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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

M.G.G. Pillai

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 custody.

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.

M.G.G. Pillai