Monday, September 1, 2008

The 'comeback kid' and the bullock cart to nowhere

It’s striking to see that while Anwar Ibrahim’s stock seems to be on the rise, Najib Razak, who – like Anwar himself in a previous era – seemed poised to assume the mantle of prime minister, finds his popularity and image severely compromised.

Evidently, the voters across the racial spectrum in Permatang Pauh not only game Anwar a resounding ‘thumbs-ups,’ they also did not seem to appreciate Umno’s strategy of engaging in ‘the politics of personal destruction.’ Clearly trying to use the sodomy allegations against Anwar as the centrepiece of his strategy to derail Anwar’s return to parliament, Najib – as the BN army’s General in Permatang Pauh - gambled with this shallow strategy and failed miserably. The various BN Lieutenants such as Khairy, further reflecting this strategy of personal attacks on Anwar, seemed to have only compounded BN’s acutely diminished appeal. For all practical purposes, the voters appeared to see right through the personal attacks.

A recent article in The Electric New Paper essentially argued the same. In part, the article notes:

'Political scientist Professor James Chin of Monash University said Malays generally were unhappy with what could be perceived as Umno's misuse of Islam to target an individual.'

'The Quran-swearing episode by Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan was seen by many Malays as a conspiracy by Umno. Most do not believe in the sodomy allegations.'

Ibrahim Suffian from the think tank Merdeka Center has also noted that, based on polling data, 59 percent of Malays find the allegations against Anwar to be politically motivated while only 11 percent believe the allegation. Nevertheless, Umno and BN decided to stick to playing up the sodomy allegation against Anwar in Permatang Pauh. In hind sight, it turned out to be not a very astute move. The Electra New Paper article further notes:

'Mr Anwar's campaign received a tremendous boost in the last few days when Federal Territories mosque imam Ramlang Porigi admitted in Permatang Pauh to having been directed by 'higher-ups' in what he believed was a political conspiracy, to witness the swearing of Saiful on the Quran.'

If BN and Umno continue at this rate, they will simply end up with more self-inflicted wounds – and it is increasingly evident that much of the pain resulting from these wounds will be obvious on the face of Najib. That’s because, it seems Najib is the one being most adversely affected by the blowback effect (or call it backlash) of the transparent BN tactics against Anwar. While Anwar’s credibility amongst Malaysians is being enhanced by his message and the readiness of the public for a more just and inclusive Malaysia, it’s hard to imagine how Najib’s has not been adversely affected by BN’s personal attacks on the former.

Like opposite sides of the same coin, their fate seems linked; and the very nature of this dynamic means as one’s political fortunes improve, the other’s inextricably suffers. Too bad for Najib, not only is Anwar seemingly addressing – or trying to address – everyday issues and concerns of the public, Najib’s BN has been less interested in doing so, while appearing more obsessed with – and afraid of – Anwar’s challenge. This situation certainly does not evoke or induce public confidence. On the contrary, BN looks desperate, and this is being mirrored by Najib. Sure enough, BN’s preoccupation with Anwar has come at the expense of the regime paying any real attention to real ‘bread-and-butter’ issues. We saw this in the desperation BN exhibited in its Permatang Pauh campaign. Further compounding this dilemma for BN is the fact that they are coming across as vindictive.

While not directly associated with Anwar, the regime’s recent action to block and censor Raja Petra Kamarudin only further exposes the desperation being felt in the regime and exacerbates BN’s very real problems. No amount of sugar-coating is going to convince the public otherwise. As much as the Malaysia Today episode reflects badly on the home minster and the prime minister, the ultimate loser again is Badawi’s presumptive successor in Umno - Najib.

Having opted to hitch his cart on Badawi’s bulls, Najib is – at least publicly – an integral part of the BN bullock cart that’s stranded in deep mud and fast becoming obsolete.

Anyway you slice it - the ‘comeback kid’ is the beneficiary.

G. Krishnan