March 2008 already seems like ages ago. Indeed, even Permatang Pauh and Kuala Terengganu seem almost inconsequential now. And given that the magnanimous Election Commission – yes, the same one which felt it was entitled to overrule the Speaker of the Perak assembly and determine that no by-elections were necessary in Perak – has slated the other impending by-elections for after the UMNO general assembly later this March, we’re now getting a preview of the drama that is about to unfold in about twenty-five days.
Far from being a sombre and disconsolate occasion that many were suspecting the UMNO general assembly would end up being after the trouncing UMNO has taken at the polls, the coup d’état in Perak and the ensuing fallout has certainly altered much of the dynamics and mood in the UMNO inner-circle. Or so it would seem from reading the tea-leaves surrounding recent developments.
Timing is indeed everything, and it seems as if the UMNOputeras are once again at it to conveniently capitalise on playing the race card as they enter into the final stretch on the road to their assembly. This time, of course, they have opted to make Karpal Singh their ‘poster-child’ for whipping up their base. Suddenly, the political turmoil in Perak and the fallout from it has cast huge shadow across the political landscape and almost rendered invisible the turmoil and factionalism within UMNO.
Aside from conveniently and blatantly exploiting the Karpal-Sultan controversy, the UMNO operatives have, for their own political ends, provided us with a clear prelude to what we can expect during the forthcoming UMNO general assembly. I must admit, before this whole controversy about Karpal-Sultan-UMNO exploded onto the scene, I did wonder about how the UMNO operatives would in fact stage-manage the whole performance during their assembly. After all, we know how calculated and transparent UMNO tends to get during their general assembly. And one way or another, these general assemblies invariably turn out to be opportune occasions to indulge in some chest-thumping, keris waving, and not too subtle racial politics.
But for a while, it looked like, for a change, UMNO would have to confront some glaring realities from the fallout of some devastating and humiliating defeats. Well, not only did the Election Commission’s activism ensure UMNO a hiatus from further political setbacks in any more by-elections especially on the eve of the latter’s general assembly, UMNO now conveniently finds itself gifted a controversy they can – and have – easily played up and exploited. There is little doubt that the Karpal-Sultan controversy has so far resonated with the hard-core UMNO base. What remains to be seen is whether the UMNO operatives can keep this controversy brewing and festering long enough so as to ride into the general assembly with it.
After all, as the saying goes, even a week is a lifetime in politics; imagine… twenty-five days and counting. Let’s see exactly what desperate ploys and gimmicks they’ll deploy to milk every millilitre of political mileage out of this controversy and if they can ride with it right into their general assembly. At that point, of course, we'll see the culmination of their well choreographed performance.
And the clock continues to tick away towards March 24th....