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Sunday November 11, 2012

Big push to touch base

Mat Sabu: Trying to raise
his profile in Pakatan Mat Sabu: Trying to raise his profile in Pakatan

Size matters in politics and more mammoth political gatherings are in the pipeline as Pakatan Rakyat tries to build up momentum in the run-up to the general election.

DATUK Seri Hadi Awang's bravado about taking on the Prime Minister in Pekan fizzled out before it could even begin.

It was a spur of the moment remark that took everyone, especially his own party folk, by surprise. PAS leaders definitely did not like the idea of their beloved president committing political suicide in an election that is supposed to carry them to Putrajaya.

It would bomb the PAS campaign before it could even take off. Not even his staunchest supporters could see him beating Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in Pekan. Hadi is a big name in Rusila but he will be thrashed in Pekan.

Moreover, his election track record in his home state of Terengganu is hardly perfect he has won as often as he has lost in Marang and Rhu Rendang.

Contesting an election has to be about serving and committing to the people in a constituency rather than using the seat for political gamesmanship. Voters should not be treated like pawns in a chess game.

Malay politics is also quite different from Chinese politics. Chinese politicians often go around the country like a travelling political circus, looking for safe seats to contest. But that sort of thing is not for Malay voters. They want an anak tempatan, someone local who is fully committed to their needs and welfare.

PAS sources said that Hadi, who turned 65 last month, is likely to contest both the Marang parliamentary and Rhu Rendang state seats. He has apparently made a 360° turn: Earlier this year, he said he wanted to stay out of the election, then he was persuaded to defend Marang and now it appears he is back to contesting two seats.

Hadi does have a habit of flip-flopping but he is really quite a humble man and his short-lived Pekan dare was perhaps the closest he has ever come to suggesting that he is also prime minister material.

Hadi's party is now spearheading the Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat or People's Uprising Assembly. It is the brainchild of PAS deputy president Mohamed Sabu, who had initially planned it as a PAS show but the other Pakatan parties decided to join in.

The mass gathering will go from state to state over the next couple of months before culminating in a grand finale of one million people in Kuala Lumpur in January.

Mat Sabu, as he is better known, thinks the Prime Minister is going the full distance. He reckons the election will be early next year and the protest will be a Pakatan show of force. It should be quite a sight; it would be like almost all the 1.6 million population of Kuala Lumpur out on the streets.

The assembly was launched last weekend in Negri Sembilan which, as Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim claimed to the crowd, would be the “sixth state to fall” or as Mat Sabu put it, “hurricane Sandy is about to hit Negri Sembilan.”

Pakatan won 15 state seats and denied Barisan Nasional its two-thirds majority in the state. DAP won 10 of those seats and its state chairman Anthony Loke became an overnight star.

Loke: DAP has big
ambitions in Negri Sembilan Loke: DAP has big ambitions in Negri Sembilan

Pakatan's ambitions have not diminished. According to Tunku Aziz, DAP had tried to recruit a young prince from the state who is known for his fashionably liberal views and offered him the Mentri Besar post in the event of victory. It was just as well that it did not work out because it would make Negri Sembilan a very complicated state to administer.

Bringing out the crowds

The Pakatan assembly is the clearest sign so far of the massive fall-out between the Bersih group and Pakatan leaders after the violent incidents at the last Bersih 3.0 street protests in April.

The Bersih group has disassociated itself from the Bersih 3.0 protests and has resorted to calling themselves Bersih 2.0, the more successful protest that preceded Bersih 3.0. Bersih chairman Datuk S. Ambiga blames Anwar and PKR deputy president Azmin Ali for the troubles and wants nothing more to do with them.

Pakatan leaders are not exactly bothered that the love affair has ended this way. They said they were the ones who brought out the crowds that inflated Ambiga's image and they think she is arrogant to think she can now do without them.

Many of them felt vindicated upon seeing the embarrassingly small crowd at the Bersih concert last month. Ambiga's group had held a concert in the Kelana Jaya stadium that was called Konsert 2.0. It was a flop in terms of numbers; without the support of Pakatan, Bersih is just another NGO agitating for reforms.

