A by-election to remember

The loss of Perak in the 12th General Election (GE12) was most surprising and the Pakatan Rakyat government was not expected to last very long.

On Jan 26, 2009, the then-Bota assemblyman Datuk Nasaruddin Hashim left Umno and announced his intention to join PKR.

This led to a series of events that have gone down in the annals of Malaysian constitutional history and set certain legal principles that altered the way governments prove their majorities in state assemblies and Parliament.

However, two representatives from PKR and one from DAP defected to Barisan days after Nasaruddin's defection and Nasaruddin sheepishly returned to Umno.

After a week of high drama, Barisan gained the upper hand and the then-Pakatan mentri besar of Perak Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin sought the dissolution of the state assembly.

However, it was deemed that he no longer enjoyed a majority as four assemblymen expressed their support for Barisan.

Then deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak rushed to Kuala Kangsar to seek the mandate of the Sultan of Perak to form the state government.

On Feb 4, 2009, Barisan formed the new Perak state government with Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir as the Mentri Besar.

A few days after, as a young and eager law graduate, I wrote an opinion piece for the Malaysian Insider entitled "Making sense of the Perak impasse and its implications."

This piece got me in trouble as I was an analyst with a Gerakan think-tank and Gerakan was a component party of Barisan.

Allow me to share an excerpt from that piece, as it is relevant to the crisis over the formation of the Sabah state government in the aftermath of the 14th general election: "The Perak episode threatens to unravel Barisan more than it seeks to give a much-needed boost. Only time will tell. It has also set a dangerous precedent for future power-grabbing exercises."

Only six days after Barisan formed the state government in Perak, the PAS MP for Bukit Gantang, Roslan Shahrom passed away from a heart attack.

Immediately, the wheels were set in motion for a by-election and a meeting was called by then-Gerakan president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon.

Dr Koh was a numbers person and all of us were supplied with sheets of paper with election data.

After an intense discussion of the central working committee, of which I attended as part of the secretariat, it was decided that Gerakan would go all out to ensure Barisan's victory.

A bit of context would be helpful. The former MP of Bukit Gantang was Gerakan Wanita chief Datuk Tan Lian Hoe.

In 2004, Gerakan was forced to give up the Taiping parliamentary seat to the People's Progressive Party (PPP). Gerakan's then-Deputy President, who was the former MP of Taiping was then allocated the new created Simpang Renggam parliamentary seat in Johor.

Tan was then left without a seat and in the spirit of compromise Umno gave up the Bukit Gantang seat to her.

In GE12, Gerakan returned the seat to Umno but they lost it to PAS. Tan was moved to Gerik and she won and was appointed a deputy minister.

Given Tan's strong ground work and popularity, it was decided that she would spearhead Gerakan's campaign with the help of then-Deputy President and then-Gerakan Perak chairman Tan Sri Chang Ko Youn.

It was then decided that a number of staff from Sedar would be stationed in Bukit Gantang before and during the campaign to assist.

I volunteered as it was an opportunity to "go to the ground."

It was an eventful campaign but one that exposed me to the bitterness of politics. It was not an easy campaign for me personally because I was very conflicted over the change of government in Perak which I felt was not done in line with settled constitutional and legal principles and with Nizar as PAS' candidate it amplified the campaign.

Each morning, I would start with breakfast in a coffee shop.

One morning, I was having breakfast with a colleague from the MCA think tank Insap and we were chased out by the lady who owned the coffee shop. She kept shouting that she would not serve Barisan supporters.

I would then adjourn to our campaign headquarters, scouring the internet for news articles and other issues that were raised by the rival campaign and we would then respond accordingly.

Gerakan's focus was the Chinese voters and I was not conversant in Mandarin so I would normally rely on what was translated into English and then share my views and strategise with the rest of my colleagues.

In the evening, we would join Gerakan leaders. One evening, I was campaigning in a Chinese new village when someone came up to me and spat on my shirt.

After shouting some profanities at me, he walked away and my party colleagues immediately rushed over to check if I was alright.

Despite the initial shock, I regained my composure and continued with the campaign. The campaign was highly charged and emotions were running high given the manner in which the change of the state government occurred.

After dinner, I would then join the Pakatan ceramah circuit and I remember current Defence Minister Mat Sabu as an animated and entertaining speaker.

However, the most electrifying speaker was none other than Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. He was witty and funny, charming and irreverent.

It was an interesting two weeks in the sleepy hollow of Bukit Gantang. Nizar won the by-election after a gruelling campaign.

I returned to Kuala Lumpur uncertain if I wanted to continue in politics, yet I found myself enjoying every moment of it. I was struggling with the decision for some time and I asked myself if this is the life I want.

I then recalled the advice my late grandfather gave me. In his words, "live a life of value and meaning for that is something money can never buy."

It was indeed a by-election to remember.


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