THE Chinese media was interested in the meaning of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s win in the 26 Aug 2008 Permatang Pauh by-election.
According to Chang Teck Peng’s 27 Aug report on Merdekareview.com, political commentators estimate that Anwar’s landslide victory would expedite the internal conflict within Umno, intensify the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s collapse, and push for a change of government.
In the report, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall chief executive officer Tang Ah Chai said as opposition leader, Anwar will prompt the BN’s fall because there are still many unresolved grouses from the BN component parties within a coalition dominated by Umno.
“Previously they played the role of cooperating [with Umno], but now they look more fragile,” said Tang.
Apart from monitoring the performance of Pakatan Rakyat’s parliamentarians, Anwar would also be able to divide and create suspicion among the BN component parties, Tang added.
“The BN will lose its integration. And although none of the component parties have withdrawn, they are very much polarised [from the BN] in their heart.”
Tang observed that the voting pattern in Permatang Pauh was similar to that of the 8 March general election. Voters from all three ethnic groups asked for change, unlike previously when only the Chinese supported the opposition, while the Malays and Indians supported the ruling parties.
He noted that the margin of victory in by-elections is usually smaller than in a general election; but in Permatang Pauh, it was wider, reflecting that voters had accepted Anwar’s multiracial approach.
He said it also showed that voters were disappointed in the BN and continued to reject the ruling coalition after the 8 March elections because there were no changes.
Tang observed that Anwar’s message was able to spark the public’s political imagination. In contrast, the BN failed to respond to public opinion.
Master of politics
In the same article, Merdekareview.com’s columnist Alex Koo said although Khairy Jamaluddin pledged to “bury” Anwar in Permatang Pauh, the by-election results show that it was Anwar who has “buried” Umno.
Koo said Anwar’s return to Parliament will give him more room to manoeuvre, and being a master of politics, his influence would be immense. Hence, Anwar’s claim that he will form a new government on 16 Sept is not necessarily empty talk, Koo argued.
He reckoned that Anwar would not only be able to sway Sabah and Sarawak Members of Parliament, he might even be able to convince the BN’s peninsula-based component parties, such as the MCA and Gerakan, to cross over.
On 28 Aug, Oriental Daily’s columnist Low Chee Chong described his personal experience of campaigning for Anwar in Permatang Pauh.
Low claimed money politics was present during the campaigning: voters could get RM300 for not casting their vote, and between RM200 and RM300 for ensuring that Anwar’s margin was less than 10,000 votes.
However, he said those behind the money politics underestimated the voters, who were not bought over. Instead, the voters kicked off a whisper campaign urging the local community not to sell out. This word-of-mouth campaign managed to stop the influence of money politics when it spread to restaurants and markets, Low claimed.
Kwong Wah Yit Poh’s editorial observed that Anwar’s higher majority in the 26 Aug by-election, even with the same voter turnout as on 8 March, showed that the BN has not yet recovered from the general election.
The editorial said preliminary studies from the voting trends show that Anwar not only strengthens the existing support of Chinese and Indians voters, he also attracts new Malay votes. Hence, it would seem that the charges of sodomy against Anwar, and the swearing on the Quran by Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan that Anwar sodomised him, which was played up by Umno, did not have an impact, and in fact, backfired.
The editorial said the loss of the BN’s Datuk Arif Shah Omar Shah was not the fault of the BN campaign because Permatang Pauh has always been Anwar’s stronghold. But what needs studying is this: If Umno and the other BN component parties have about 25,000 members in Permatang Pauh, but Arif Shah only garnered approximately 15,000 votes, what happened to the other 10,000 votes?
The paper asked whether Umno would now humbly accept the voters’ verdict, and realise its faults, especially since the party leadership has reiterated several times it would reform in order to win back the trust of the Malays and the people.
The editorial argued that this reform was not only relevant to Umno, but more so to the future of the BN and the nation. It noted that several Chinese BN leaders have raised the issue of withdrawing from the BN, and this debate would, for certain, continue.