Friday, March 05, 2010

Between the devil and deep blue sea lies 'third force'

Come next Monday, it will be exactly two years since the March 8 tsunami which dramatically altered the Malaysian political landscape. The outcome of that elections left jaws agape on both sides of the political divide, while pundits scratched their heads wondering how their hitherto accurate predictions had veered so far off the mark.

In the opposition camp, a sense of alarm crept in when the initial euphoria subsided and the reality sank in that they had now been given the mandate to govern four additional states, apart from the traditional PAS stronghold of Kelantan. DAP had realised its dream by driving out Gerakan and seizing control of Penang, the pearl of the orient. Neigbhouring Kedah also fell while down south, the unimaginable had happened – Selangor, under the rule of the powerful Umno warlord Dr Mohd Khir Toyo, had been vanquished.

But of the five states, it would be Perak that would later hog the limelight following the political coup de'etat in February 2009, subsequent high-profile courtroom battles and the opposition openly refusing to adhere to the wishes of the state monarch.

Pakatan Rakyat, made up of strange bedfellows comprising Islamists and secularists, had also denied the mighty Barisan Nasional a two-third majority in Parliament in the 12th general election, the first deep gash suffered by the ruling front during its half-a-century reign.

Shell-shocked, Umno and BN leaders searched for a scapegoat, and found one in the form of former premier Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi whom they accused of being incompetent and literally sleeping on the job. But soon they conceded that the problems were bigger than one man and the new prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak vowed to set the house in order.

Many however saw this as next to impossible, arguing that the death knell had sounded for the ruling coalition and there would be no stopping Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his army from laying seige on the administrative capital of Putrajaya in the next elections.

When Anwar revealed his Sept 16 'take over plan' with the help of mass defections, the nation was abuzz with excitement. And while BN leaders publicly dismissed this as a gimmick, privately the panic button was hit.

Altough the threat fizzled out as a false alarm, the mere possibility of the 'prodigal son' helming the country left Anwar's once father figure turned arch-nemesis Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad squirming uncomfortably in his chair. The man he had ousted from the corridors of power had returned to haunt him. The octogenarian's former number two had survived a sodomy charge and imprisonment, and had beat all the odds to become opposition leader.

Riddled with infighting and public spats

However, things soon began to change.

Riddled with infighting and public spats, Pakatan Rakyat was fast losing its niche as a ''credible" alternative. On the other hand, Najib, despite being spooked by the spectre of Altantuya Shaariibuu now and then, was seen as pressing all the right buttons.

But the new prime minister too, like his predecessor, is in danger of falling prey to his own spins. Of late, his expensive and expansive "1 Malaysia" campaign was dealt a severe blow when one of his aides (now former aide) purportedly made a series of stinging racist remarks, and even threatened to revoke the citizenship of those who made 'excessive' demands pertainining to mother-tongue education. To make it the irony of all ironies, the aide had been speaking at a "1 Malaysia" seminar.

In the ensuing controversy, which led to the aide resigning after a plethora of police reports were filed, many had asked what is the point of such a campaign to unite the races when the premier's own aides seemed oblivious to it.

While the govenment-controlled media might be abuzz with news of how the opposition coalition is coming apart at its seams, ultimately it is the voters who decide, and given the mood of the last general election, gauging voting trends is now an arduous, if not impossible, task.

As the nation is fixated on the choice between Anwar and Najib, some are looking at the possibility of a third foce, saying 'No' to both the devil and the deep blue sea.

In a bid to explore this issue further, FMT spoke to several academics and politicians.

While those interviewed appeared reluctant to mention names, arguing among others, that it is still too premature, two seasoned politicians however have been touted as possible candidates with the right ingredients to provide Malaysians with a third option. The duo are Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Pakatan's troubleshooter Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.

Both are no strangers to the electorate, with many viewing them as among the most credible and principled leaders. Tengku Razaleigh, an economist and former finance minister, and Zaid, a lawyer and former law minister, have also ruffled feathers in their respective parties with their vocal criticisms. They have not shirked away from speaking their minds whatever the repercussions.

Zaid, a former Umno leader and Kota Bahru MP, was heralded when he chose to resign from his ministerial post after disagreeing with the government's decision to briefly detain three people, including a journalist, opposition MP Teresa Kok and popular blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, under the Internal Security Act in 2008.

Some are of the opinion that these two men possess the leadership and moral qualities to take command of the ship and chart a new course for Malaysia. But only time will tell if this country will witness the birth of a third force.

courtesy of FreeMalaysiaToday

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