Commentary by political editor Wan Hamid Hamidi
AUG 26 ~ It's still impressive that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim could win the Permatang Pauh by-election today with a 15,000-plus majority, having to take on the massive Barisan Nasional election machinery with the assistance of the state apparatus.
BN did not seem to change its typical method ~ but not necessarily moral and ethical - of employing federal government agencies as well as the almost one-sided mainstream electronic and print media.
In the face of overwhelming odds, the Parti Keadilan Rakyat de facto leader survived the onslaught led by his political nemesis Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak who is also BN deputy chairman and Umno deputy president.
From the swearing on the Quran by Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, who accused Anwar of sodomising him by force on the eve of nomination day, to Najib following in the footstep in denying knowledge of the murder of Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu, the pressure on Anwar was tremendous.
Najib had said from day one that Saiful's oath was not politically motivated but the deputy prime minister kept repeating the sodomy charge, a clear attempt to cast doubt among voters especially the Malays.
There was also a surprise during the intense period of campaigning when two of PKR"s Perak state executive councillors were arrested and later charged for corruption, a move described by Anwar"s party as politically motivated, especially the timing of the arrest and the case.
The mainstream media, with its usual one-sided news reports, continued to portray BN as the saviour of the country while vilifying Anwar as the enemy of peace. The Malay press and the Bahasa Malaysia news programmes on several TV stations went even further to describe the former deputy prime minister, who once was their media darling, as the man who betrayed the Malays.
Federal leaders should have known better with the feedback received about their BN-friendly media which was also one of the major causes of the March 8 general election debacle for the ruling coalition. It 'lost five states and was denied its customary two-thirds majority in Parliament. For many voters, no matter how conservative and fearful they are of changes, they just couldn't stomach the old way of propaganda disguising as news.
Anwar, on the other hand, could only depend on the alternative media, which largely meant personal blogs on the Internet including his own, to disseminate his propaganda. Yet tens of thousands throng his nightly ceramah while many others were eager to greet him during his daily walkabout in the constituency.
Despite his glamourous and popular ceramah, Anwar was besieged with the problem of Saiful's oath ~ something sacred among the Malays although many are skeptical about it. But at least, according to some surveys, 30 per cent of the people believed in Saiful's claims.
He was, however, "saved" at the last minute when the imam who witnessed the oath came on the PKR platform in Permatang Pauh to declare his doubt about Saiful's act, adding that it was not proper according to the Islamic teachings. While the Kuala Lumpur Mufti Datuk Wan Zahidi Wan Teh came to Saiful's defence yesterday by declaring the oath was valid, it was politically too late for BN.
Even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi came in to bolster the BN campaign, not only by visiting the constituency but also announcing the lowering of fuel prices ~ and assured the people that it had nothing to do with the by-election.
There was also the tabling of the DNA Identification Bill 2008 at the Dewan Rakyat which MPs are debating in the current session. The bill seeks compulsory extraction of DNA from a crime suspect.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar today denied that the bill was aimed at a particular person. Anwar, who was charged with sodomy for the second time in his life, after he was acquitted from a similar charge a decade ago, refused to provide the DNA sample, citing possible manipulation by the authorities.
While his case is to be heard on Sept 10, Anwar kept the by-election momentum going with his promises of a new government and good governance. He was also daring in repeating his aim to fight for "Ketuanan Rakyat" (people's dominance) instead of Umno's "Ketuanan Melayu" (Malay dominance) in a constituency of almost 70 per cent Malay voters.
Whether he was still voted in due to his personal popularity, Malays and non-Malays alike may begin to see the seriousness of this former Umno strongman's vision of a multiracial Malaysia.
Whether Anwar can deliver his promise if he is in power will be another story. But at the moment many seem confident that he can do it while a good number remain doubtful over his Sept 16 deadline for BN MPs to cross over to his side ~ and form a new government.
PKR leaders and campaigners also have accused the police ~ some 6,000 present for the Permatang Pauh by-election ~ of targeting their supporters and making life difficult for the constituents with road blocks everywhere. Even most of Anwar's ceramah took place in the presence of police helicopters hovering overhead.
Again, the pro-BN mainstream media is silent on this except to report police taking stern action against a few rowdy PKR campaigners and BN leaders" statements condemning those election workers.
Yet the most number of complaints received by the election watch group, Malaysian for Free and Fair Election or Mafrel, are those against BN for abuse of public resources and vote buying.For all that, Anwar managed to win big.