Pakatan has decided it can do without Ambiga and gang, and the turnout at the Negri Sembilan launch proved them right.

Although the assembly is Mat Sabu's show, Anwar will be one of the main acts. The PKR de facto leader has lost that special aura after the courts acquitted him in the sodomy trial. PKR people see it as a means for Anwar to shore up his profile in the run-up to the general election.

He is still acknowledged as Pakatan's prime minister candidate but his party is the weak link in the Pakatan set-up and it is struggling with seat negotiations for the election in almost every state except Selangor, Penang and Perak.

“The reality is that this is his final bid, I don't think he was joking about it. A generational shift has taken place since he was ousted from power. If he fails this time, it is over,” said social and political commentator Dr Neil Khor.

Anwar is still handsome, charming and entertaining to watch on the ceramah stage, but Pakatan leaders feel he has not lived up to expectations. Actually, his problem is not about what he has done or not done for Pakatan. His problem can be summed up in one word Najib.

Right from the start, Anwar had portrayed himself as Najib's equal. But Najib has pulled so far ahead. The Prime Minister has not squandered his powers of incumbency and he has become the best-selling brand name for his ruling coalition.

Anwar is still challenging Najib to a debate. But the Prime Minister has no reason to debate with him. Najib's track record is there for everyone to assess, so he does not need a debate to tell Malaysians what he has done for them.

Sharing the limelight

The PKR people are hoping that the Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat will help create a momentum and give Anwar the comeback push that he needs. It is also ironic that Anwar and Mat Sabu will be sharing the limelight in the weeks ahead because Mat Sabu's disdain for Anwar is well-known. It dates back to their days as young ABIM activists but, as the famous saying goes, there are no permanent friends or foes in politics.

But no one understands image-making as well as Anwar. He may not measure up next to Najib but everywhere he goes, he does not let people forget he is an aspiring prime minister.

Hadi: Made a U-turn about
contesting in Pekan Hadi: Made a U-turn about contesting in Pekan

Anwar likes to travel in a convoy. He rides in a metallic beige Mercedes Benz while his minders in the other cars like to hang out of the car with the doors open and jump out before the vehicles can come to a halt. It creates an exciting urgency and gets everyone's attention for the moment when the man himself steps out of his limo.

Anwar clearly loves the presidential style of campaigning. His campaign bus which has a huge picture of his smiling face has also created maximum impact and people are still thrilled to see it.

The campaign bus was actually an early idea of a former Anwar supporter and party sponsor, Datuk John Soh Chee Wen. Shortly after Anwar returned as Permatang Pauh MP, Soh had suggested a bus campaign into the Malay heartland where Anwar could touch base with the Malay grassroots. But Anwar was not keen. Had he done so, he could have pre-empted the Najib walkabouts.

Recently, he switched up his presidential style with no less than a private jet that was reportedly sponsored by a well-heeled businessman supporter. Pictures of him and a select group of Pakatan leaders in the private jet en route to Sabah were posted on Twitter by Batu MP Tian Chua who was also on board. The photographs became fodder for their detractors.

The next stop for Mat Sabu and Anwar is Kota Baru next Saturday. It is timed to coincide with the three-day PAS muktamar that will be attended by hundreds of the party faithful.

The gathering will give Kelantan a much needed shot in the arm because Kelantan is no longer the fixed deposit state of PAS. The state is apparently in the grey zone and has never looked as shaky.

There are several factors at play here Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat is 82. He has serious health issues and after 22 years of mediocre administration, PAS is struggling to convince Kelantanese why they deserve another five years.

On top of that, the party seems to have lost that evangelical surge that has been its trademark through the years.

Political parties, said Dr Khor, are now going for the undecided voters especially in the battleground states.

The undecided voters have apparently grown rather than shrank. A think-tank survey in Selangor indicated that women have become the biggest group of undecided voters especially following the last Bersih demonstration. The politics of the street did not appeal to them.

The assembly gatherings are aimed at creating a momentum, to portray that Pakatan has a lot of support and persuade the undecided voters to come on board.

At the same time, it also aims to keep up the morale of party workers, put them on red alert and psyche them into believing that Putrajaya is around the corner.

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