AUG 27 — Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's stunning win at the Permatang Pauh by-election not only cemented his position as the undisputed leader of the opposition in Malaysia, it prompted senior Umno politicians to begin the countdown to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's last day in office.
The majority view is that he has to go by the end of the year if Umno and BN are to stand any chance of checking the advance of Pakatan Rakyat and holding onto to power at the next general elections.
Tuesday night was a repeat of March 8 with Pakatan Rakyat giddy with an electoral success and BN politicians dizzy with another rejection by the public.
But the joy was sweeter for the opposition because their icon not only won but did so in style, trouncing BN's Arif Shah by a 15,671 majority, 2,000 more votes than what his wife obtained five months ago.
The pain was more severe for BN because unlike March 8, they were not caught blind-sided. They poured in millions of ringgit into the campaign, brought their heavy hitters, threw every conceivable missile at Anwar but still ended up losing badly.
The consequences of the Permatang Pauh by-election could be far-reaching, with even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's neatly-packaged two-year transition of power under threat from increasingly disillusioned party members and leaders of coalition partners.
On Tuesday, only two hours after the last box of votes had been counted, senior Umno politicians were in deep discussion over the need for Abdullah to step down, believing that he had lost the ability to check a resurgent opposition.
A check of the voting pattern at 25 polling stations showed that Anwar snared a handy portion of Malays votes and the bulk of non-Malay votes.
Even the Siamese electorate – a traditional bank of BN support – gave their vote to Anwar.
Najib put on a brave face, saying that Anwar's victory proved that democracy was alive in Malaysia. Left unsaid was that the BN defeat showed that not much had changed on the ground since March 8. Despite the raft of promises by Abdullah to reform the system, the public was not moved.
If anything, Permatang Pauh confirmed that Chinese and Indians no longer fear giving their support to the Opposition.
It also confirmed that the umbilical cord between the Malaysian voter and the Barisan Nasional has been severed.
BN politicians have compiled a list of excuses for the heavy defeat, saying that Permatang Pauh has always been Anwar's fortress; that the campaign was pockmarked with allegations and innuendoes and that the electorate was in no mood to support the establishment because of the rising cost of living.
But they all sounded like excuses and could not obscure the fact that BN suffered its heaviest by-election defeat in recent memory.
Never has BN been in a deeper hole. Never has Abdullah Ahmad Badawi faced such a bleak picture.