Sunday June 24, 2012
Talk of honey and poison
Insight By Joceline Tan
The string of accusations against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has affected his image and he is no longer lionised at Pakatan Rakyat events as the next Prime Minister. But he has stepped up the pace in his ceramah sessions which have been jazzed up with screen graphics and music.
A SIZEABLE group of people had turned up at the mosque in Kelana Jaya for a talk by a well-known Islamic jurist from South Africa, Maulana Ehsan Hendrick.
Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was among them but he left shortly after Sheikh Hendrick, as the speaker is known, started speaking. Anwar had an appointment to do some talking of his own in another part of Selangor.
Anwar’s ceramah circuit has intensified in the last couple of months. He is out on the road several nights a week and sometimes at two places in a single evening. Pakatan Rakyat leaders have been predicting early elections since last year and politicians like Anwar have worn themselves thin trying to keep the pace.
PKR ceramah in key spots have acquired a new jazzed-up look of late. At a ceramah in Pandan recently, pictures and other graphics were projected onto a huge screen as Anwar entertained the crowd.
Anwar looked good on the ceramah stage considering that he will be 65 in August. The eye bags have grown more obvious but he has lost the slight belly that was a heated subject of discussion during the sex video episode. His hair is carefully combed to cover the balding spot on the back of his head and he has taken to a casual chic style of dressing.
No one who watched him moving from one end of the stage to the other as he spoke into a hand-held microphone would believe that this man has a problematic back.
The PKR de facto leader likes to portray himself as some sort of internationalist and as he spoke of his meetings with well-known Muslim personalities abroad, photographs of him with those figures flashed on the screen behind him. There were pictures of him with some Saudi prince as well as with Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal.
He boasted of how the former solicitor-general Datuk Mohd Yusof Zainal Abiden, his prosecutor in the second sodomy trial, had phoned him, offering to defend him against charges connected to the Bersih street protest. The turnaround made news but it did not surprise many people; that is what lawyers are like and that is why they make such natural politicians.
He spoke of how the Islamic thinker Yusof Qardawi had kissed him and told him that “God-willing, you will be Prime Minister of Malaysia”.
It must be a huge consolation that someone as notable as Qardawi still believes he is Prime Minister material because back home, perceptions about him are rather varied.
He is no longer lionised at Pakatan Rakyat events as the next Prime Minister of Malaysia although when pressed, Pakatan leaders still say that, yes, he is still the candidate.
Or as lawyer and politician Datuk Zaid Ibrahim put it: “One has to accept that there are not that many choices in Pakatan. It is difficult for DAP whereas PAS is still far from the mainstream choice. Given that, I would not disqualify him as the only one who is acceptable. Whatever they say about him, the Opposition still needs him; one has to live with that.”
But as everyone knows, Pakatan’s big winner in the general election will be the DAP. If Anwar wants to be Prime Minister, PKR has to win more seats than PAS, otherwise we might be looking at Prime Minister Datuk Seri Hadi Awang.
Anwar’s credibility has dipped after a series of controversies. There have been the Sept 16 fiasco, the sodomy trial, the subsequent acquittal that was as controversial as the trial, the sex video and all those old scandals of the past being dredged up.
The latest allegation paints him as the “three billion ringgit man”, alleging that during the time when he was Deputy Prime Minister, he had a mind-boggling RM3bil held in some 20 master accounts. A string of big names are allegedly implicated and they include a tycoon with media and property interests, a former diplomat, a well-known intellectual, a former newspaper editor and several think tanks.
He is apparently quite cheesed off by the “three billion ringgit man” thing and has dismissed it as tiada lagi modal, implying that the other side has run out of capital to use against him.
But Anwar has been like one of those non-stick pans. He is such a smooth talker, a maestro at deflecting issues, and the allegations seem to slide off.
“None of those issues have been adequately answered. He has said that is not my stomach and my nose but where’s the Omega watch or the tweets he said he would show us? These issues have never been resolved but Anwar is familiar with how easily people forget. He sweeps things under the carpet and comes up with new things to grab attention,” said a Putrajaya official.
While the allegations do not seem to stick, the pan has grown more greasy and grubby. The end result is that his image is not like what it was in 2008. The days when he could walk on water have passed.
“He is no longer seen as the ground-changing leader or as someone who is an architect for the future. He has been damaged by too many incidents and accusations,” said author and publisher Dr Neil Khor.
