposition basked in their victory.

The 12th general election also saw several BN top leaders being defeated by young and fresh faces fielded by the Opposition, including PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s daughter Nurul Izzah.

Among the defeated BN heavyweights were MIC president Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu, then acting Gerakan president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon and Wanita Umno deputy chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.

Wearing dazed expressions that lasted for weeks, leaders from both the BN and the Opposition contemplated their change of fortunes while former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad called for the immediate resignation of his successor, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Mahathir’s call resonated throughout the country and was soon echoed by several quarters including from Umno.

However, Abdullah stood up to his former boss and instead called for all BN component leaders to regroup and learn from the experience.

“I’m not a stubborn person who will not learn lessons in life even when they are associated with my career and my work. As a leader of BN, I see what happened and we must learn from this,” he said, two days after the general election was held.

That, however, did not silence the call for Abdullah to step down. It continued to reverberate through the months.

16 Sept

The drama was far from over as weeks after 8 March, Anwar began to play his cards and told his supporters that the Opposition – by now known as Pakatan Rakyat – would topple the BN government on 16 Sept.

The eloquent leader, who became free to contest in elections on 14 April after being banned from active politics for five years following a corruption conviction, hinted that a number of BN Members of Parliament (MPs) had already agreed to join the Pakatan Rakyat as they were unhappy with Abdullah’s leadership.

As the voices of dissatisfaction were louder from their Sabah and Sarawak counterparts, BN MPs from the Peninsular were quick to point at them as the would-be defectors.

The accusation was prompted by several statements from Sabah and Sarawak MPs that indicated their dissatisfaction on various issues. Underlying their dissatisfaction was the fact that they contributed 40% of BN Parliamentary seats.

Kimanis MP Datuk Anifah Aman of Sabah even implied that they would not mind moving out from the “bungalow” (BN) and living in a terrace house (Pakatan Rakyat), as they were only allowed to “sleep near the toilet”, even though there were “many rooms in the bungalow”.

He, however, denied wanting to cross over and stated that he was merely voicing out the dissatisfaction of Sabahans for being overlooked by BN top leaders over the years.

As Anwar continued to drum up the audience’s interest with his promises, another drama unfolded in June when one of the BN component parties from Sabah, declared it had lost confidence in Abdullah and wanted to support a no-confidence motion against the prime minister.

The Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) later pulled out from the ruling coalition, taking away with them two parliamentary seats – Tawau and Sepanggar – and four state seats – Luyang, Likas, Tanjung Papat and Elopura.

Anwar returns

In July, Dr Wan Azizah vacated her Permatang Pauh seat to give way to her husband to contest, lending more weight to talks that Anwar would indeed become Malaysia’s sixth premier come 16 Sept.

While insisting time and again that he had enough defectors, Anwar who was facing a fresh charge of committing “unnatural sex” against his former aide, refused to disclose their names.

On 26 Aug, Anwar triumphed in the Permatang Pauh by-election. Subsequently, he was appointed as the new Opposition Leader in Dewan Rakyat. The countdown to 16 Sept swept through the nation, bringing about uncertainty.

On 8 Sept, BN sent a group of its MPs to Taiwan on a study tour, an act deemed by several quarters as a desperate attempt by the coalition to prevent defections by 16 Sept.

The drama heightened when Pakatan Rakyat sent its representatives to Taiwan a day after, hinting that they would continue negotiating the crossover.

However, after all the hype, 16 Sept turned out to be just another day as Anwar’s promise failed to materialise.

Anwar tried to excuse his failure saying the plan would have to be postponed for a few days while he waited for Abdullah’s response to his request to meet to ensure a smooth power transition.

However, that was three months ago, and today Malaysia is still under Abdullah’s leadership while Anwar lingers in the background.  — Bernama

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