If BN wins, PR will lose more than a seat

(NST) The integrity of the Pakatan Rakyat administration and the public’s faith in the coalition will be put to the test in the Permatang Pasir state by-election, writes ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR

VICTORY in a political duel in one's home ground should usually come easy.

The route to victory, however, can be a bumpy one for Pakatan Rakyat in Permatang Pasir, a state seat in Penang in the backyard of opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibra-him.

Recent tiffs between its components — Pas, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and DAP — have put the loose opposition alliance under considerable pressure, with cracks appearing.

Troubles and conflicts that remain unresolved are causing uneasiness on the ground in the states they administer, despite a united front by their leaders.

With a resurgent Umno capitalising on the internal bickering, it may not be easy to maintain a record of winning all by-elections held in Peninsular Malaysia when it goes to another electoral battle soon.

The opposition coalition has made a clean sweep in all six held after last year's general election, failing only to wrest the Batang Ai state seat in Sa-rawak from Barisan Nasional.

The three opposition parties collectively humbled BN last year and formed a new pact, styled like Barisan Alternatif, which they failed to maintain after the 1999 general election.

Pakatan Rakyat managed to pull through, attesting to their commitment to each other. The support it received 16 months ago has been maintained, reflected by performances in the by-elections.

But, of late, Umno, the leader of the 13-member BN, has started showing signs that it has rebounded under the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Najib, who took over as Umno president in March and succeeded Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as prime minister on April 3, has been working hard to gain support for his 1Malay-sia concept.

The response has been positive to this and to measures he introduced to attract domestic and foreign investments.

Yet, on the other side of the political divide, unresolved issues are becoming irritants.


Pakatan leaders have taken steps to contain internal fights, pledging to rise above divisive issues by working towards a formal coalition by the next general election due in 2013.

This could remain elusive since the coalition must first meet regulations set by the Registrar of Societies; it needs to have at least seven parties in its fold to achieve this aspiration before Malaysians go to the polls again.

The alliance also set up a mechanism that would allow it to resolve problems without airing them publicly.

But the electorate remains fluid, hence there is no guarantee that a by-election from now on will be a walk in the park for Pakatan.

This also applies to Permatang Pasir, although are not giving Umno the edge in the showdown for the state seat, mainly because it is one of the three seats under Permatang Pauh, the parliamentary constituency that has been alternately held by Anwar and his wife Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail since 1982.

Since Pas' 65-vote majority win in Manik Urai, Kelantan, observers have wondered whether Pakatan is losing its grip.

The outcome of that by-election is encouraging to Umno, making it believe that Malay voters are swinging back to the party. So it will be a tough fight to keep the momentum alive in Permatang Pauh.

Unlike Manik Urai, which is an almost exclusive Malay constuency, Permatang Pasir has 72.36 per cent Malay voters of the 20,290 registered electors.

Chinese voters make up 25.85 per cent, Indians 1.63 per cent and others 0.16 per cent. It has 300 new voters.

Malaysians know it is not easy for PR to rule without experience.

They are seeing too many public outbursts, more often due to the inability of PR leaders to see eye to eye over issues concerning the public.

PKR leaders in Penang feel that the state government led by DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng has been riding roughshod over them, the latest being Guan Eng's aide Jeff Ooi branding a PKR municipal councillor an extremist for being part of the missionary Jemaah Islah Malaysia.

Ooi has since withdrawn the statement.

Many in Pas felt slighted when the party's sole representative, the late Datuk Mohd Hamdan Abdul Rahman, who-se death had precipitated the by-election, was not appointed a state executive councillor.

In Kedah, sole DAP state executive councillor Lee Guan Aik declared himself independent in protest over the demolition of an illegal pig abattoir.

PR leaders resolved the issue, not without the cracks showing.

A similar issue cropped up in Selangor when the state Pas chief Datuk Hassan Ali demanded that state executive councillor Ronnie Liu of DAP quit for interfering in the operations carried out by the Shah Alam Municipal Council, in particular the sale of beer.

Hassan had wanted the municipal council to enforce religious laws and prohibit shops in Muslim-majority areas from selling beer.

Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim (PKR) has asked shops to practise self-regulation.

A victory or defeat in Permatang Pasir for Pas may not affect the state administration in any way but an Umno victory will be a serious blow to Pa-katan, worsening its internal conflicts.

All these will come into play as Umno attempts to wrest the seat from Pakatan. It may face an uphill task to counter the opposition's onslaught, especially on corruption allegations involving BN leaders.

The fight will be tough, for both sides.