Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Permatang Pauh: An Afterword

The big wigs have left, the press have pulled out and returned to their more routine reporting, the party workers have gone back to their more regular daily chores. The people of Permatang Pauh must be recovering from what has surely been a frantic month of August while, like millions of their fellow Malaysians, also processing what transpired in their constituency.

It’s obvious that there are so many fascinating observations that can be made about the by-election; the list seems almost endless. Indulge me as I will only focus on three particular observations.

First, it must be said that of course there are many possible ‘interpretations’ about what Anwar’s win means. I for one hope amidst all the punditry surrounding this development, our fellow citizens and particularly BN parliamentarians don’t lose sight of the fact that Anwar’s election by the people shows that there can be life after BN/UMNO. His is surely an unusual story and he’s surely now earned the distinction of being Malaysia’s ‘comeback kid.’ Yet, there is a message in this tenacious man’s story: it is possible to have a genuine political life after BN/UMNO. Yes, Anwar’s story may be the exception that proves the rule; but it does affirm that it is possible to sever your ties with BN/UMNO and still go on. Take heart, you BN parliamentarians, and harness the courage to become what is truly a Malaysian awakening.

Second, the voters of Permatang Pauh have sustained the momentum of not just Anwar’s political resurrection, but in fact, of Malaysians’ desire for a more competitive political culture – one in which the establishment will no longer be able to take us - the people and our vote - for granted; and certainly not through the insulting practices of talking down to and demeaning the voters. There are numerous examples – some of the more obvious being Najib’s attempts to entice the Chinese and Indian Permatang Pauh voters with promises of funds for vernacular schools and scrap metal collection licenses. The BN regime would also be wise to awaken to the reality that voters are not interested in ‘gutter politics.’

The regime’s transparent attempts at voter manipulation – everything from scheduling the by-election on a weekday to Saiful’s surfacing just prior to the election and all the associated drama – will not suffice. The people want genuine progress on tacking real issues. And we’re rightly entitled to it; Badawi’s regime cannot expect to continue getting our support despite its incompetence. And it certainly cannot expect to camouflage its failures with, of all things, divisive and apparent disingenuous tactics. On this note, the regime would be well-served not to stubbornly insist on childish practices which verge on the abuse of public trust. Such gimmicks do nothing to improve the regime’s image and credibility, and it will only back-fire again.

Third, and perhaps most telling for me, was a stark difference in the calibre of discourse I experienced from listening to Najib and Anwar. If the way the two ‘prime ministers-in- waiting’ marshalled their respective party’s campaign was any indication of leadership ability, this is a ‘no brainer’ for me.

G. Krishnan