THE victory by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in Permatang Pauh has triggered more discussion concerning the Malaysian political landscape. His entry into Parliament tomorrow will no doubt see more debate and verbal clashes between the Opposition and the Barisan Nasional.
Many Umno insiders knew that it was an uphill battle to dislodge Anwar from his traditional stronghold. At best, they confided before yesterday's by-election, the idea was to reduce Anwar's majority. And they failed to do even that, let alone 'bury' him politically. Anwar polled 31,195 votes brushing aside BN's Datuk Arif Shah Omar Shah who polled 15,524 votes.
In March, Anwar's wife, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan ismail, won with a majority of 13,388. Anwar's bigger margin tell a different story by itself, one that has many interpretations and should be a matter of serious study by Umno and the whole BN leadership.
A few days before the by-election, a lawyer friend called from Penang, giving his take on Permatang Pauh. He was a card-carrying member of one of the bigger BN components. His observation was simple and straight-forward. "BN will lose and Anwar's majority will increase," that was his forecast.
When asked why, he said: "The BN continue to be on a state of denial. They can no longer read the signal on the ground. They also fail to see the writing on the wall. Anwar's supporters are not going to be easily swayed by whatever tactics used by Umno and the BN. Call it blind faith or whatever, they will continue to root for their man."
I also happen to bump into a former minister from another BN component. Inevitably, the subject of Permatang Pauh came up. His take was no different from the lawyer's: "UMNO and the BN have not broken new grounds after March 8. They continue to use old tactics in Permatang Pauh, tactics which are no longer applicable in the present situation.
"After March 8, things have changed. And the changes are not small. They hit at the core of the BN and Umno, and the leaders have not been able to bite the bullet and take real measures to repair the damages. There's plenty of talk. No action though. There's plenty of jostling within the party, and this will cost the ruling coalition even more," the former Cabinet member said.
As for yesterday's result, which the major newspapers reported on the front page though with a rather subdued tone, the question that is now being asked is this: "Will Anwar be the new PM on Sept 16, as he had said that he has several BN MPs waiting to jump ship and join him at Pakatan Rakyat?"
This is no longer a straight-forward question to answer. Yesterday's by-election was not an ordinary one. The BN had pull all the stops in their campaign. Even BN chairman and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took to the rostrum several times. It's his state after all, and he must be seen to make an attempt to win back one seat.
The BN's director of operations was Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak. The combination of Pak Lah and Najib lent a different dimension to the campaigning in Permatang Pauh. And the big presence of local and foreign media representatives gave the by-election the kind of hype whose impact would have consequences far beyond the constituent's boundary.
Anyone who was someone was in Permatang Pauh. Quite a number went on the campaign rounds because they cannot afford not to be seen not helping the party, what with the UMNO elections scheduled in late December this year. Some of them knew that Permatang Pauh was a lost cause, but they must "show face" if they want to win votes in December.
Another question asked was - is Anwar really that strong and popular or is Pak Lah and Najib no longer able to command voters' confidence and support? Was the result a show of confidence on Anwar and PKR or a loss of faith on Pak Lah/Najib and the BN? I'm sure the losers will also lose some sleep as they ponder, privately and in groups, the fate of their party following the defeat.
I won't be surprised if the losing party starts pointing fingers and apportioning blame. This is not new. The aftermath of the by-election may yet result in a further loss of confidence on the ruling coalition, and may even creep into the Umno election later this year. Why should it be so, you may ask.
Well, for one thing. the Umno election is not just a contest among aspirants. It is also a venue for the contestants to try and advance their beliefs and formula as to how the party should move ahead. Should it be run the way it is, or should it start seriously looking for new ways and new faces. The Parmatang Pauh battle ground could yield some pointers as to how Umno and the BN may want to re-brand itself.
The sound bytes must also be studied and analysed. Some of the ones heard on TV and read in the print media suggest that the BN's arrogant ways is alive and well. And this creates the perception that Umno and the BN are clueless as to what is happening around them.
In times of battle, I can understand the need to beat up the war drums. But let's make sensible statements, ones that the voters like to hear and understand. Words must show care, and deeds must follow in earnest.
Branding Anwar as irrelevant was not the wisest thing to utter; issuing a veil threat that the 15 sen reduction in fuel price would be all the rakyet gets if they fail to show appreciation is an utterance guaranteed to invite rejection. Permatang Pauh is a testimony to that.