October 22, 2012
Words and Images–Anwar’s Potent Combination
by Terence Netto@http://www.malaysiakini.com
COMMENT: If it’s true that an image is worth a thousand words, then Anwar Ibrahim’s tethering of appropriate images to arresting words on the campaign trail these days must rank as a mix more potent than were the searing ‘black eye’ still from the 10th, and the sensational Lingam tape of the 12th general elections, by themselves images of seismic force in those particular campaigns.
In an image-saturated age, it must come as no surprise that the Bee Gees’ haunting rendition of 1968 that “It’s only words and words are all I have to take your heart away” is not going to be enough to take the Piped Piper of political reform in Malaysia across the finishing line of the 13th general election in pole position.
It has to be electioneering of not just verbal eloquence – of which he is the savviest exponent among his peers – but also of vivid imagery, guaranteed by a career singular in the way it had drawn the melodramatic ire of adversaries to drive the Pakatan Rakyat supremo to the top of the greasy pole.
The potency of this new mix in the arsenal of the opposition leader can be gauged from the reaction of a large crowd at the Sutera Mall in Skudai, Johor Baru, on Saturday night, where it was displayed to good effect.
Anwar was trying to get the message across that the coalition he leads had not just the content but also the capability to save the country from the mess that UMNO-BN has inflicted on it.
“They lob anything they can grab at us but when you challenge them to explain themselves and to debate the point they are trying to make, they back off,” said the PKR adviser.
“Just watch this from a recent session in Parliament,” said Anwar, as campaign aides projected on to huge video screens set up to the left and right of the stage from which he was speaking. This was footage from a speech he had made in the chamber recently, during which he was interrupted by jeers of “3 billion, 3 billion” from BN backbenchers.
The footage showed Anwar reacting to the raillery by informing the Parliament speaker he would sit down to give way to his barrackers to hold forth on the subject of their derision.
Ostensibly, the “3 billion” was a reference to an accusation hurled at Anwar during the height of the financial crisis in 1998-99 that followed his sacking from party and government.
He had been accused by a top Bank Negara officer of having, as Finance Minister, salted away RM3 billion in bank accounts locally and abroad. Anwar denied the accusation and, at one subsequent time, the same officer was on record as having renounced the accusation.
The matter was recently resuscitated by the UMNO-owned press and the party’s backbenchers who raised the derisive chant in Parliament when Anwar rose to speak on the Budget.
Winds of change being felt
In mid-speech, Anwar stopped and said he would sit to make way for any among the jeering throng to substantiate their allegations. There were no takers. The jeering abruptly waned and the speaker importuned Anwar to resume his speech.
Anwar’s point about the inanity of BN parliamentarians and the bankruptcy of the government they prop up could not have had a more graphic exposition.
Telling the crowd at Skudai that the winds of change that had swept large swaths of the country, except Borneo and Johor, at the last general election in 2008 were now being felt in Sabah, he cued his aides to project images of the crowds he drew on a trip to Sabah a week ago.
The screens lit up with panoramic views of the three stops in which overflow crowds turned up to listen to him.
There was a palpable intake of breath as the gathering at Skudai imbibed what the pictorial evidence of crowd response to Anwar’s recent tour of Sabah imported.
When he then drove home the point that UMNO-BN’s “fixed deposit” of support it had often garnered from Sabah, Sarawak and Johor was in for severe buffeting at the upcoming polls, the crowd visibly thrilled to his hypothesis.
“We expect to win a third of the parliamentary seats in Johor,” said Anwar, to shouts from the crowd that suggested his projections were not unrealistic.
Johor, a hitherto invulnerable UMNO-BN bastion, has 26 federal seats, of which only one was won by the opposition at the last general election (Bakri, by DAP).
Since then a swarm of resentments, ranging from the corporatisation of Felda and issues arising from the appropriation of land, fishing and burial grounds for the huge Petronas oil and gas project being planned for Pengerang in Johor, has roiled the feelings of Johoreans.
Popular discontent that has swirled over these controversies is thought to have eroded support for BN in its frontline state.
Large attendances at Pakatan-organised gatherings in Johor in past months are regarded as confirmation that attrition in support for BN has indeed occurred.
This has prompted Pakatan’s drum major to mix oratory with imagery to put the skids under UMNO-BN ahead of the 13th general election.