Hard lessons from Bukit Gantang

Referendum on Perak and new PM

PAS's win means it must continue to be centrist to retain support. It confirms the new trend realised in last year's general election, that PAS can only perform among non-Malay Malaysian constituents when it cooperates with the DAP and PKR.

By Deborah Loh, The Nut Graph

DESPITE the Barisan Nasional's earlier denial that the Bukit Gantang by-election was not a referendum on the country's new leadership, the ruling coalition turned it into just that within the last few days before polling.

Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was brought in for the campaign and publicly endorsed Datuk Seri Najib Razak as the new prime minister, showering praises on his capabilities.

Mahathir plugged the new Umno leadership elected at its recent general assembly. "I am confident that Najib's leadership reflects the original Umno," the octogenarian ex-premier said.

Around the constituency, too, are BN posters and banners calling on voters to reject the PAS candidate as a way of showing disapproval, disgust even, for "traitors". That is what PAS's embattled menteri besar and candidate Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin has been called for his resistance to the Perak sultan's decision not to allow a dissolution of the state assembly and refusal to step down.

But the BN seems to have forgotten that it, too, has "traitors" on its ship. The takeover of the state was formed through one defection by the Bota assemblyperson and three deserters who became "BN-friendly independents".

At the end of the day, this might have been an ordinary by-election had it not been for two factors that preceded it: the Perak constitutional crisis, and Najib taking charge of the country's administration.

In a way, PAS cleverly fashioned this by-election into a referendum on the Perak crisis when it chose Nizar as its candidate.

But even though PAS has won, it is still hard to gauge which issue voters had in mind as they cast their ballots today. Can sentiment about the Perak crisis and the sultan's role be separated from public perception of the transition of national power to a new regime under Najib?

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