A year shaped by politics

By Shannon Teoh

DEC 30 — It does not take a genius to guess that for most Malaysians, 2008 was all about the 12th general election.

It marked such a huge political change that it became politically correct again to use the word "tsunami" after grieving for the millions of victims in 2004.

But with the new year looming, and both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat settling into their new roles, will 2009 simply see a consolidation of these lines or yet more changes afoot?

It will depend, of course, on how events pan out, and how Malaysians themselves act and react.

While most will have clear memories of March 8, just as many will probably have forgotten what it was like in the two months of the year prior to the polls. How long ago it seems now, when there was no such thing as Pakatan Rakyat.

There was only Barisan Nasional. Powerful, unchallenged, its domination was absolute for the past four years after claiming over 90 per cent of the seats in Parliament in the previous general election.

The opposition parties were scattered, each pursuing their own agenda. But when an energy and economic crisis loomed, everyone could smell a change in the air. Malaysians were ready to make their mark.

Talk of the opposition doubling its meagre 21-seat haul from the 11th GE slowly grew to tripling it as time went by.

Realising that the bread-and-butter issues of income and cost of living would only get worse, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi called a snap election, realising that an imminent price hike in fuel prices would only damage BN more.

Few can honestly say they predicted such a blow for BN, ceding 82 parliamentary seats, the heaviest defeat for the ruling coalition in the nation's electoral history.

Even members of the opposition were caught unprepared. Who was going to be the menteris besar and chief minister? As it turned out, the fledgling opposition coalition, soon to be announced as Pakatan Rakyat, was nearly undone before it could take off, by the squabbles over control of state governments.

Yet the irony is that despite the defeat, Abdullah was probably right. He may indeed have overseen a worse performance for BN had he not decided to call elections then.

The next six months saw the momentum rushing in favour of PR, with opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the economy consistently rocking BN's boat. The former deputy prime minister showed his ability to make people sit up and pay attention.

He sent tremors through the political sphere by proclaiming that he would take over the federal government by convincing at least 30 BN MPs to join PR on the symbolic date of Sept 16, Malaysia Day, a statement so bold that it saw his colleagues once again being caught unawares.

It set him up as prime minister-elect. Every time he spoke, lodged a report, got arrested, accused of sodomy or appeared in court, it scored points for his strengthening coalition and chipped away at the wobbly BN.

After losing five states including the economic engines of Selangor and Penang plus its two-thirds hold of Parliament for the first time in nearly four decades, knives were being sharpened for Abdullah.

Chief among those calling for his blood was the man who had appointed him as his successor, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Slowly but surely, Dr Mahathir got his way. Abdullah agreed to a 2010 transition plan, handing the reins over to Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

But even this failed to galvanise BN, who meekly handed Anwar an increased majority in the Permatang Pauh by-election, allowing him easy entry back into Parliament as opposition leader at the end of August.

By Anwar's own admission, this was supposed to begin the countdown to Putrajaya for PR. He had now fulfilled his own constitutional obligation to be the new PM. All he needed were the numbers.

For all his claims that he indeed had the numbers, Sept 16 never materialised amid excuses of security concerns by the opposition.

Seeing an opening, Umno pressed on towards putting an end to Anwar's threat. By pushing the transition plan to March 2009, it effectively made Najib the No. 1 man there and then.

They were giving Malaysians a new PM and as predictable as ever, the country seems willing to give him a chance.

The rest of BN might still be a shambles today, but belief is there among the Umno ranks that the ship would be steadied and indeed returned to its former glory under the reign of the son of the acclaimed Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, Malaysia's second Prime Minister.

And so the tide has changed again. As 2008 turns to 2009, the buzz is now all about feuds within the opposition. Pas and DAP still argue over hudud, while PKR and DAP are facing infighting within their own parties due to a relatively small matter of the relocation of a bus station in Selangor.

Meanwhile, Najib gears up his troops for the Jan 17 Kuala Terengganu by-election. A win here, which BN claimed by just 600 votes on March 8, would be the perfect fillip for Najib as he seeks to banish any more talk of advancements by PR and rebuild BN through 2009 and beyond.

With Umno's own party polls looking more like a case of musical chairs now, the Pas and PKR elections may turn out to be the real political events of 2009.

It will decide how united the nascent PR is behind Anwar's ambitions and whether it can pull through a much-hyped genesis and become a serious alternative to the five-decade-long rule by Umno and its partners.

As such, there will be no let up in the politically-charged atmosphere Malaysians now live in. Change, it seems, is somewhat infectious.

No comments:

Alexa Traffic Rank

Subscribe to dunia-politik

Subscribe to dunia-politik
Powered by groups.yahoo.com