When will BN start listening to the people?

JAN 17 — The temptation will be there to spray blame around tonight. The natural instinct of some Umno members will be to shovel a pile of blame on Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, equating rejection by a margin of 2.631 votes in Kuala Terengganu to disdain for his weak leadership of the party and country.

He will be a convenient target for Umno snipers as Barisan Nasional's Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh has been tagged as his man, having once served as the PM's political secretary.

He will be an easy target because he has been the party's fall guy since March 8, 2008. So why not hang him out to dry for one last time before he leaves office in March? The temptation will certainly be there to take this path of least resistance. It's easy. It's self-serving. It's convenient.

But if Umno/BN members continue to believe this yarn, and choose to ignore the third strong message sent by Malaysians in 10 months, then they should accept that defeat will be the only possible outcome every time they contest an election.

The ruling coalition was stunned on March 8, losing its customary two-thirds majority in Parliament and control of five states. Political pundits argued that Malaysians had sent a clear message that they wanted change and they had grown weary of the excesses and corruption of the government.

They were not interested in Abdullah's neatly-bound report card, which was part of his election manifesto. They were tired of being fed morsels while the ruling party politicians were feasting.

Stung by defeat, Abdullah promised reforms. But it was clear that he was a dead man walking. His party believed that he was the cause of their rejection and remained unmoved on the need to reform and change.

That much was clear during the Permatang Pauh by-election when once again BN politicians spoke about development and how their policies had developed the country. They promised money and offered to improve the infrastructure of the constituency in Penang.

It was a rare day when Umno/BN speakers tackled the vexing issues of corruption, racial equality, rehabilitating the country's institutions and arrogance of ruling party politicians — the so-called soft issues which Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his comrades in Pakatan Rakyat raised time and time again.

Anwar won handsomely in Permatang Pauh and Umno/BN blamed Abdullah once again. They said that because of confusion over the succession issue, the party members were not motivated enough to campaign and win over the voters. They noted that as long as Abdullah helmed the party, inertia and paralysis would be the feature of any election campaign.

So Abdullah's flirtation with a two-year transition plan was tossed out the window after the Permatang Pauh by-election defeat in August. He was shown the door. As a result of that defeat, Umno changed the way how it campaigned in Kuala Terengganu.

Checks by The Malaysian Insider showed that the party machinery worked much better than in Permatang Pauh. Umno/BN members did solid spade work but they just found fewer people willing to listen to their story.

An Umno official said last night: "We keep talking about development and yet people want to be inspired. We sound tired and the Opposition sound like the guys with the ideas. We know most of the time it is just sloganeering but even their slogans of democracy, justice sound fresh.

''We know the only way for us to recapture our place among Malaysian voters is for us to be honest and take on the aspirations that are important to them.''

He noted that Abdullah was a non-factor in the by-election. So much of a non-factor that Pakatan Rakyat speakers at political rallies hardly mentioned his name. Instead, Pas officials hammered away at corruption in Umno and in the government. They dredged up the same issues of accountability, arrogance, injustice and abuse of power. Umno/BN answered these accusations with silence. There was no vision of a better Malaysia to offer.

Why? Because they have spent the better part of the last 10 months defending the status quo and blaming Abdullah and others for their ills. Tonight, it was pretty obvious who the voters were rejecting all along — the tired Umno/BN politicians and their tired message.