Penanti beckons for those who dare

The fact of the matter is Penanti is too far beyond Umno’s reach and their participation there, if any, is just to make the numbers and make a one-way race a tinge more interesting.

Muaz Omar, The Malaysian Insider

The impending Penanti by-election on May 31 following the resignation of former DCM 1 Mohd Fairus Khairuddin of PKR will definitely see a contest.

The only question remains is whether Umno will join the orgy of another manifestation of ‘democracy in action’ in Malaysia.

Penanti by-election has certainly added some spike to the recent spurts of political outburst in the country which includes the Perak Assembly ‘soap opera’, the Umno MB vs ADUN’s tussle in Terengganu, the release of 10 people including the 3 Hindraf leaders from ISA detention and the effort by the establishment to gag the media.

Penanti by-election was in danger of being another side show and low in relevance in the midst of recent political developments.

However, there seems to be some concerted effort directed towards Penanti, be it orchestrated or not.

PKR and DAP have resolved their public spat over the handling of Fairus’ resignation where CM Lim Guan Eng was peeved with the lack of information relayed to him.

DAP’s Lim Kit Siang revelation that Anwar has apologised to him is meant to only underline his relevancy in Malaysian politics.

On the other hand, Penang PAS’ intention of contesting the seat was immediately shot down by the party’s spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat and election director Datuk Mustafa Ali.

Prior to PAS’ national leadership intervening, Umno’s remote chances of recapturing Penanti increased, however with Penang PAS’ interest in the seat dying down, PKR returns to the driving seat.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s initial intention for Umno to stay away from Penanti was received with anguish by Umno leaders including one former PM, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The thought of Umno or BN not contesting a by-election when they have never missed before is akin to flying the white flag before even entering the battle field.

This was accentuated by Umno-commissioned reports that the ground in Penanti is beginning to show a change of heart and ready to give Umno a chance again.

However, those reports are known to be slightly exaggerated and tailored to sway opinion that Umno has a fighting chance in Penanti.

The fact of the matter is Penanti is too far beyond Umno’s reach and their participation there, if any, is just to make the numbers and make a one-way race a tinge more interesting.

A contest in the sleepy suburban constituency of Penanti within the stronghold of Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim means that PKR and Pakatan Rakyat will have another chance to humiliate Umno in Anwar’s own backyard.

The way things are going in the rest of the country, Umno and BN are staring another defeat in Penanti after their embarrassments in Permatang Pauh, Kuala Terengganu, Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau with Batang Ai as their only saving grace.

With campaign issues in abundance for Anwar & co, Umno and BN will have a torrid time to deflect the negative insinuations towards them — with the full brunt of the force coming from Anwar himself, Lim Kit Siang, Nik Aziz, Azmin Ali, Lim Guan Eng and Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, just to name a few.

The fiasco in Perak will be used to explain to the people of Penanti on how Umno and BN will abuse and manipulate institutions as sacred as the judiciary and the state assembly to ensure their hegemony.

The release of Hindraf leaders from ISA will also be to the advantage of Pakatan as the detainees are expected to contribute to the campaign on Pakatan’s platform even though they were released by the government.

Pakatan will campaign on the ground that the government has admitted that the actual reasons for detaining these leaders under ISA is political, with no single detainee facing any charges of being a threat to national security.

Pakatan will definitely use this to denigrate BN and imply that BN has lost all moral standing to detain the Hindraf leaders and their release is to dampen the public sentiment against them.

With the odds stacked against Umno and BN, Najib made the seemingly ‘logical’ suggestion of not contesting the seat.

This was backed by Umno’s allies like MCA and Gerakan as they feel the result is a foregone conclusion not befitting the resources and monies that will be spent by the coalition.

The morale of Umno rank-and-file have been dented by the initial announcement that Umno might not contest Penanti.

However, after considering all the resolutions, memorandum and reports on Penanti; it is very likely that Umno will contest to restore some pride to a battered party trying to rise from the aftermath of 2008 general elections and the numerous losses in the previous by-elections.

Even if BN decide not to contest Penanti, it is almost certain that “a friendly party or individual” will be placed to contest the seat so as not to allow Anwar and PKR a free ride.

It will be almost a walk in the park for PKR in Penanti unless Najib can pull a rabbit out of the hat to turn the tide that for now does not seem to favour Umno and BN.

Muaz Omar is a consultant with a regional stakeholders management firm based in Kuala Lumpur.