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The longest week

Corrected on 29 Sept 2008 at 2:30pm

The longest week
(Calendar image © Janaka Dharmasena / 123rf)

THE late British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said: “A week is a long time in politics.”

And the week from now to next Tuesday, 16 Sept 2008, will be the longest in Malaysia because two games of uncertainty are being played, with the players on either side hoping that the game they control will terminate the other.  

Between them, political stability is going down the drain. In fact, the saga involving Bukit Bendera Umno division chief Datuk Ahmad Ismail that has caught the whole nation’s attention may well be just a “sub-game” for one of the sides.

The first game is of course opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s grand plan of engineering parliamentary crossovers on 16 Sept. Will this happen?

That 49 parliamentarians were packed into planes for some kind of overseas “house arrest” seems to suggest how seriously the BN is taking Anwar.

Anwar’s calculation: How many, and from what faith?

Anwar’s task is difficult because he doesn’t just need the right number of crossovers, but also the right combination.

One thing he cannot afford to have is a government dominated by non-Malays and/or non-Muslims, even just by a majority of one.

In 1987, a new Fijian government headed by an ethnic native Fijian was overthrown in a coup by Fijian nationalists who resented that there were more ethnic Indian ministers than ethnic natives.

The Babi (Barisan Anwar Bin Ibrahim) shadow cabinet list circulated during the Permatang Pauh by-election aimed exactly to evoke such ethnic fears. As it stands, the Pakatan Rakyat parliamentary contingent has only four more Muslim members than non-Muslim members.

The longest week
Playing leapfrog (© Scott Maxwell / Dreamstime)
To ensure at least a bare Malay-Muslim majority, the number of non-Muslims who leapfrog must not exceed the Muslim frogs by three.

Another task is to ensure that the Pakatan Rakyat holds the majority of the total of 131 Muslim parliamentarians from all parties. Anwar would have to get at least 23 Muslim parliamentarians from the BN camp to add to the Pakatan Rakyat’s existing 43.

Twenty-three is the total number of Muslim parliamentarians from East Malaysia, with Umno and PBB combined. But it is unimaginable that Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud and his son (from Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu, or PBB) or Datuk Mohd Shafie Apdal (Umno Sabah) would jump ship, at least not with the first batch.

So Anwar would surely need to have defectors from among 65 Umno parliamentarians from the peninsula.

If Anwar can command 23 Muslim defectors, he is likely to have more non-Muslims from either the peninsula or East Malaysia. 

Therefore, being capped by the first requirement (that the non-Muslim crossovers cannot outnumber the Muslim ones by more than three), with only 23 Muslim defectors, Anwar can only have a maximum of 26 non-Muslims defecting.

The minimum figure Anwar is eyeing is likely 49 — or fewer, if he wants a stronger Muslim presence. 

The longest week

The BN’s calculation: To jump or not to jump?

It will not be an easy job, but if Anwar manages to get 49 parliamentarians to cross the floor, it might snowball to the extent that the BN might cease to exist.

After all, if Anwar’s coming into power is inevitable, then remaining loyal to the BN or any of its component parties means being at best a shadow minister, and at worst, an opposition backbencher.

The opportunity cost can be, depending on one’s calibre and speed in jumping, a minister, a deputy minister or a parliamentary secretary. Even if you are among the last to jump, you can still be a government backbencher and enjoy more development funds than a member of the opposition.

Why should one choose to be a shadow minister over being a government backbencher? A shadow ministership is like a futures contract in the financial market: worthwhile only if you believe in its future.

The longest week
Anwar with his wife, former Permatang Pauh MP Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, on the day of his swearing-in at Parliament on 28 Aug 2008, surrounded by party members and the media (Pic courtesy of Merdeka Review)
Knowing how badly the opposition is treated under BN rule, how many BN parliamentarians would believe they can survive healthily as opposition lawmakers?

The same worry is exactly what holds them back from jumping now: what if Anwar remains only the parliamentary opposition leader?

The greater the perceived differential between being in the government camp as opposed to the opposition camp, the greater the anxiety for BN lawmakers to constantly look out for signals of change.

They don’t want to jump too fast and die in the cold. Nor do they want to be the last to jump and receive breadcrumbs in the new government’s celebration party.

