Corrected 9:18am, 23 May 2009
NOMINATION day for the Penanti state by-election takes place tomorrow (23 May), but this time around, the traditional blue and white banners of the Barisan Nasional (BN) will be missing from the scene.
The coalition announced on 18 May that it would not contest the Penanti by-election. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the BN supreme council had concluded that the by-election, necessitated by the resignation of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)’s Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin, was “unconstitutional”.
The BN has been consistently criticising PKR of triggering by-elections to shore up support for the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) — Penanti, says the BN, is no exception. But not everyone agrees.
“BN’s accusations that Pakatan is purposely instigating the Penanti by-election are rubbish,” says Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) vice-president and Penang chief Gary GV Nair. PRM is an independent opposition party that is supporting PR in this by-election.
Pakatan Rakyat is scared of by-elections too
“Come on, PR is also scared of by-elections!” he tells The Nut Graph in a phone interview. The Penang-based party veteran of more than 30 years says he has been surveying the state’s politics for a long time.
True, Nair says, the by-election has been called because Fairus, who was also Deputy Chief Minister 1 (DCM1), had to resign. But, he says, Fairus’s resignation cannot be blamed on Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng. And neither is it PKR advisor Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s fault.
“You see, if they had removed Fairus as DCM1 and left him to stay on as Penanti representative, you think he would be able to retain the seat in the next election?” asks Nair.
Nair continues, “He’ll lose. And between losing on a PKR ticket and losing after taking a million ringgit to cross over to Umno, which do you think he’ll choose?”
But then why did Fairus need to resign in the first place? According to Nair, Fairus had been dogged by reports that he was incompetent and tainted by corruption allegations. Though the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission launched an investigation into those allegations, it eventually cleared Fairus, but only after he had resigned his post.
Even PKR candidate Dr Mansor Othman does not mention Fairus when The Nut Graph speaks to him on the phone.
“I would rather let my own credentials speak for me in convincing the voters that I am the right choice,” he says.
And his credentials, apart from being an academic with Universiti Sains Malaysia, show that he has been a party loyalist since 1999.
Why Fairus was chosen
This begs the question, why then was Fairus chosen to contest in 2008? Nair says, “This was Anwar’s dilemma: of all the Malay (Malaysian) candidates to contest in Penanti for PKR in 2008, Fairus was the most qualified. But after he was elected, the party found he could not deliver the goods.”
In 2008, Mohammad Fairus won his seat in Penanti by a majority of 2,219 votes
He likens Anwar’s situation to an employer who has hired someone with the best curriculum vitae and job interview, but turns out to be a nightmare at work.
“What are you going to do, then? You can’t be stuck with him and let him drag you down. Lim Guan Eng is doing a fine job as chief minister — he deserves a good deputy,” says Nair.
“Fairus just kept making blunder after blunder. Even before his quarry fiasco, there was his incompetence in heading the Penang Football Association (FA),” says Nair, who is also manager of the Penang FA.
“And then there was the time he didn’t even accompany the Penang Governor for Hari Raya prayers — was he expecting Lim Guan Eng to do that?” Nair asks.
The Penanti equation
Still, it is amazing that despite all these problems with Fairus, the BN has chosen not to contest in Penanti.
“They know they don’t have a chance, because Penanti is a PAS and PKR stronghold regardless,” says PRM vice-president Rohana Ariffin.
And yet, as Nair says, PR itself looks spooked with by-elections — the coalition has already started claiming that the BN will “back” an independent to run in Penanti.
Mansor himself says: “I cannot take this contest for granted. The BN might not contest, but they will support some independent candidates and they will not make it easy for me.”
“I don’t agree with that logic,” says Rohana. “In an election, independents and candidates from smaller parties are also free to contest if they want.”
(pic courtesy of Rohana Ariffin)She tells The Nut Graph over the phone: “Where does it say that voters must accept only a two-party system to uphold democracy?”
PRM, however, has decided not to contest and will support Mansor’s candidacy.
Still, Nair is confident that PR will win this contest hands down. “If even the great BN is afraid to contest, what chance do the independents have?”
He says that on paper, at least, PR should walk away with an increased majority in Penanti.
“The risk, though, is that voters might get bored and not come out to vote. What if there’s only a 30% voter turnout, and those who turn out are all fence sitters who swing away from PR?” he says. “In politics, anything can happen.”
A crucial by-election
And given the barrage of by-elections over the past year — two (Permatang Pauh and Bukit Selambau) triggered by resignations of PKR representatives — voters might be forgiven for being disillusioned come polling day on 31 May. Nair stresses, however, that the Penanti by-election is crucial.
“Before this, under BN, Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Khoon tried to do good as well, but he always had to answer to Umno,” says Nair. And, he adds, the Umno reps were corrupt.
Lim Guan Eng“Lim Guan Eng is also trying to do a good job, but he doesn’t have any corrupt political big brother to answer to,” he continues.
“At least now, Malay Penangites are seeing a corrupt Malay (Malaysian) politician getting kicked out. They can have faith that Guan Eng has their interests at heart. Isn’t that transparent compared to the previous government?” he asks.
(Corrected) Indeed, compared to BN’s own scandal-tainted leaders such as former Malacca chief ministers Tan Sri Rahim Thamby Chik and Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam; and former Selangor menteris besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib and Datuk Seri Mohd Khir Toyo; PR seems to be dealing with Fairus relatively swiftly and painlessly.
The PRM Penang chief concludes, “Look, shit happens, and Penanti is evidence. But a by-election is needed for Penang to have a stronger state government.”
He says the most important thing for the rakyat to gauge is whether or not democracy is being upheld.
“I’m going to quote DAP’s great veteran, Karpal Singh: ‘In politics, you have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, but you must always have permanent principles’,” he says.