MGG: The Anwar bomb scare and the Ketari byelections
By M.G.G. Pillai
27/3/2002 11:46 am Wed
01-15 April 2002
The Anwar bomb scare and the Ketari byelections
And so National Front (BN) and DAP (though not Barisan Alternatif
or BA) battle it out, as expected, in Ketari. The Gerakan's Mr
Yum Ah Ha and DAP's Chong Siew Onn square off in that byelection
where DAP's specifics about Ketari is deflected with calumny and
shrill personal attacks. The BN always ride roughshod to cover
up its failings in every elections. Polling is on Easter Sunday
(31 March 2002). The police attempt to short circuit the usual
exuberance on nomination day (23 May 2002), on reflection, masks
UMNO's difficulties than any rationale of national security.
For the ground rules changed imperceptibly for both, even if
neither admits. Ketari changes the pattern of elections to come.
It forces a common symbol in election campaigns. UMNO insists
upon it for its own failings, but went about it in bad taste.
UMNO is forced to accept for the first time since elections were
first held, in 1953, its flag is no more a magnet, as in times
past, for elections crowds; Ketari hobbles it. For the DAP, it
is the dangers of going it alone. The BN director of operations
and Pahang mentri besar, Dato' Seri Adnan Yaakob, wants only the
BN flag used. It reflects not an eventual acceptance of the BN
flag over the individual component flags but local rejection of
the UMNO in this area of West Pahang. To not admit it, he orders
none be used. It backfired. BN and DAP fish for votes with
handicaps of their own making.
BA's petty misunderstanding with the DAP hides a fundamental
breach: the DAP walked out of BA over PAS's stand on the Islamic
state. The bad blood shows: neither the National Justice Party
(Keadilan) nor Party Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) are formally in this
byelection, and leave it to their state components if they want
to help. In the Indera Kayangan byelections in Perlis, DAP
refused to campaign for BA. Its political schizophrenia turns
full circle in Ketari. BN thought it could up the ante and widen
the opposition breach, but failed, and badly.
BN is frightened of its shadow. It cannot allow its
electoral equanimity to be upset. So, the resumed Dato' Seri
Anwar Ibrahim's appeal in the Federal Court a spoke in its Ketari
strategy for BN leaders to shiver. The bomb scare as the resumed
hearing was to resume on Monday, 25 March 2002, was then not
unexpected. Indeed, some at the court claim they knew of it four
days earlier. It matters not if this rumour is true; that many
believe it because they disbelieve the police scuttled any
benefit BN could get out of it.
The government could not predict, with certainty, the Anwar
appeal would fail; the BN in a spot in Ketari if it did not. The
Malay mood, in Ketari as in the country, so sensitive as to then
tilt to DAP. What better than a bomb scare to even the odds? Was
it real? And serious? One cannot be certain. Only the Federal
Court building was evacuated; and that, fitfully. A bag was
found on one end of the building. The bomb squad was in full
force, did not order the Straits Trading Building and the courts
to evacuate. Why? It strains credulity that the Keadilan man
who pointed the unattended bag to the police is taken into
The police barred the public and lawyers into the building,
but one could see court staff peering at us from inside it. The
roads around it should have been cordoned, as they must in an
emergency of this magnitude. Why was it not? If it had
exploded, if the bag was saturated with potent explosives, all
buildings in the area, not the Federal Court alone, would have
disappeared into a huge crater and irrevocably alter Malaysia's
politics. Yet, senior police officers sauntered by the bag with
the alleged bomb, as if cheking prices at a "pasar malam" (night
market), with no fear it could blow the area and them to
smithereens. The festive air was unmistakable. The bomb squad
was there, but if this is how it viewed the bomb scare, how
serious could it have been? In other words, did it know all
along it was not what it was?
One must accept until disproven this bomb scare was, willy
nilly, so the Anwar imbroglio could not scuttle BN in Ketari. As
every facet of BN and UMNO politics. Why then did the Elections
Commission choose this week for the beyelection? Because it was
impartial or that it did not know of the trial? If the police
were as unprofessional -- though it made life difficult for
everyone at the court house to harrass the public from getting to
the trial -- either or both conclusions must apply: the bomb
scare was to make life difficult for Dato' Seri Anwar's
supporters; without it, a Federal Court decision could have
upset the BN campaign in Ketari. That makes him BN's, especially
UMNO's, uncontrollable Enemy Number One.
Since Dato' Seri Anwar was, in 1998, dismissed, arrested,
manacled, blindfolded, assaulted by the Inspector-General of
Police no less, this larger-than-life nemesis freezes BN into
impotence. In Ketari, this prisoner unnerves BN into mistakes it
should not make. In other words, BN is disconcerted at Dato'
Seri Anwar's single-minded taming of it. We now know why the
police stepped in to prevent an exuberant show of strength in
Ketari by the opposition. That failed when the Opposition, even
if it made no sense, cried foul. It was imposed, it now appears,
because BN could not without revealing its weaknesses, and wanted
the opposition forced to as well.
This is not all. The government announces new elections
regulations for no reason than to hobble the opposition even
campaigning begins. Curiously, the Elections Commission did not
announce it, the de facto law minister, Dato' Seri Rais Yatim
did. The laws are framed with the opposition parties having no
say of onerous conditions attached, and removing parliamentary
oversight of future changes to make it tougher for the opposition
to contest. The electoral system is amended for the government
to crow it has the will of the people behind it. But the more it
asserts its "populist" victory the less it believes in
parliamentary or elective democracy. In other words, a sure
descent into an authoritarian state through the ballot box.
So, who wins in Ketari, and even DAP concedes it could well
not, is moot. But if BN does not is the fear in Ketari. In
1999, the DAP candidate reduced the Gerakan majority by 90 per
cent. Conventional wisdom suggests the 11 September terrorist
attacks in the United States would even out that DAP advantage.
But an UMNO minister I discussed this with last week thought not.
BN forgot how to batten the hatches. Electoral laws are
tightened even more so it wins even if it loses; to erode our
fundamental liberties so BN, in hope, could rule for ever. For
that, BN must first be returned in Ketari. Many expect it would.