FEB 9 – Someday, historians may well look back on the events in Perak in the past few weeks and see the death today of Pas MP for Bukit Gantang Roslan Shaharom as a tipping point which eventually decides the fortunes of the country’s biggest political players.
For Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN), it is quite possibly the last thing they need.
Fighting public perception that their takeover of the Perak state government last week was immoral, unethical or even unconstitutional, they are looking at being given time to prove they can offer a better administration than the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) alliance.
Having a by-election so soon after the dramatic events of the past few days will be a referendum, of some sort, of how public feels about the continuing political drama and impasse.
A loss will make it that much more difficult, if not impossible, for BN to claim legitimacy in their takeover of Perak. It could also lead to pressure to allow fresh elections. Victory in Bukit Gantang would, conversely, help BN consolidate its position.
Umno members are also now in the final stretch of campaigning for the party’s elections late next month. Already, Umno’s distraction with its own party polls has been blamed for its two consecutive by-election losses in Permatang Pauh and Kuala Terengganu.
Will its machinery be focussed enough on what will surely be a bruising campaign for Bukit Gantang?
There is also the added significance that Osman Jailu, one of the PKR men whose defection last week triggered the fall of the PR government, is an assemblyman for Changkat Jering, which is located within the Bukit Gantang parliamentary constituency.
The takeover in Perak was supposed to shore up Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s position as he prepares to take over as Umno president next month and prime minister soon after that.
Right now, he has his work cut out for him.
Pas will also not be able to contemplate anything less than a convincing victory.
The Islamist party, which has received strong backing from a non-Muslim community turn off by perceived corruption and arrogance in Umno, will need to ensure a victory by an even bigger majority than in 2008.
Last year, Roslan beat Umno’s Datuk Seri Azim Zabidi by just 1,566 votes. A defeat this time, or even a reduced majority, can be turned into a repudiation of the party and the PR alliance’s reaction to Sultan Azlan Shah’s decision to appoint a BN mentri besar to replace Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin.
Nizar, who has not resigned as MB and maintains he is the legitimate chief executive of the state, will be an obvious choice to be a candidate.
For Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, another election campaign will provide him yet another platform to spread his political message.
But he still faces the prospect of more defections from his PKR to BN parties.
He will need this victory, not just to keep this party together, but the fragile PR alliance which has come under a barrage of attacks from BN.
When the Bukit Gantang dust settles, the road ahead should be clear – either BN consolidates its place as the dominant force in Malaysian politics, or PR regain its momentum to power.
Bukit Gantang a referendum for both BN and Pakatan – Leslie Lau