They can’t even say too much now to avoid future embarrassment. It is perhaps difficult now to envy their trip to Taiwan.

How then to counter Anwar’s psy-war? Some in the BN would look to Anwar’s Sodomy II trial, which begins on 10 Sept 2008. What if Anwar’s bail is withdrawn by the court? That could hold him back from his plan and may even send the Pakatan Rakyat into disarray.

But what if it triggers mass demonstrations à la Bangkok? Will this then produce our own Thaksins?

Longer weeks to come?

In this, the longest week in Malaysia’s political history so far, Anwar, the BN leadership, BN parliamentarians, party supporters and the rest of us will be living every minute with lingering uncertainty.

To end this uncertainty, many are hoping that Anwar’s plan will come true on 16 Sept. If nothing happens during this week, the coming weeks may only be longer. For Anwar may trigger his plot any time in the future. But he might also lose his freedom at any time.

So, are we to wait until the moment something happens? Or is it time for us citizens to get the political players to negotiate a transition game plan, and get everyone out of these games of uncertainty?

Isn’t it time we all get a life? End of Article

A political scientist by training and a journalism lecturer by trade, Wong Chin Huat uses the Federal Constitution as his “bible” to fend off the increasingly intolerable evil called “state”.

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8 Responses to “The longest week”

  1. myop101 says:

    It isn’t that bad really to dwell on politics.

    Housewives thrive on TV soap operas. Why can’t we thrive on real live political soap operas?

  2. RICHARD HUANG says:

    Your viewpoint I gather from reading your article smells of racism and discrimination. All elected MPs are Malaysian. And you call yourself an advocate of the Constitution?

  3. asianguy says:

    Off topic – that is the strangest calendar image that you’ve put up – 6 days to a week?

  4. kofinbinteelif says:

    Strange eight day calendar without weekends. Be that as it may, this is interesting stuff.

    May I ask why would the winning team in the March 8 polls jump to the losing team. Unless they think Abdullah is a lost cause and captain of a sinking ship?

    And Anwar offers more, a better deal for all?

    It is all about power. And for Anwar, an unwavering belief that it is his birthright to be PM that was snatched away on Sept 2, 1998.

    So, 10 years and two weeks later, he wants to celebrate Malaysia Day and apparently Harry Lee’s birthday by crowning himself PM.

    It could happen. It might not happen. Where does that leave us, the rakyat, as Anwar, if you are right, has to make calculations based on faith, creed, race etc.

    That is the political reality. One would expect more from a new dawn for Malaysia.

  5. Ahmad Hafidz Baharom says:

    Waduh, tajam benar komen, Richard Huang. Macam membawa vendetta personal begitu.

    Pada pendapat saya, ternampak sangatlah yang 16 September ini tidak akan ada apa-apa perubahan dari segi politik. Apatah lagi DSAI sendiri telah mengaku bahawa eksodus kerajaan 16 September ini kemungkinan tidak akan berlaku kerana mereka semua akan ke Taiwan, melainkan Peter Chin Fah Kui yang akan pulang dari Eropah 15 haribulan ini.

    Dengan kata lain, agak malulah si Azmin Ali yang telah menyuarakan sebanyak 7 kali dalam Parlimen (yang saya kira dalam hansard) yang DSAI akan mengambil alih kerajaan datang tarikh keramat (kononnya) ini.

  6. zamorin says:

    The calendar is not funny for it implies something.

  7. asianguy says:

    I’d swear I wrote that the calendar displays “8 days to a week”, not 6!

    Editor’s note:
    You did. It was the editor, yours truly, who got confused about the calendar, seeing it for the first time himself and counting only six squares to the week. My sincere apologies. However with due respect to Wong Chin Huat, we shall close all comments regarding the calendar image because, distracting as it is, the point about its weirdness has been noted.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

  8. Melissa says:

    This was an excellent article, especially because it was extremely unbiased, something that’s hard enough to do when it doesn’t involve a hugely touchy subject like politics! I’m just a small fry in the publishing industry, but I am truly inspired by brilliant articles like this, where the focus is to educate and inform rather than to hawk one’s personal views. So thanks a lot – I will strive to include this lesson in my own work :)

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