Another Anwar-Najib showdown in the making

By BOB TEOH/MySinchew

ANOTHER battle royal is shaping up between the ruling coalition and the opposition following the death of in Penang state assemblyman for Permatang Pasir Mohd Hamdan Abdul Rahman, 60, this morning (31 July) from a heart attack.

The impending showdown couldn't have come at a more inopportune time than this for Prime Minister Najib Razak and the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. Najib's headache stems from the fact that Permatang Pasir is the backyard of Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition.

The BN has lost all five by-elections in the peninsula since last year's general elections which saw the BN winning just by the skin of their teeth to hang on to power. But it lost its two-third parliamentary majority and five state governments in the process.

It only managed to win the by-election for the Batang Ai state seat in Sarawak, a traditional BN's stronghold. Four of the six by-elections were due to death-in-office of the incumbents.

Najib had just completed his first 100 days as the sixth prime minister of Malaysia with a high 65 percent popularity rating as polled by Merdeka Centre, an independent pollster.

The BN also came close to bucking its losing trend when it nearly beat PAS, its arch rival, in their own backyard in Kelantan in the Manik Urai earlier this month.

Naijb was euphoric over this and described the outcome of Manik Urai by-election in Kelantan as a moral victory for Barisan Nasional.

He said the greatly reduced margin showed that there was a major swing of votes towards the BN.

Najib said the defeat in Manik Urai could be seen as encouraging for BN, more so as number of spoilt votes, at 117, was higher than PAS' majority of win of only 65 votes, down drastically from its big margin of 1,352 votes in the March 2008 general elections.

"There was a big swing factor in Manik Urai. This means we are regaining the people's confidence and if we continue with our efforts, I believe the position of BN will become stronger," Najib was quoted as saying.

However, BN's fortunes took a tumble when Teoh Beng Hock, the political aide of a DAP lawmaker, died in suspicious circumstances two weeks ago while in the custody of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. Teoh was assisting in an investigation into alleged misappropriation of constituency funds by his boss, Seri Kembangan assemblyman Ean Yong Hian Wah, who is also a Selangor state executive councilor.

Najib has promised a Royal Commission of Inquiry into MACC's manner of interrogating Teoh as well as a coronial inquest into his death. But this has not pacified his family nor the public.

Under this circumstances, the Barisan is going to face an uphill task. The only way the battle royal is going to fizzle out is that the BN chooses not to contest in the forthcoming by-elections, thus giving a walkover to Anwar Ibrahim. Strange as it may sound, the BN did just that two months ago at the Penanti by-election for the Penang state seat.

Najib took a terrible tongue lashing by his self-anointed mentor and former premier, Dr Mahathir Mahamad, for backing out the fight.

The Penanti seat fell vacant after Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin quit as assemblyman on April 16 after stepping down as Penang Deputy Chief Minister I on April 8.

In the absence of any challenge from the BN, Dr Mansor Othman, who is from Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat won hands down in the four-cornered fight.

The Penanti state seat is one of the three that comes under the parliamentary constituency of Permatang Pauh which is held by Anwar Ibrahim. The other two are Seberang Jaya and Permatang Pasir.

Anwar himself won the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat last August by securing 31,195 votes or a majority of 15,671 votes over the UMNO candidate, Arif Shah Omar Shah.

The Permatang Pasir seat is now vacant following the death of PAS State Assemblyman Mohd Hamdan Abd Rahman early this morning.

Mohd Hamdan, a two term state assemblyman and former Penang PAS commissioner, was 60. He left behind a wife and six children.

A Penang government spokesman said Mohd Hamdan's body is expected to arrive in his constituency this afternoon and buried there.

In the general election in 2008, Mohd Hamdan polled 11,004 votes to beat UMNO candidate Ahmad Sahar Shuib by a majority 5,433 majority to win the seat. The constituency has 20,350 registered voters of which 72.93 percent are Malays, 25.87 percent Chinese and Indians 1.1 percent.

The late Mohd Hamdan Abdul Rahman was conferred a datukship just 20 days ago on the occasion of the Penang Governor's birthday. Hamdan was Pas state commissioner for Penang for 11 years.

He received his early education in Alor Setar, Kedah. He was a language teacher at the Sultan Abdul Hamid College from 1965 to 1969 at the Maktab Sultan Abdul Hamid, Kedah from 1965 to 1966.