On wisdom of separate polls

Pakatan Rakyat leaders think they have a better chance of winning if they separate their state elections from the general election. The funny thing is that the Barisan Nasional side also thinks that will be to their benefit.

THE confetti rained down and heart-thumping music blared through the Komtar geodesic dome at the first Pakatan Rakyat convention in Penang.

Penang was the first Pakatan state to hold such an event, yet it lacked a certain oomph.

For one, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim could not be there because of his sodomy trial the next day. But Anwar “kirim salam” and his brief message was read out by Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

The Pakatan supremo was not the only one missing.

Deputy Chief Minister and state PKR chairman Dr Mansor Othman was also not there because of an engagement in Kuala Lumpur.

Another absentee was State DAP chairman Chow Kon Yeow. He had been overseas and his flight from Hong Kong had apparently been delayed.

But state PAS chief Salleh Man, the lone PAS assemblyman in Penang, was there and took the stage alongside Lim.

It was a bit of a letdown; the speeches were mostly by the second liners and not many people were interested in what they had to say.

What most people remembered from the night was Lim’s battle cry that the Penang state government would set its own date for state elections.

“We don’t have to dance to the federal tune,” said Bukit Bendera MP Liew Chin Tong.

It all began quite ironically with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak saying that the polls date would be a surprise while denying that he would go for early elections.

PAS politician Datuk Husam Musa quickly jumped in to urge the Pakatan states to decide on their own state elections.

Selangor Speaker Teng Chang Khim also talked about it around the same time.

But it was only when Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, on the urging of Teng, started talking about it that the idea caught on among the Pakatan crowd.

However, a Pakatan source said the scheme to call their own state polls had been simmering in Anwar’s innermost circle since the day Anwar was charged for sodomy.

Apparently, the inner circle had toyed with the idea of using it as a form of public referendum if Anwar has to go to jail again. It would be their way of taking Anwar’s legal plight to the people.

“The idea is unlikely to go down well with the other parties. The election date should not be for an individual’s agenda,” said the source.

PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayob is in favour of the present Parliament going its full term but he admitted: “The whole thing has not been discussed at a higher level but we may not go along if the Prime Minister goes for an early election.”

The conventional wisdom is that Pakatan should decide the best time to go back to the people.

“The next general election is a do or die thing for both Pakatan and Barisan Nasional. Everything from timing to resources will be important,” said Liew.

From the logistics viewpoint, said Liew, Pakatan will be more focused if it does not have to tend to its backyard, that is, the state seats in Penang, Selangor, Kelantan and Kedah. Resources, from funds to the use of their star ceramah speakers, can be better deployed.

“We can concentrate on being an attack force. If we win, the sky’s the limit,” he said.

And even if they do not take Putrajaya, they think voters will compensate them by supporting them at the state level.

But there is a double-edged sword rationale to the argument.

The Barisan side will also have their own advantage because it need not stretch itself out. It can focus first on the federal poll before homing in on the four states.

If Barisan retains the federal government, it is going to use the might of its national machinery to campaign in the Pakatan states.

Kuala Selangor MP Dr Dzulkifly Ahmad is among the few spouting non-political reasons for later polls. He is more concerned about sustaining and managing change and reform.

“I’ve never been obsessed with getting to Putrajaya at all costs or defending it at all costs. The road to Putrajaya is not as important as the road to change and reform.

“Surely we should be given ample time to deliver in the states where we are governing for the first time. It would be better to go for a full term.”

The less mentioned reasons for Pakatan wanting it later is that the DAP and PKR will need time for repair work after their party polls.

Next year will be PAS’ turn to fight for posts and going by the last party polls, the coming one will be another bruising affair. Ambitious politicians are vying for party posts so that they will be in position for bigger things if they win the general election.

Dent to PAS’ image

The defeat in the two recent by-elections are also a cause for concern. PAS, especially, is seriously studying the causes for the Galas loss which has repercussions on its continued hold on Kelantan.

Their management of the Kedah floods earlier this month has also affected the party’s image, calling into question its ability to manage emergencies and crises as a state government.

On top of all that, they can see Najib on the uptrend every day. His popularity is on the rise, even among the Chinese.

In short, none of the Pakatan parties will be ready for battle if the general election takes place next year. They are lucky that Barisan is not exactly all geared up for battle too.

At the same time, there are also drawbacks to Pakatan’s scheme of separate polls.

Academic Prof James Chin of the Sunway campus of Monash University said voters often do not like going to the ballot box too often and may not make the effort to come out.

There is apparently such a thing as election fatigue among the electorate.

“It’s a worldwide trend. People don’t like voting too many times or too often. In Australia which has a three-year parliamentary term, studies have shown that people there find it to be a hassle,” said Chin.

According to a top Pakatan insider, many of those pushing for separate state polls miss an important aspect of elections and that is political momentum.

In 2008, the biggest weapon of the Pakatan parties was the sense that the winds of change were sweeping through the country. It is easier to whip up this sort of sentiment and atmosphere in a general election, when everything is in one basket.

But even some of the key Pakatan politicians admit that the road to Putrajaya is getting more uphill every day.

Moreover, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has forecasted that Barisan should be able to win the general election. He said Barisan may not win with a two-thirds majority but could regain one or two states.

There has since been speculation about which are those one or two states that Dr Mahathir meant and the money is apparently on Kedah where Pakatan has only a seven-seat majority.

But if the four states decide to go it alone, the mother of all battles is going to be in Selangor.

Pakatan’s road to Putrajaya is also complicated by the question of who will be their prime minister. The assumption is that whichever party wins the most seats gets the top job and it looks like a toss-up between PAS and PKR.

But this is where it gets weird.

Most of the PAS MPs look to Anwar as the likely man for the top job. When asked who from PAS will be prime minister if PAS wins big, they became rather evasive.

“We go for elections first, then we talk,” said Salahuddin.

Even Dr Dzulkifly, usually so erudite and expressive, said: “I don’t think I want to go into that for now.”

In politics, what is not said is so often more important than what is said. And it seems like even PAS politicians do not quite see their party president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang as prime minister material.

They know that many non-Malays are quite willing to vote for candidates from PAS but most of them would draw the line at Hadi becoming prime minister. It is not just his hardline Islamist image but also the question of his competency.

Anwar remains Pakatan’s all-round choice for the job. Unfortunately, Anwar is, once again, in a situation where he is so near yet so far from the golden fruit.

There are a number of obstacles in his path, chief of which is Saiful Bukhari Azlan, the handsome and determined young man who has accused him of sodomy.

As such, it is the sodomy trial, rather than an election, which may determine whether Anwar will get a shot at the prime ministership.

The Star

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