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Sunday September 9, 2012

Khalid nudges his way in

Is Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim trying to secure his own political future by positioning his party boss Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim at the forefront of Selangor politics?

THE body language between Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim and his party boss Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has grown warmer of late.

The two men have not been the best of friends over the last few years but those who attended the Mentri Besar’s Hari Raya open house last month noticed that Khalid was particularly attentive and deferential towards Anwar.

Quite a number of people were surprised to see Anwar and PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail at the receiving line, playing host alongside Khalid. This was essentially Khalid’s do but the Mentri Besar was sharing the limelight with Anwar. This has not always been the case because Khalid has had no qualms about showing people that he is in charge in Selangor or that he is more adept at economic matters than Anwar who is the Selangor economic advisor.

Celebrity look: Khalid and Anwar (second and third from left) sporting snazzy sunglasses as they welcome guests at the
Mentri Besar’s recent Hari Raya open house at the state government complex together with Dr Xavier (left), Dr Wan Azizah and
assemblywoman Elizabeth Wong. Celebrity look: Khalid and Anwar (second and third from left) sporting snazzy sunglasses as they welcome guests at the Mentri Besar’s recent Hari Raya open house at the state government complex together with Dr Xavier (left), Dr Wan Azizah and assemblywoman Elizabeth Wong.

They even sported identical-looking sunglasses as they stood in the bright sunshine in the compound of the state government complex. The dark glasses were quite ironic because both politicians apparently had lasik treatment so that they could improve eye contact with people. Generally, dark glasses are a big no-no for politicians because it makes them look aloof and removed from ordinary folk, but it did give the pair a certain celebrity look.

It is evident that Khalid has been trying to get on the good side of Anwar to the extent of inviting him as the VIP guest and to address the crowd at the Selangor Merdeka eve parade on Aug 30. With the general election widely expected in November, Pakatan also wanted to elevate Anwar’s profile to remind voters that he is their candidate for prime minister.

But it has since become a political issue and opinion out there has been deeply polarised over whether the state should have given the Penang-born Anwar such a prominent role.

The state government scrambled to do damage control after the outcry over why Anwar, who is not Selangor-born nor a wakil Rakyat in the state, should have been up there addressing the gathering. The fact that the Selangor palace saw fit to comment only made it more awkward for the state government.

Merdeka Day has never been this political or contentious. Some attributed it to the fact that this year’s celebration coincided with a blue moon, a phenomenon where there is a second full moon in a month. Strange things do happen on a full moon, what more a blue moon.

Pakatan leaders had accused the Barisan Nasional of playing politics over the Merdeka Day theme of Janji Ditepati. But they have been no less political: at the Selangor affair, Anwar had begun his speech by urging for fair and clean elections before proceeding to talk about national unity.

Mohd Zin: Concerned
about the signal being
sent out about the role of
the palace. Mohd Zin: Concerned about the signal being sent out about the role of the palace.

Patriotic events are always about loyalty to king and country. Hence, they are rarely complete without a sovereign figure up there. The Sultan not being there is one thing but to have Anwar there alongside the Mentri Besar did not go down well with many people.

“I suppose they put him there to show that they rejected the federal government’s national day celebration. They wanted to show their power in Selangor and allow people a peek at the future if Pakatan wins Putrajaya. It was their way of saying that politicians will play a bigger role than at present. But they shot themselves in the foot. Why give the Barisan a chance to attack and why antagonise the palace?” publisher Datuk A. Kadir Jasin pointed out.

Or as state Barisan coordinator Datuk Seri Mohd Zin Mohamed put it: “What kind of signal are they sending out about the role of the palace?”

Nik Aziz: Wondered if
trouble-makers at
demonstration were
possessed by evil spirits. Nik Aziz: Wondered if trouble-makers at demonstration were possessed by evil spirits.

On top of that, the police and military excused themselves from the parade pleading logistics issues. But for days after the event, rumours were rife that the two bodies withdrew because they did not want to have to salute Anwar.

PKR assemblyman and state exco member Dr Xavier Jayakumar called a press conference a few days later to defend the State’s action. He said Pakatan Rakyat was democratically elected and could invite anyone to speak at the Merdeka event. Datuk Seri Hadi Awang of PAS and DAP’s Lim Kit Siang were also invited but could not attend.

Dr Xavier is perfectly right to say that the ruling coalition can invite whomever it wants but given the fallout, inviting Anwar may not have been the wisest thing to do.

Khusrin: Fingers pointed
at him when things went
wrong over the Merdeka
parade. Khusrin: Fingers pointed at him when things went wrong over the Merdeka parade.

