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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sept 16: Why was Anwar blamed and what went wrong?

Sulaiman Kamal | 11:18 PM | | | Best Blogger Tips

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The Malaysian political landscape is dotted with instances of politicians leap-frogging from one party to another. It is something to watch for in the aftermath of any general election, to the extent that it is no longer seen as abnormal but rather a facet of political life.
Currently, there are no legal grounds in Malaysia to say that when an elected parliamentarian decides to switch to another party, he or she is liable to lose the seat. Neither is there a law that can stop one from jumping ship. All of it is legal and lawful. Not just here but in many countries all over the world including the United States, Japan and Britain. There, when one jumps, it is usually due to a falling apart in ideology or a very strong feeling of opposition to a particular policy or law that the incumbent party wishes to introduce, but which is totally against the representative's principles and boundaries of acceptance.

Sad to say, jumping in Malaysia is seldom about issues, ideology or principles but rather about the amount of inducements, enticements and in many cases even blackmail! Where offers for switching loyalty are corrupt in nature and where blackmail is involved, defectors and their motivators should be punished and ostracised by both the electorates and the nation.
The difference
So when Anwar Ibrahim openly declared in 2008 that a number of Sarawakian and Sabahan MPs were ready to cross to the Pakatan Rakyat's side of the Parliament, he did not do anything wrong nor unlawful. Neither was he unethical or unprincipled.
But because it harked back to the 1994 Sabah fiasco when Joseph Pairin Kitingan was unjustly deprived of his majority by a BN using unsavoury means to entice his MPs, Anwar's plan to wrest the federal government on September 16, 2008, was regarded as the mother of all leap-frog fiascos. Ironically, Anwar was also involved in the 1994 move against Pairin.
In 2008, when Anwar failed because he could not pull over enough MPs to the Pakatan at the same time, he suffered a tremendous blow to his credibility. Yet it was not his lack of leadership, but a combination of threats, hiked-up enticements from the BN, and mostly, because the MPs themselves were not familiar with Anwar and his style.
Three years have passed and there is little doubt that the Pakatan can govern, so cold feet and a flop such as the 2008 one is unlikely to repeat itself should the opportunity come again to Anwar and his team.
Nonethleless, Anwar's Sept 16 did indeed rile up the BN to the extent that it was forced to invite MPs from Sabah and Sarawak to a paid 'study tour' to Taiwan to learn about 'agricultural techniques'. The BN may have dismissed Anwar’s claims that he was able to sway the numbers to his side, but the truth was it was scared stiff at the prospect, which was very real indeed.
Anwar's Sept 16 real, not a pipe-dream
And of all people, BN should know. They have always been in the business of ‘buying’ over the opposition or recruiting 'BN-friendly' parliamentarians over to their camp to shore up their numbers. One has only to look to the Perak power grab of 2009 to understand the difference in methods employed by Prime Minister Najib Razak, who controversially enticed 3 key Pakatan Rakyat defections, and Anwar's 2008 call made openly to BN MPs to cross over and help build a better Malaysia.
Najib's Perak turnover was done shadily with MACC prosecutions levelled at two of the lawmakers while the third was believed to have received an 8-figure cheque. Anwar, without resources to match, could only offer better power-sharing, a just and kind Malaysia and greater accountability to the people who voted the MPs to power. The difference is indeed telling.
Just days ago, WikiLeaks revealed that the Sept 16 defections had created panic within the BN leadership. Sarawak and Sabah parliamentarians were on the tipping point of making history. The cable leaked on WikiLeaks confirmed that Sept 16 was real, not a pipe-dream as the BN has painted it to be. An entry in the diplomatic note sent from the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur to Washington quotes former Sabah chief minister Salleh Said Keruak as telling US officials that potentially more than half of the 25 Sabah MPs were ready to abandon the BN.
"Matter-of-factly, Salleh stated that between (eight) and 14 BN MPs (out of Sabah's 25 MPs) would leave the BN, naming (five) from UMNO and (four) from Upko, in addition to (two) from SAPP," the cable, dated June 24, 2008, read.
Why did they leave Anwar hanging in the air
Then, why did the defections not materialize, leaving Anwar Ibrahim with a hugely embarrassing situation on his hands.
Until his vindication by the recent cable, Anwar has had to suffer the consequences of having disappointed the people. With hindsight, it is obvious that a seasoned politician like him would shun such a stun unless he had been fairly sure of success. Why did the East Malaysian MPs pull the rug from under him then?
Firstly, Sarawak and Sabahan parliamentarians are not really imbued with a ‘frog’ mentality, although they are greatly ruled by a herd instinct. Once a leader with a strong character announces he will move in a certain direction, the rest would follow. For Anwar to have the parliamentarians defect, he needed to have a leader amongst the Sarawakian and Sabahan MPs to lead the way or sound the gong, so to speak.
Secondly, theEeast Malaysian politicians are community-based leaders. To defect from the status quo is tantamount to betraying one's own community and family. Communities are often times built along family lines. Almost all the time, a politician is related to his supporters either via blood or through marriage. Before a parliamentarian defected, he would need to convince his own supporter base to switch over. And this would not be something any East Malaysian politician would dare risk unless there is a strong push by the community to defect.
The East Malaysian mindset for defection is very different from than the one held by most West Malaysian politicians. A 'peninsula' guy may jump ship for personal gain and benefits, but the Sabahan or Sarawakian would only do so if the community also supported it. And at that time, Pakatan was new, unheard of and untested still. Pakatan also did not have strong community leaders blazing its trail then.
New laws to protect voters
Even so, the issue of leap-frogging or defections will always be a staple in Malaysian politics. To the BN, it is normal only if they benefit from it, like in Perak. But if the Pakatan attempted it, BN can be counted on to thwart and demonize their efforts.
Strip away the political foreplay, at the end of the day what matters is, what do the Rakyat or the people want? Are they voting in credible men and women who can really run a government? Or are they mere ballot pawns for political parties who see them as a stepping stone to power and wealth?
In GE-13, all Malaysians need to take greater responsiblity for their own fate and not blindly follow. How can they allow their own future to be dictated by those who have continuously sold them out decade after decade? On this basis alone, they should vote for change and give the other side a try.
Finally, new laws governing defections should also be considered. The first to be removed is the unfair 5 year ban imposed on an MP who resigns his seat. This has provided 'frog' MPs an excuse not to resign their seats when they switch parties for the sake of monetary gain or benefits.
A new law should also be considered requiring MPs to automatically quit their seats if they resign from their party, protecting the people and allowing them to decide once again what it is that they really want.

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