By Baradan Kuppusamy
THE resignation of besieged former Penang Deputy Chief Minister I Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin as Penanti assemblyman has forced yet another by-election.
As it is, voters are already suffering from election fatigue after five straight by-elections since the March 8, 2008 general election.
Like the April 7 Bukit Selambau by-election, the upcoming Penanti by-election was brought about by the resignation of the assemblyman, in this case Fairus at the behest of the party’s top leadership.
PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is being forced to use by-elections as a way of getting rid of unwanted assemblymen who in one way or another have been an embarrassment to the PKR and the Pakatan Rakyat coalition.
When two PKR assemblymen in Perak were charged with corruption, the party defended and continued to keep them as exco members, a lapse that led to their defection and Pakatan’s subsequent loss of Perak.
PKR learnt quickly from that disaster.
When V. Arumugam, the former Bukit Selambau assemblyman, was caught in an embarrassing “bigamy” scandal, he was ordered to resign to force a by-election which PKR’s S. Manikumar won.
The PKR is taking the same route with Fairus, who resigned as deputy Chief Minister on April 8 following corruption investigation, to ensure that he vacates the seat for a more credible candidate.
In the case of the Bukit Lanjan state seat in Selangor, PKR has decided to keep Elizabeth Wong after she had resigned on Feb 17 over controversial pictures of her that surfaced on the Internet.
While Wong, who is well qualified for her job, is seen as a victim of blackmail, Arumugam and Fairus are looked upon as weak and ineffective and having compromised themselves and the party.
Nevertheless, using by-elections as a way to “clean up” the PKR can only work so far.
The danger is that an election fatigued public, worried that the politicking would drag the country down at a time of mounting economic woes, could hand PKR a defeat.
The fear of loss and election fatigue are reasons why the DAP and PAS were reluctant to engineer another by-election to save face for the PKR.
But the die is cast now and they have to toe the line taken by Pakatan supremo Anwar and prepare for yet another by-election.
The Pakatan dilemma is that PKR is the weak link in the year-old coalition.
While PAS and the DAP are able to hold on to their elected representatives and ensure compliance, the PKR is often hit by one scandal after another.
The reason is that the PKR, being the new kid on the block, is still finding its feet and shedding unwanted baggage accumulated during the reformasi era.
Engineered by-elections is also a tactic the PKR likes because it keeps their supporters bound together and in a fighting mood – a siege mentality going back to the reformasi era when the party was under constant attack.
In the case of the older and wiser DAP and PAS, their priorities are to better administer the states under their charge, deliver on the election promises and prepare for the long haul.
For PKR, the priority is immediate and bound with the future of Anwar and his dream to be Prime Minister.
In Penang, Anwar’s dilemma is that after Fairus, the two remaining Malay PKR assemblymen – executive councillor and Batu Maung assemblyman Abdul Malik Abdul Kassim and Sungai Bakap assemblyman Maktar Shapee – are seen as unacceptable for the Deputy Chief Minister 1 post.
Abdul Malik is said to be the main force behind Fairus’ resignation and giving him the post would be seen as rewarding political backstabbing, says a national PKR leader.
“Besides he is not on good terms with Penang PKR chief Datuk Zahrin Mohd Hashim,” said the leader.
The issue is further complicated as Zahrin, who is Bayan Baru MP, wants Fairus’ job.
The other candidate Maktar is “simply not cut out for the job,” say top PKR leaders.
As in Arumugam’s case, Anwar has decided to resolve the issue by forcing a by-election. He hopes to field a more credible Malay candidate, win and move on.
This method is tricky not just because of election fatigue but also because PKR, being a multi-racial party, has other options.
It can make a temporary sacrifice and pick a non-Malay PKR assemblyman as deputy Chief Minister 1 until a more credible candidate is fielded in the next general election.
Deputy Chief Minister 2 Dr P. Ramasamy has repeatedly said that “he represents all voters, not just Indians”.
This kind of thinking is real multi-racialism in which the PKR could show the way.
But now that a by-election is inevitable, voters, whether they like it or not, will be subjected to another bout of politicking at a time when the national focus should be on the mounting economic woes. - The Star, April 17, 2009.