Najib’s Penanti strategy?

By Shanon Shah, The Nut Graph

DATUK Seri Najib Razak's assertion that by-elections are wasteful and his insinuation that the Barisan Nasional (BN) may boycott the Penanti by-election are not new ideas.

Back in August 2008, then Kelantan Umno chief Tan Sri Annuar Musa called for the BN to boycott the Permatang Pauh by-election for similar reasons. Of course, the BN still contested and was trounced by Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)'s Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

The public could be forgiven for thinking that this sort of rubbishing of by-elections is driven by the BN's fear of losing. After all, being trounced in four out of five by-elections since the March 2008 general election cannot be something the BN is happy about. Umno's political bureau was to have decided on Penanti in its 4 May meeting, but the announcement was postponed. The party and its BN partners are for now keeping mum about whether the BN is contesting.

Is there a more calculated reason why the BN is being so coy about Penanti? Could it be that Najib wants to test how strong, or weak, the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) is? Could Najib be using this as an opportunity to test how much actual support the PR, in particular PKR, could garner when the BN is not part of the equation?

Picture this: the BN does not contest in Penanti, but PKR is challenged by a PR partner, like PAS, which could have happened. Or what if the contest is between a PKR candidate and a disgruntled ex-PKR "independent"? Imagine if the independent put up a credible fight and even won back his or her deposit. Najib could then say, "See? PKR isn't as popular with the rakyat as it claims to be." Already, PKR's recent vicious infighting has been aired for all to see.

Fariz PKR Youth deputy chief Fariz Musa does not discount this possibility in the BN's strategy.

"Everything, from the corruption allegations to the subsequent exoneration of (former Penanti assemblyperson Mohammad) Fairus (Khairuddin) by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), was a BN ploy," Fariz tells The Nut Graph.