“This is a very formal and official occasion but I suspect that some of them think it is like another ceramah,” said restaurateur Juhaidi Yean Abdullah.

Some have suggested that it was mooted largely by Khalid who looked like he was having a great time that night, especially when he called out “Merdeka!” at the stroke of midnight. It was Anwar who seemed a little unsure of himself, as though he felt out of place in the Selangor setting.

Campaign bus

Khalid definitely eclipsed his rival and Selangor PKR chief Azmin Ali that evening. The MB calls the shots on such occasions and Azmin looked like a bit player in the Merdeka tableau.

There has been endless talk that Khalid is on the way out but it looks like the man is fighting to stay on by currying favour with Anwar who will have the biggest and last say on candidates and seats.

Last month, PKR launched a campaign bus, a refurbished double-decker that is said to have cost RM500,000. Khalid paid for it out of his own pocket and it is for Anwar to use in his country-wide campaign. Both sides of the bus are screen-painted with big portraits of a smiling and handsome Anwar.

It was a big gesture on the part of Khalid who is a multi-millionaire but is famous for being tight-fisted with money.

The bus can seat 19 people, has a conference area, Wi-Fi, top quality public address system and a stage that folds out from the baggage compartment. But the best part about this bus has got to be the two high-end massage chairs for tired bodies.

All that must have catapulted Khalid into the good books of Anwar.

Khalid is evidently not as naive as he has been made out to be. For instance, he knows that the Sultan does not look kindly on street protests. Just recently, the Tuanku advised Selangoreans going on the Haj or umrah not to tarnish the country’s image by holding demonstrations in the Holy Land. It was a hint of the royal figure’s opinion of street protests. It is no coincidence that all those Bersih protests have not been allowed in his state.

But Pakatan is in danger of making protests the centrepiece of their governing tactic. When they won in five states, there was not a word about dirty elections but now that they are not sure of holding on to those five states, they are accusing their opponents of rigging the elections.

After more than four years in power, Pakatan is in danger of being associated with street politics rather than the new politics they had promised. The last two big street protests have damaged rather than won them fans among the Malaysian middle ground.

The recent Merdeka eve march organised by the Bersih group of people was largely peaceful but the string of unfortunate incidents – people waving an “alternative flag”, the stomping and mooning of pictures of the Prime Minister – has again hurt Pakatan.

It was not a very Malaysian thing to do, and because it happened at what was basically an anti-Barisan demonstration, the incidents, rightly or wrongly, became associated with Pakatan.

Utusan Malaysia frontpaged the photographs of every single culprit from the group, from the duo happily waving the “alternative flag” to the boy with the now most famous butt in the country.

Pakatan politicians were quick to point the finger at Barisan saboteurs but the political alignments all seem to point to Pakatan parties.

The person behind the “alternative flag” turned out to be none other than Najwan Halimi, the deputy information chief of PKR’s Youth wing. Najwan, 26, works as an aide to Anwar and was a defence witness in Anwar’s sodomy trial. He admitted to having designed the flag in 2007.

The female stomper, a glamorous model, turned up at the police station in Johor Baru accompanied by DAP MP for Bakri Er Teck Hwa.

Pakatan leaders have since distanced themselves from the acts but only Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat came down hard on the culprits, saying that Malays and Muslim should not do such shameful acts.

“Maybe those involved were possessed by evil spirits. Why should we change the flag, it has been accepted by the world. I really regret that this happened,” said the Kelantan Mentri Besar.

The incidents had eclipsed the larger purpose of the demonstration. It was similar to what happened at the Republican convention in the United States – there were many interesting speeches but at the end of it, the most talked about part was the rambling and incoherent debut by Hollywood actor Clint Eastwood.

Some Malay nationalists have wondered why Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak does not react to such provocation.

There is a very simple answer to that. Najib knows that he has secured the Malay ground and that the traditional supporters have returned to Barisan. His focus is now on the middle ground, a group of people who are not aligned to either side and who will vote according to issues, candidates and situations. Incidents like these will impact this group most of all. Najib is adopting a very shrewd approach to win the middle ground.

Khalid has been anxious to sort out the fiasco over his state’s Merdeka do. Fingers had been pointed at state secretary Datuk Mohd Khusrin Munawi when things went wrong but Khalid has cleared the top civil servant’s name.

He also claimed that Anwar attended the event not as the “guest of honour” but as a “guest speaker”. Some thought it rather unbecoming to downsize a VIP guest in this manner and that Khalid should have stood his ground.

Khalid has secured his place in his party’s list of election candidates. But his coalition is still struggling to secure its hold over Selangor and his jazzed-up campaign bus may find that the GPS may not have the roadmap to Putrajaya.