Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Rotten Banana Skin

It is the case that if PAS/Pakatan Rakyat wins the upcoming by-election in Kuala Terengganu, then frankly it would be all the more embarrassing (and depressing) for BN/UMNO. For one, it can be argued this contest in Kuala Terengganu is also indirectly a referendum on Najib and the confidence he invokes. As much as Anwar’s own victory in Permatang Pauh ultimately reflected badly on Badawi and his stewardship – if we can call it that – of the regime, now with Badawi essentially a lame-duck, a defeat in Kuala Terengganu would be a blow to the prime minister-in-waiting.

Of course a PAS/PR win will be dissected in several ways to account for how the Malay and Chinese voters in particular broke-down. There will be much for PAS/PR to gloat about a win in Kuala Terengganu. While the additional seat on PR’s column would hardly register on the balance of power scales in parliament, it’ll be a nice momentum builder and feather in the cap for PR.

But if UMNO wins the upcoming by-election in Kuala Terengganu, it means the party hangs on to a parliament seat that was already in their column. So the fact that winning the seat is not going to amount to a net gain for BN/UMNO; it’ll merely be maintaining the status quo.

And if UMNO barely wins – actually, in my estimation, if it doesn’t win by at least the same margin as it won the seat last March – UMNO will not come out of this episode looking particularly convincing. In fact, it may well further expose UMNO’s wounds internally. And despite a win, if the non-Malay support for UMNO/BN in this relatively conservative region also appears indifferent at best, it would speak volumes of the crisis of confidence in the BN.

Therefore, short of a run-away victory for UMNO/BN, this is a rather awkward and uncomfortable dilemma for UMNO. However, we know that a blow-out win for UMNO in this case is not realistic. Given that such an outcome is not in the cards, the most likely outcomes are the two scenarios I’ve outlined, which essentially amount to a genuine ‘banana skin’ situation – UMNO would not look good either slipping up or awkwardly avoiding the fall in the Kuala Terengganu by-election. Either way, it’ll come out looking - at the very least - embarrassed, if not bruised.

G. Krishnan