Weapons drawn for new battle
Even as Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s court trial looms close, he has been in top oratory form in the last few weeks while officiating at PKR gatherings around the country.
There was a flutter of excitement when Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak walked into the backbenchers’ lounge of Parliament.
It was a rare sighting because the Prime Minister almost never has time to lepak or hang out at the posh lounge.
One of the first persons to step up and greet him was Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who was in his usual cluster of seats, which some MPs now know as “Anwar’s habitat”.
The Opposition leader was with several other MPs including Umno firebrand Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, the up-and-coming DAP MP for Rasah Anthony Loke and PKR’s Aziz Kadir of Ketereh.
It is not unusual for MPs from opposing sides of the floor to rub shoulders outside the House but this involved the PM and the Opposition leader, two adversaries whose opinions and feelings about each other are all too well known.
Moreover, it was the first time the two men had mingled in a situation as social as this.
Even the conversation was light and rather cheeky, with Anwar teasing Nazri about how loyal he had been to Najib inside the House earlier that day.
Anwar related how, when debating the V.K. Lingam video case, he had made references to the Prime Minister, whereupon Nazri had jumped to his feet to ask which Prime Minister he was referring to.
When Anwar said it was “the one I had served before”, Nazri rebutted that it was an old story which belonged to the History Channel, a pun on the fact that Astro’s History Channel is now running a bio-pic on Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Nazri then proceeded to tell the teh tarik group that Anwar had slipped to third spot in Dr Mahathir’s hate-list. He joked that the top spot was held by the former Prime Minister while second place, Nazri claimed, belonged to none other than himself.
It looks like the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department is still smarting from Dr Mahathir’s remark that the younger man should have been dropped from Najib’s Cabinet.
The teh tarik session was a rare moment between the two nemeses and many MPs could not help but stare and strain their ears to hear what was being said.
But banter and laughter aside, the political divide between the two men remains as wide as ever.
One man intends to hold on to the prime ministership while the other aspires to unseat him; and only the fittest and most strategic will survive.
Just a week before the teh tarik session, Najib had been the prime target of attack at the PKR Selangor convention.
The Selangor government has been feeling under siege for months now, and they are afraid Najib will pull the rug from under their feet the way it happened in Perak.
Anwar was at his oratorical best at the Selangor convention, and he had challenged Najib “to try to touch us in Selangor”.
“He told us he is going to be a key player in Selangor from now on. His new role as economic advisor (to the Selangor government) will provide a platform for him to help defend the state,” said Selangor PKR Youth chief Khairul Anuar.
Anwar, or the ketua umum (supreme leader) as he is known in the party, has been on a road tour of sorts over the last few weeks, officiating at the various state party conventions.
He knows public confidence on the performance of some Pakatan administrations has dipped and he used his road tour to send a wake-up call to the party.
His party is labouring under a crisis of confidence and he is trying to recapture the imagination of his party members and to re-energise them.
He has tuned his message according to the issues in each state but the overall message, said PKR election chief Saifuddin Nasution, has been that PKR wakil rakyat and especially those in Pakatan Rakyat states must do more to fulfil the people’s expectations.
“When people voted for Pakatan, they were also voting for a different kind of politics and governance. He drove home the message that we cannot disappoint the people,” said Saifuddin.
Anwar is finally doing what his party expects of him; he is taking charge, putting his foot down on issues and laying down the ground plan.
But Anwar’s key concern is Selangor where Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim is a PKR man. Khalid is still the nice and likeable person that he has always been, but he has not been on top of things and, increasingly, there is a feeling that he has not lived up to expectations.
Selangor is to PKR what Penang is to the DAP. Whether the two states succeed or flop, it will have bearing on the two parties and their leadership.
Selangor, noted DAP strategist Liew Chin Tong, is PKR’s showcase state.
“It is also where PKR has the opportunity to show what it can do because of the budget available and the audience that it has. There are people who live and work in Selangor but who vote in other states,” said Liew.
It is common knowledge that the excesses and blunders of former Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo damaged the Barisan Nasional beyond the borders of Selangor.
“Governing Selangor has national political implications. Selangor leaders need to show that they are also economic managers,” Liew added.
It explains why Anwar has stepped in to give Khalid a boost.
Of course, not everyone is convinced that Anwar is an economics expert.
A former editor of an Umno newspaper claimed to have sent Anwar an introductory volume on economics when he was made Finance Minister years ago. And Dr Mahathir, in a stinging riposte, described it as “the best way to bankrupt Selangor.”
Meanwhile, the psy-war is being waged with renewed ferocity by both sides. The country’s most infamous private investigator P. Balasubramaniam has resurfaced – albeit in a video – to explain the events that led to his mysterious disappearance.
Actually, it was not much of an explanation. His narrative was disjointed and sketchy and he was as fidgety as a restless teenager in the video. He did not make much sense but it seems like PKR is preparing the stage to use him as a political weapon.
As Saifuddin said: “We will be on the offensive rather than the defensive.”
On the other side, Datuk S. Nallakaruppan, Anwar’s famous ex-tennis partner, has also reappeared to cast more aspersions on the PKR leader.
He has made some rather damaging allegations about Anwar’s finances and cast aspersions on the hold that party vice-president Azmin Ali has on Anwar. Nallakaruppan is a classic reminder of why we should keep our friends close, our enemies closer, and our tennis partners closest of all.
It has been a tit-for-tat exchange between the two sides and most people are still trying to figure out where Bala and Nalla, as they are known, are coming from with their potentially explosive stories.
But the PKR people seem more bothered about current issues involving the recalcitrant Port Klang assemblyman Badrul Hisham Abdullah or the Kota Siputeh seat in Kedah than Nallakaruppan’s allegations.
Said Khairul: “We’re not bothered by people like Nalla telling 10-year-old stories.”
A second trial
But Anwar’s sodomy trial, expected to begin before the end of the year, is worrisome to his party and the coalition.
Saifuddin claimed Anwar was prepared to face his trial. “On one occasion, he told me they had done everything to him. They have thrown him in jail, made accusations all over TV and called him a US agent, agent of the Jews and a traitor to the Malays. What is the second trial compared to that? What has he not experienced?” asked Saifuddin.
But this trial is bound to see more dirty laundry being washed in public because his young accuser Saiful Bukhari is clearly itching for his day in court.
Saiful, looking well groomed and handsome, turned up in court earlier this month to follow the pre-trial arguments even though he was not required to.
“I am ready to give evidence at any time, even if the court sets the date tomorrow. My fiancee and family have been waiting patiently for the trial date so that the truth can be upheld,” he told reporters.
It looks like Saiful rather enjoys the media limelight and his appearance in court that day was clearly his way of taunting Anwar, that while Anwar’s lawyers were delaying the trial with all sorts of legal applications, he was ready for it.
Anwar may view Najib as his chief nemesis but Saiful will be the thorn in his side for much of next year.
But Anwar’s biggest foe remains Dr Mahathir.
Contrary to what Nazri claimed, it is Anwar, and not the former Prime Minister, who occupies the top of Dr Mahathir’s so-called hate-list. And the frustrating thing for Anwar is that he cannot attack the elder statesman as he can his other adversaries. He would be seen as disrespectful because of Dr Mahathir’s age and his contributions.
Anwar’s supporters say there should be more of such teh tarik sessions but the sweet and milky tea is not going to dilute the state of war between the two sides.