April 11, 2013
GE-13: The Contest for My Country, my constituency
The whole country is one vast constituency and candidates can contest anywhere they want. If Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim wants to throw his hat into any state, he is not abandoning his old constituency of Permatang Pauh. If Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak wants to fight and “die” in Pekan, that does not mean he is loyal to his constituency.
The question of loyalty does not arise because a seat is just a platform for aspiring candidates to build or prolong their political career. In politics, you owe your loyalty to the whole country and not to a small constituency.A popular leader is one who is able to command the respect and support of the people all over the country.
Everywhere he goes he will be loved. Hence everywhere he contests, he can win. It does not necessarily follow that pulling out your roots in one constituency and planting them in another is an act of betrayal. To be a leader of all people means to represent all their constituencies.
The pertinent question is: if Najib is so popular nation-wide, why stand in cosy Pekan? His popularity will stay with him wherever he goes. He will have no problem contesting in a rural or urban seat in small or big state, near or across the sea. But the Pekan “boy” knows he will be taking a big risk if he dares step out of the perimeter of comfort. He would rather “perish” in Pekan than be buried in the quicksand of political oblivion in some other place.
Najib may be hugely popular with the rural heartland and in constituencies where he has liberally distributed election goodies. But this “good” side of him cannot hide the festering sores on his political skin: his alleged “role” in the murder of a Mongolian woman, his harsh crackdown on Bersih supporters pushing for free and clean elections, corruption scandals, his deafening silence over a string of deaths in police custody. All his mammoth projects cannot wash away the many “sins” of his government.
If the Prime Minister were to choose a different battleground where the voters cannot be easily influenced by his raft of reform programmes, and know his many failings, it is likely that the outcome will tell a different story. But Najib will stick to Pekan, where the people will not forget his many generous acts. He cannot betray them. He must stand by them through thick and think.
Anwar, too, will be able to romp home easily in any constituency he chooses on the strength of his popularity. But the PKR strongman prefers his familiar turf in Permatang Pauh. He, like Najib, employs a similar line of argument: they must not run away from their home ground. It is bad politics. All politicians are well groomed in the crooked ways of politics camouflaged as “strategic” moves.
While Najib and Anwar elected to stay put in their respective fortress, DAP ironman Lim Kit Siang chose to venture out of his safe playground in Ipoh Timor to the far, unknown southern territory of Gelang Patah in Johor. There the crusty warrior hopes to dent the Barisan Nasional shield and create a huge Pakatan Rakyat tidal wave that will undermine the BN redoubt. But “Kit” has carefully picked Gelang Patah for one sole reason: Chinese form the majority of the voters there. His choice is dictated by the demands of his race.
All – Najib, Anwar and Kit Siang – are popular only in the sense that they fight for their respective community. They may harp on national issues to gain national stature and kiss the hands of all and sundry – Chinese, Indians, Malays, others – but in their hearts, they are closely aligned to their ethnic roots. Without Malay support, Najib will suffer a political demise; without Malay backing, Anwar will forever be wandering in the political wilderness; without Chinese prop, Kit Siang will be permanently removed from the national stage.
Najib, Anwar and Kit Siang will be fighting for their political life and each will be pitching hard for support. Najib must bag Pekan, Anwar must roll up Permatang Pauh and Kit Siang must trounce whoever is his heavyweight opponent. But the ultimate prize will be decided by the voters in other constituencies. If Najib enjoys widespread support and trust, his BN horse may gallop to the finishing line, riding on his popularity. Pekan alone cannot deliver Najib the trophy. Anwar can trip the BN horse if only the voters in every constituency see him and his coalition pact in favourable light.
In the end, the contest is all about the popularity of Najib and Anwar. It has assumed a presidential character with voters given only two choices: Najib or Anwar. These two gladiators will be fighting from their safe seats but will their victory be a true test of their popularity? Voters do not elect Najib or Anwar directly to be the Prime Minister. Najib can still be the Prime Minister as the leader of UMNO – and still remain unpopular.