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MGG: Ketari VII: The war of words, not policy, begins
By M.G.G. Pillai

24/3/2002 2:07 am Sun

It is nomination day today (23 March 2002), the run-up to it not how to win, but how to defame. Leading the pack is the Gerakan president, Dato' Seri Lim Kheng Yaik, and the DAP secretary-general, Mr Lim Kit Siang. The National Front (BN) director of operations is UMNO's albatross in West Pahang and the state's mentri besar, Dato' Seri Adnan Yaakob. He ordered the BN camp not to speak out of turn, that cabinet ministers allowed only to pontificate on ministerial matters, that only he and he alone would release such information as must to the people so that the voters in Ketari would not be confused with a cacophonous melee amongst BN leaders.

Dr Lim tells him who is boss and defies him with the Gerakan's continuing petty vendetta against the DAP. This is one byelection where the BN and DAP fight on even ground: Both are horribly disorganised electorally that that evens the playing field. It is unlike any byelection in recent times. And when the playing ground is level, it is the BN which would be returned. By hook or by crook. Lunas in one sense is a freak: the Keadilan candidate fielded a Malay candidate in the designated Indian constituency and brought the split in the Malay cultural ground out into the open. The MIC candidate had no chance. The BN was caught flatfooted. That would not happen in Ketari.

Dato' Seri Adnan is in nominal charge, but all but despised amongst the Malays in Bentong, his boorishness during the 1999 general elections there for all to see on reformasi websites. So, the day-to-day organisation is in the hands of UMNO vice-president, former Selangor mentri besar and prime ministerial-cannot-be, Tan Sri Mohamed Taib. (Ambitious as he is, he fell foul of Selangor's feudal code for a land transaction on the Prime Minister's orders which stepped on feudal sensitivities, and made him irrelevant in UMNO politics, popular amongst the rank-and-file, as he is and elected regularly to high position in UMNO). It was he who masterminded the Indera Kayangan byelection in Perlis recently for BN.

The DAP, on the other hand, is in similar straits. It would not campaign for the Keadilan candidate in Indera Kayangan, miffed at what it saw as Keadilan encroachment, and that costs it dearly in Ketari. Neither PAS nor Keadilan will come out openly and campaign for the DAP. But they would be there in force. PAS would not display its party symbols; nor would Keadilan. They are in the campaign for electoral unity, and do this so DAP would not blame them should the campaign go wrong.

The DAP blinked in the Islamisation debate, making it the subject of calumny from the BN and distrust from PAS and Keadilan. It was a major error of strategy; to correct it more than a re-statement of status quo is needed. That would not be easy. Especially, when no rational debate is possible so long as it conducted in personal animosities and irrelevant issues dominating any discussion.

The BN cannot lose this election, an MCA politician in the Lim Ah Lek faction told me last night, for a defeat in Ketari would redound on his faction in the problematic Ling-Lim squabble; so, it appears, the Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, has made clear. The Gerakan wants to win the seat badly but does not know how: so it resorts to cheap personality attacks that has no relevance to Ketari and its people. The DAP admits an uphill struggle, and an upset is unlikely, a BN defeat more than the metaphorical earthquake in Lunas. This morning, a miracle it would be should DAP cause an upset.

From Ketari on, new ground rules apply. The new electoral rolls cannot now be challenged. It is to hide mistakes, whatever the de facto law minister, Dato' Seri Rais Yatim, or the Elections Commission has to say about it. It is proof, if proof be needed, of a slipshod approach to legality. This provision is enforced so the Elections Commission's mistakes would not come to haunt it. When judges took a more critical look at election petitions in which the BN sometimes lost, an appeal court for election appeals is constituted. In other words, any attempt at fair and free elections that is forced upon the government is ruthlessly countermanded by legislation.

One convention Malaysia does not follow requires discussions with the Opposition, in and out of parliament and state assemblies, before before they are enacted. Here, it is the government's right and prerogative and no one else. But, as Sir Abubakar Tafehwa Balewa, Nigeria's democrat of a prime minister, retorted to a group of British reporters invited to the new Parliament building in the 1960s: "What!!! Give an office in Parliament to an enemy of the people?" A reporter had asked him if they could be shown where the Leader of the Opposition has his offices in the building. Malaysia follows that attitude with reverence and certainty. It is more important to win an election than have one's faith in the electoral system one abides by. So, in this watershed of sorts in Ketari, trouble beckons if the wrong candidate is returned.

M.G.G. Pillai