Year of reckoning


The general election is all anybody can think about as 2012 arrives and the Mother Of All Battles looms in Malaysian politics.

EVERYTHING in this country has had a tinge of politics to it since the political tsunami of 2008. In fact, there has been too much politics and gamesmanship in too many issues.

But 2012 is likely to see the politics of the last four decades reach some sort of conclusion. Nope, the world is not going to end but as they say in the movies, get ready for the Mother Of All Battles, namely the 13th general election.

Political analysts have been predicting early polls every year since March 2008, and they have been embarrassingly wrong. Despite having been in the public eye for so many decades, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has been quite difficult to read, and very few thought that he would go the full term before seeking his own mandate.

It has been one long guessing game with people predicting an election every few months or every time the ruling coalition came up with some goodies for the rakyat. In fact, one of the most asked question last year was on when the general election would be.

But the long wait is about to be over. The Barisan Nasional will touch the final 12 months of its mandate in March 2012 and after that, all political parties will be in election mode. The usual political pundits are predicting polls by the March school holidays but political insiders say that anytime after June is a better bet.

The Prime Minister, they say, is determined to leave as little options as possible to the four Pakatan Rakyat states to not come along in the polls. Conventional wisdom has it that this will be the definitive election after the one that caught everyone on the backfoot. Both sides are hungry to arrive first in Putrajaya, and this is going to make 2012 a very exciting and unprecedented year in politics.

Hopefully, it will not get ugly and the winners will show magnanimity and the losers, grace.

A great deal of 2012’s politics will be geared towards the Mother Of All Battles. Everything else will sort of pale in comparison. But as the year opens, national attention will be on the court verdict of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy trial on Jan 9.

The verdict is finally coming more than three years after Anwar was charged with sodomising his aide Saiful Bukhari Azlan. Anwar was touted as “Malaysia’s 7th Prime Minister” during the PKR national congress in Johor last month. But the court verdict will decide whether the PKR’s de facto leader will still be in the running for the title or if it’s the end of the road for him.

The court decision will also impact on Pakatan’s strategy and plans for the general election. It needs a prime minister candidate with cross-sectional appeal. For Malaysia’s most controversial politician, 2012 will be a year of reckoning.

This year ended with the political spotlight trained on Wanita Umno chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil who struggled to keep her head afloat over the National Feedlot Corporation controversy which involves her family. The last time something so devastating has hit her was when she was defeated in Lembah Pantai by Nurul Izzah Anwar.

Shahrizat, who is also a Cabinet member, sailed through the Umno general assembly without any open censure from her party. But the pressure on her to take responsibility has not subsided, and even Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the man who had handpicked her as a candidate in the 1995 general election, is sceptical that she can continue.

The controversy will continue to dog her in 2012 and all eyes will be on how she handles the pressure and whether she will cave in or defy her critics and cling on.

The politics of 2012 will also hinge on the reforms that the ruling coalition has promised, especially the new legislation that will replace the abolished ISA, and also the electoral reforms that have been the rallying cry of Pakatan politicians.

And before the big battle takes place there will be lots politicking and even fights within individual political parties as aspirants lobby to be picked as candidates. This time around, the disease of people doing what it takes to become candidates will not be confined to the Barisan parties. The Pakatan parties have also caught the disease big-time.

This has to do with the intoxicating taste of power, and the perks and material rewards that come with it. The recent warlord-godfather fight in the Penang DAP was basically about staking the territory for certain candidates. There will be more of such tussles as 2012 builds up to the Mother Of All Battles.

The world is apparently not going to end in 2012 but for whichever side loses in this election, it will surely feel like the end of the world.