Ugly situation gets uglier

Public opinion on the Perak crisis has grown even more emotional and irreversible after the commotion that dominated the State Legislative Assembly sitting.

Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon has seen his share of human drama in his work as one of Perak’s top cardiologists but nothing could have prepared him for the political drama in the Perak Legislative Assembly.

The Barisan Nasional assemblyman from Chenderiang was rather understated about the experience, describing it as “an eye-opener”. But he admitted he was taken aback to see the other side of Simpang Pulai assemblyman Chan Ming Kai.

Although on opposite sides of the political fence, Dr Mah and Chan get along well and Dr Mah was stunned to see the aggressive side of his normally easy-going friend.

Chan, together with Thomas Su (Pasir Pinji) and Chang Lih Kang (Teja), were among the most intimidating that day, pulling at the microphones, pushing at people and heckling those who tried to speak.

At the end of it, Chan went over to Dr Mah to “congratulate the Barisan” for pulling it off. Dr Mah was not immune to the sarcasm, of course, but he merely asked Chan: “What happened, brother? I’m surprised at what you did.”

It was a day of utterly stunning behaviour and politics, and both sides contributed to the fiasco in their own way.

As far as Dr Mah was concerned, the Barisan had acted within its right as the party with the majority.

But, said another Perak cardiologist-turned-politician Dr Lee Boon Chye, might is not always right.

Dr Lee, who is PKR vice-president and Gopeng MP, had been seated in the gallery, looking grim and watching the free-for-all in the House.

A day later, he was still flushed with anger at what he deemed as an unconstitutional meeting. He was incensed at the way the new Speaker was installed and how Pakatan’s V. Sivakumar was dragged off the Speaker’s chair and out of the chamber, to be confined in his room.

“You cannot treat an elected representative this way. I am really disgusted,” he said.

Two men of similar professional backgrounds but with such divergent political views.

In many ways, they are a reflection of the deeply divided public opinion on the Perak crisis.

Those who thought the Barisan had the numbers to rule think that Thursday’s meeting has succeeded in legitimising the coalition’s right to govern.

Those who believed the Pakatan was unfairly toppled are even more convinced that Pakatan’s constitutional rights have been denied.

In that sense, the assembly sitting brought little relief to an already acrimonious situation.

Little has changed and the controversial meeting only emphasised the chasm in opinion on the matter.

Even legal opinion varies, be it about the legality of the sitting, the procedures involved in removing Sivakumar and installing Datuk R. Ganesan, the motions passed or even the necessity to hold the meeting before the High Court can rule on who is the rightful Mentri Besar.

The presence of what appeared to be police personnel inside the assembly also raised questions as well as concerns.

Pictures of Sivakumar, still in his ceremonial robes, being dragged and pushed out by a group of men were perhaps the most damaging image of all.

It pretty much symbolised the belligerence that dominated the sitting – the way Pakatan tried to derail the assembly and how the Barisan elbowed its way through to install a new Speaker.

Far-reaching impact

The impact of the issue has spread beyond the borders of Perak when the police dragnet saw people being arrested even outside of the state.

“The emotions have spilled beyond Perak,” said Bukit Bendera MP Liew Chin Tong.

Lawyers protested on Friday morning against the arrest of several of their colleagues. It was an ominous sign because lawyers know the law, their time is money and they do not assemble for fun.

It is increasingly hard to find anyone without an opinion on the Perak issue and few see how the Perak government can function in an efficient way from here.

There is no denying that the numbers are with Mentri Besar Datuk Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir and he has described the fracas as a “tyranny of the minority”.

“We cannot fight fire with fire. We are in the right, so why should we react?” he had said when his men complained to him of the “pasar malam politics” and “triad behaviour”.

“It was politics at its ugliest,” said one of his aides.

But numbers are only part of the story. Dr Zambry may now have to grapple with the unpleasant fact that public opinion is not with his administration.

The problem has its roots in the three Pakatan assemblymen crossing over and the fact that many in Perak did not approve of their action.

Crossovers are quite commonplace in politics and politicians do it for all kinds of reasons and purposes. But in this instance, the crossovers caused a democratically-elected government to collapse.

And that is why Jelapang’s Hii Yit Foong, the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak, will continue to be the person that people love to hate.

Pictures of her smiling triumphantly alongside the new Speaker are now all over the Internet and that is not going to help her one bit in the popularity ratings. The way Hii played her role in undermining Sivakumar left no doubt that she is solidly with the Barisan side.

She was the prime target of insults from the Pakatan assemblymen during the sitting and many were startled to find that despite her much publicised handicap, she was one tough cookie who gave as good as she got.

But even as the debate rages on about the right and wrong of what had happened, the most asked question is: how long can the Perak Government carry on?

Pakatan thinks that the latest event will bring pressure on the situation. They are still banking on a snap state election.

The Barisan side is aware of the ground sentiment since it took over in February. The Bukit Gantang by-election was a glaring reminder of that.

But there is no sign whatsoever that the Barisan is considering dissolving the assembly. Anyone who thinks the Barisan will opt for snap polls is kidding themselves.

It is the nature of a party in power. Just as the Pakatan Government had hung on to Perak with a razor-slim majority after the March 8 elections, the Barisan will hold on to Perak until the next general election.

“We will go on and I don’t see Pakatan giving up either. Judging from what has happened so far, I think we can expect worse to come,” said Dr Mah.

Caught off guard

Dr Zambry and his side are going to be on high alert from now. They were actually caught off guard at the sitting. They knew the Pakatan were armed with tricks but they thought the tricks would come out only after the royal address.

Instead, Sivakumar had barely settled into his chair when he ordered the Mentri Besar and several others to leave the chamber. It was a classic Sun Tzu’s Art of War move – pre-empt the enemy’s strategy from step one.

The opinion behind the scenes last Thursday had been divided about whether the Raja Muda of Perak Raja Dr Nazrin Shah should proceed with his royal address.

Some were concerned whether he should risk the hostile mood. In the end, he decided he had a duty to carry out and he did succeed in delivering his speech without incident.

There have been various interpretations on his request to the two Pakatan leaders for their cooperation. But it was clear that he is trying to remain above it all because after he finished speaking, he said he wanted to shake hands with each and everyone of the assemblymen.

All sides, including the Palace, have suffered damage, whether direct or collateral, in this political crisis.

It is not impossible for Dr Zambry’s administration to carry on till the next general election.

But there will be obstacles every step of the way. Another assembly sitting has to be held within the next six months and that may be another political circus.

The Star

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