Anwar was in court again last month, this time to face charges that he and PKR deputy president Azmin Ali had allegedly violated a court order surrounding Dataran Merdeka during the Bersih protest and that they had incited others to bring down the police barricades.
The outcome of the Bersih rally has dented him as much as it has Bersih chairman Datuk S. Ambiga. It is said that Anwar and Ambiga have gone from BFF (best friends forever) to FBF (former best friends). Things between them have not been cosy and they have not appeared together for some time now.
It was tragic how the message of fair and clean elections was lost in the chaos. There were scenes of the police bashing civilians and civilians attacking the police but none was as dramatic as that of demonstrators smashing up a police car.
None of the Pakatan leaders nor the Bersih organisers have referred to this but the totally wrecked police car has been the single-most damaging image from the rally. The impact has been greatest on the fence-sitters, the group that both sides need to win over to do well.
“This is not the path that moderate Malaysians want to go down. Somewhere between Bersih 2.0 and Bersih 3.0, the campaign for clean and fair elections began to look like an attempt to bring down the government of the day,” said Yusri Mohamed, president of the Islamic and Strategic Studies Institute.
It is quite ironic that the Bersih protest has become more bane than boon for the Pakatan politicians. It has been all too easy for Anwar’s detractors to connect what went wrong at the rally to him given his history of street politics.
Moreover, Anwar has not received endorsement from those who used to be his advocates. The Wall Street Journal had questioned his motives for taking to the streets and asked “whether Malaysians are best served by the opposition’s confrontational tactics”.
An editorial in The Economist said the violence that erupted during the protest had played in the Government hands, tarnished Bersih’s push for democratic reforms and cost the movement its moral high ground. The Economist concluded that “Najib emerges from this year’s fracas with his reformist credentials essentially intact”.
The stand taken by these two publications basically shows that Najib’s efforts at democratic reform have been recognised abroad.
What irks Anwar most is that the international community is starting to see Najib as a reform-minded leader. He does not like it that democratic reforms are no longer his exclusive domain.
Anwar has been pretty riled up by the endless allegations levelled at him by his political detractors. During the Pandan ceramah, he had said, “Mari, kami debat!” (Come, let’s debate) as pictures of him and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak popped up on the screen with the heading “Debat Perdana” and with a big red question mark over the images.
It was Anwar’s way of saying that he is on par with Najib, hence he is the only one who can take on Najib in a national debate.
But seriously, why would Najib want to debate with Anwar? The Prime Minister does not need a debate to show that he knows his job. After three years in the hot seat, his report card as Prime Minister speaks for itself.
The trouble with many Pakatan leaders is that they think that running a government is as easy as talking at a ceremah.
Najib had a shaky start when he took over from Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. But he has shown that he is a credible and serious leader who wants to bridge the old and new politics.
“Anwar started off on his renewed political drive to be PM in Pak Lah’s time. He painted himself as the more viable alternative. But when Najib came along, that was when people started to compare who was more capable. Over time, people can see that Najib works hard and has responded to what the rakyat wants,” said the above Putrajaya official.
Anwar has charisma, the gift of the gab and an impressive network of friends abroad. But time tells, as they say, and those who have been watching the two rivals over the last few years are seeing who has more depth, focus and ability to do the job.
What Anwar had hoped for was an early general election. The long wait has exposed the inconsistencies of Pakatan politicians and fuelled the infighting between rival camps in Selangor.
As one PKR insider said: “The delay is causing self-destruction in the party.”
The Opposition Leader’s main advantage is that the general populace out there is still disenchanted with Umno. He has been riding on the tagline of ABU (Anything but Umno). His opponents, on the other hand, have come up with a counter tagline – ABAI or Anything but Anwar Ibrahim.
This is Anwar’s last political tango and he is giving it his all. If he does not make it this time, it is finito for him because he will be 70 by the time the next election rolls around.
He has taken to ending his ceramah these days with an old Indonesian pop hit Madu dan Racun (Honey and poison). When he sings “Madu di tangan kanan mu (Honey in your right hand)” the crowd shouts “Pakatan!” and when he goes “Racun, di tangan kiri mu (Poison in your left hand),” the crowd calls out “BN!”
But the general election is much more complex than choosing between honey and poison – because one man’s meat is another man’s poison.
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