REHMAN RASHID: An ill wind blows no one any good

Rehman Rashid, New Straits Times

THERE's so much ballyhoo about this "swing away from Barisan Nasional", there should be a yodelling Tarzan in a leopard-skin loincloth at the end of it. Allow me.

While Pas itself has behaved with a dignified reserve befitting a by-election victory by a margin as slender as BN's in the last general election, the oppositionist media have proclaimed another nail in the coffin of the BN in general and Umno in particular, and are training their sights on a possible by-election in Sabah and state elections in Sarawak, due within two years.

And why not? After their amazing gains of the past year, this is the time to indulge in their fondest dreams.

They're different dreams, but that's what keeps Malaysian politics so endlessly fascinating.

For instance, Pas must find it tantalising now to foresee a near future in which it commands the state governments coast-to-coast across the northern half of the peninsula, from the Straits of Malacca to the South China Sea — a sort of "Pasistan", as it were, fed by the ricefields of the west and fuelled by the oil and gas of the east.

Pas administrations would oversee the entire length of the border with Thailand, portending changes in the bilateral relationship with the contiguous southern Thai provinces of Satun, Songkhla, Yala and Narathiwat.

The natural osmosis between the two Muslim-majority, ancestrally linked regions might facilitate cooperation of a different order from that so cautiously explored in the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle concept.

But the existing IMT-GT mechanisms could be useful nonetheless, in creating a formidable Islamic economic region braced between Buddhist Thailand in the north and, off its southwest coast, the People's Socialist Republic of Penang.

Penang under DAP will always cultivate cordial relations with Pasistan, because it needs Kedah's water.

Kedah, meanwhile, stands to benefit from Penang's development as a business and tourism hub. (Although at some stage it might want a low-cost carrier terminal of its own too; wouldn't everyone?)

Friendly diplomacy should ensure that Penang's socio-economic and cultural preferences need not fear the looming Islamic entity on its mainland, any more than Singapore ever had to fear the rest of us.

After all, it's been widely noted that non-Muslims no longer "fear" Islamic hudud laws, as they now understand that syariah applies only to Muslims and will have no effect on them.

To be sure, there are certain other prescriptions of Islamic governance that may — provisions regarding the administration of non-Muslim minorities in Islamic states, for instance — but such considerations would come much further in the future, if at all, and should still be negotiable in the proper multicultural Malaysian spirit.

Besides, Penang need not be as alone as Singapore was — the former Straits Settlements and erstwhile colonial centres of Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Malacca are also well within DAP's dreaming range. The party is legatee of urban politics stretching back nearly a century, after all.

PKR, however, may have a destiny right out of Joseph Conrad.

The party has been making quite a meal of its promising prospects in Sabah and, particularly, Sarawak. After the non-event of Sept 16 last year, even greater expectations are rising over Malaysian Borneo — not least because there are grounds for them.

PKR has declared Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim its liaison chief for Sabah and Sarawak, buoyed by the turnouts Anwar enjoyed at test-the-waters events in Miri, Sibu and Kuching this past year.

The entry into PKR of independent Sarawak state assemblyman Gabriel Adit Demong along with nearly 12,000 supporters last November indicated significant sympathy for the opposition, especially among the 28 of Sarawak's 71 state constituencies belonging to indigenous minorities.

Enough of them crossing over — or losing to PKR candidates in elections — would enshrine Sarawak among the states to which Anwar would most owe a debt of gratitude.

PKR may also dream of sufficient support in the Malay areas of the peninsula south of Pasistan, and among the aracial intelligentsia, for its Pakatan Rakyat partners to grant it nominal leadership of a federal government (albeit one of diminished national authority).

But it will owe such deference to its traction in Sabah and Sarawak, which will come from Anwar's pledges being read there as promissory notes for greater autonomy and control of natural resources, and the revenues accruing therefrom.

With Pasistan in the north, Dapistan in the west and Sabah and Sarawak dusting off their 20-point agreements, back at the BN fort, the MIC, shunned at the polls and despised by swathes of the Indian Malaysian community, is reduced to a constituency unto itself.

Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu continues to deal with dissent by purging dissenters, thereby ensuring ever-increasing numbers of dissenting Indians outside the MIC, running ever-decreasing circles around it.

The MCA, however, survives. Even if defrocked as the cardinal embodiment of the Chinese Malaysian community, the MCA will nonetheless broker for it.

The good old Towkay's Party is nothing if not learned in the Art of the Deal — imperious in power, a comprador otherwise.

And Umno, in the fondest dreams of those looking to Pakatan Rakyat to bring about these changes, will balik kampung to Johor, perhaps to run that state, Iskandar Malaysia, the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine complex and Singapore relations.

Now, none of the foregoing is necessarily a prophecy of doom. Those who would consider this scenario alarming, if not downright disastrous, might take solace in knowing that a near-equal number of Malaysians might not have any problem with it — indeed, some might even consider this an outcome to be hoped and prayed for.

It bears no resemblance to the only nation we've ever been, but who's to say that's a bad thing? When unity is gone, spin divergence as diversity. When continuity is not an option, stasis is suicide.

To quote my brother Rafique in his song of that title, though: "Do it right, do it well, 'cos if you don't it'll hurt like hell."