The Penanti doublespeak

Let’s face it, the last thing the new Najib administration needs is another defeat and another reminder that a significant number of Malaysians support Pakatan Rakyat.

The Malaysian Insider

Question: When did a group of politicians and lawmakers who have presided over billions of ringgit in wastage and leakages and who usurped power in Perak develop a conscience about prudent spending and democratic practices?

Answer: When they realised the futility of contesting a by-election in Anwar Ibrahim territory and the danger of allowing the political temperature in the country to keep on throbbing.

The latest news out of the Barisan Nasional camp is that they may not contest the Penanti seat in Penang, left vacant by the resignation of Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin, the incumbent who has been damaged by a Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission probe and countless complaints of incompetence and truancy.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said today that if there was a consensus among BN parties, the ruling coalition may not field a candidate in the by-election. This is not the first time that the BN has contemplated giving a free victory to the opposition.

After Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail made way for her husband in Permatang Pauh last year, similar noises were made by BN politicians, arguing that they did not want to become pawns in a political game.

Fearful of coming across as cowards, BN fielded Datuk Ariff Shah and he was trounced by Datuk Seri Anwar. It is almost certain that any candidate BN puts up in Penanti will be beaten soundly. This state seat is part of the Permatang Pauh parliamentary constituency.

Voters here have been bribed, cajoled and threatened since 1998 but have stayed loyal to Anwar and his family.

In addition, the Umno machinery in this constituency is a mess. There are about three or four warlords here and all of them have been working furiously to undermine each other.

Under such conditions and given that this is Anwar territory, it would have been a steep climb for Umno/BN to field a candidate and expect to stop the Pakatan Rakyat juggernaut from notching its fifth consecutive by-election victory in Peninsular Malaysia, following Permatang Pauh, Kuala Terengganu, Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau.

Let’s face it, the last thing the new Najib administration needs is another defeat and another reminder that a significant number of Malaysians support Pakatan Rakyat. The new leadership wants a change in the news cycle, a drop in the political temperature and a rolling boulder to stop the opposition momentum.

It yearns for a return to the mundane and ordinary. That is why government lawyers have been pushing the courts to resolve the Perak crisis ASAP.

Perhaps that may explain why the Federal Court moved with unusual haste to hear two cases related to the power grab.

The BN has attempted to occupy the high ground on the Fairus resignation and the need for a by-election, arguing that it was a waste of taxpayers’ money and counter to the principles of parliamentary democracy.

Let’s examine some of their reasons for challenging the need for a by-election:

? The mainstream media went to town detailing the cost of holding by-elections, saying that the five by-elections cost taxpayers RM33.4 million and making the case that the funds could be better utilised.

There are gaping holes in the argument. RM33.4 million is small change for a government which is ticked off every year by the Auditor-General for wasting hundreds of millions on suspect projects. RM33.4 million is small change for ruling coalition politicians who regularly pad government contracts.

Not surprisingly, the bulk of the RM33.4 million was incurred by the police. In many of the by-elections, the police contingent outnumbered party workers on both sides of the political divide.

It is hard to fathom why 6,000 police personnel were stationed in Kuala Terengganu and Bukit Gantang. The opposition is convinced that the show of force was meant to intimidate their party workers and dissuade the electorate from attending political rallies.

Clearly, the number of police personnel could have been reduced to 1,000 personnel in both constituencies and the cost would have been slashed considerably from the final bill of RM11.5 million in Kuala Terengganu and RM7 million Bukit Gantang.

? BN politicians also lashed out at PKR for forcing Fairus to resign as state assemblyman, arguing that it was against the principles of parliamentary democracy.

A few of them noted that Fairus had betrayed the voters by resigning, pointing out that once you offer yourself as a candidate, you should be committed to working for the whole duration to serve the people.

This would have been an acceptable argument had it escaped the lips of Barack Obama, Tun Dr Ismail or someone with moral standing.

But standing on a pedestal and preaching about high principles is not an option available to guys who encouraged the defection of three Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers and then took over power unconstitutionally in Perak.

If principles of parliamentary democracy mattered, then BN leaders should have given Messrs Hee, Jamaluddin and Osman a tutorial on a simple concept called loyalty to constituents.

The tutorial would have gone something like this: if you offer yourself as a candidate on one ticket, you should serve on that ticket for the whole term.

Anwar is pushing for a by-election because once again he has been found wanting in his choice of candidate.

Like Jamaluddin and Osman, Fairus liked the position but not the concept of work. Like the two former PKR men, he too is likely to be charged in court soon with corruption. It would have been untenable for Fairus to remain a lawmaker with a corruption charge over his head.

The by-election strategy is Anwar’s preferred method of replacing the controversial with the credible.