Our so, so busy politicians

The upcoming by-election is being held against the backdrop of the influenza A(H1N1) pandemic that is causing anxieties and mass paranoia across the country as well as the still-hot issue of the Internal Security Act street demonstrations.

Shah A Dadameah, Malaysian Mirror

THERE appears to be no rest for our politicians though one often wonders if they have got their work done first in their own backyard before running off for odd-jobs elsewhere.

Another by-election is due; this time at Permatang Pasir in Penang on Aug 25. Nomination day is eight days earlier.

It will be the eighth by-election since the March 2008 general polls, which saw the political tsunami devastating component parties of the once-mighty Barisan Nasional coalition.

The tide against the Barisan had not ebbed, with the opposing Pakatan Rakyat alliance taking six of the previous by-elections into its grip.

At no time in the country’s electoral history has there been so many by-elections soon after a general election.

After Permatang Pasir, who knows where else? In any case, the politicians will think of something to keep themselves busy.

H1N1 a serious threat

The upcoming by-election is being held against the backdrop of the influenza A(H1N1) pandemic that is causing anxieties and mass paranoia across the country as well as the still-hot issue of the Internal Security Act street demonstrations.

influenza.jpgThe H1N1 virus, which is seeing a mounting death toll every day, is something the health authorities have to look into, given the large number of people that are expected to turn up in the Permatang Pasir campaign trail.

Aside that, the main concern of the authorities is whether any more street protests will emerge while the by-election campaigns are being carried out.

The nation had, in recent times, seen an unprecedented number of street protests as a new form of ‘political expression.’ Groups like Hindraf, Bersih and the recent anti and pro-ISA movements, had chosen to vent out their angst through these mass marches rather than in the august legislative assemblies.

This makes one wonders if it makes any sense to elect an MP or state assemblyman who just wants to be heroic and brave on the streets. If reforms and changes are to be made, is there not the august legislative House for the purpose?

Notwithstanding this, with another polling day due, the rigmarole has started all over again. First, the lobbying to get nominated; then the campaigning to win votes and, after this, the election of the new people’s representative.

The elected person will then take his oath to honour law and order; he will swear to God and country that he will uphold truth and justice and pledge to the people that he will be their best friend in times of need.

busy-politician.pngWhen all that have been taken care of, he starts to drum support for his entry into his party’s inner circle, then scheme to get voted into one of the important seats in the party and either prepare for another by-election or, if the climate is right, join or protest against a street demonstration.

It does not matter if they have to leave their spouses and families behind, they are prepared to follow their leaders to the end of the world to be martyrs for whatever cause their leaders believe in.

It could be in the mind of a child today, that growing up to be a politician is more adventurous and more fun than in the days of his great-grandfather when young men dream of just becoming warriors to defend their soil.

Resigning is nothing new

The Permatang Pasir by-election is being called following the death of incumbent Mohd Hamdan Abdul Rahman, 63, of a heart ailment at the National Heart Institute in Kuala Lumpur on July 31.

Considering that it would be held during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Election Commission chairman Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof said the result would be announced at 8pm sharp, irrespective of whether or not the winner is present.

This would allow the candidates and their supporters to go for the terawih prayers, the special night prayers during Ramadan.

Of the by-elections held so far, three were due to resignations by the incumbents while four were to fill the slots left by assemblymen who died.

Resigning from a seat to force a by-election, however, is not a new idea among political parties as it had happened before.

In 1997, Kuala Selangor MP Abu Hassan Omar resigned. At that time, he was also the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs minister.

He quit his parliamentary seat and contested in a state seat to subsequently replace Muhammad Muhammad Taib as Selangor mentri besar, the state’s 12th head of government.

anwar-najib.pngHowever, Hassan did not fill the seat for long as, despite his ‘Mr Clean’ image, was forced out of office three years later over an alleged sex scandal. He was replaced by dentist Mohamed Khir Toyo, now the Opposition leader in the Selangor state assembly.

Taking a leaf from the 1997 episode, Permatang Pauh MP Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail quit her seat on July 31 last year to make way for her husband; the iconic Anwar Ibrahim who fiercely defended the seat and then became the parliamentary Opposition leader.

In Anwar's bastion again

The embarrassing loss by the Barisan in that by-election prompted it to boycott another forced by-election in the constituency, following the resignation of Penanti state assemblyman Fairuz Khairuddin. He quit to clear his name of a corruption allegation.

The seat easily returned to Anwar’s PKR party, which is part of the tripartite Pakatan alliance that also involved PAS and the DAP.

Now Permatang Pasir beckons, and ironically, it is being held again in Anwar’s parliamentary constituency. But the Barisan is not backing out this time.

The state constituency, according to the updated electoral roll as of July 31, has 20,290 registered voters; comprising Malays (72.36%), Chinese (25.85%) and Indians and Others (1.63%). About half the electorate are young voters.

The seat is the only one held by PAS in Penang and the party, with the support of its Pakatan friends, is not likely to let it easily slip from its clutches.

On the other hand, the Barisan, buoyed from its outing in the just-concluded Manek Urai by-election in Kelantan, is out to prove the point that its ‘1Malaysia’ design has begun to gain back the trust of supporters who deserted it in last year’s general election.

Thus, a grand battle is on the cards for the rural constituency in Seberang Prai, the hinterland of Penang state.

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Umno leaders who had campaigned in Manek Urai had emerged smiling from the scathing contest, as it lost in a formidable PAS stronghold by only 65 votes.

pas-umno.gifThe massive inroads they had made in the PAS fortress had put Umno and the Barisan in jubilant mood and they are just ‘raring to go’ in Permatang Pasir to score more points and to win the seat.

Despite criticisms that the Barisan had used the capitalistic lure of ‘progress’ and ‘development’ in Manek Urai, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his colleagues are not making any apologies and are expected to continue harping on the need to revive the economy through his KPI (key performance indicators) and KPA (key performance areas) strategy in Penang.

Voters have decided

The Barisan has acknowledged that Permatang Pasir is a PAS bastion but its main worry is that it is part of Anwar’s parliamentary constituency, where Malay sentiments lean more towards the former deputy prime minister’s flamboyant political ways.

So, coupled with lots of hard work on the ground, the way the Barisan expects to win the voters is to use its trademark style of more pledges of development and economic growth.

A general consensus, however, is that the voters had already set their mind on which party to vote for; and there are just only two ways about it.

Either they keep the status quo at one state seat each for PKR (Penanti), Barisan (Seberang Jaya) and PAS (Permatang Pasir), or make a gift for Najib by adding one more seat to his party in celebration of his ‘1Malaysia’ concept.

If the ripples of discontent among Pakatan parties in Selangor and the island side of Penang have not yet flowed into Permatang Pasir, it could be quite plain sailing for the alliance. On the other hand, if the Barisan could use the discord among the Pakatan leaders to its advantage, then the seat will be theirs.

Needless to say, the ‘1Malaysia’ concept seemed to be catching up among Najib’s own Umno members and other Barisan partners but it is not contagious enough to get Malaysians to come together with one heart and one mind.

For Najib, the slim majority for PAS in Manek Urai is a signal that support for that party is eroding, while Barisan’s reformed policies, on the other hand, are helping to gain back its lost influence over the masses.

But, whoever the voters chose to be their wakil rakyat, they deserve their representative ….warts and all.