IN OCTOBER last year, Zaid Ibrahim told the media he was taking a six months' break from the PKR. Well, his leave is due to end soon and the timing is just aboutperfect for him to be involved in the Hulu Selangor parliamentary by-election. Nomination is on April 17 while polling day is April 25.
Zaid is touted to be the most suitable candidate for the PKR, which is seeking to defend the seat.
By extension, he would also be the flag-bearer for the Pakatan Rakyat coalition, which also includes the DAP and PAS.
The seat fell vacant following the death of incumbent Dr Zainal Abidin Ahmad on March 25. A former deputy Selangor mentri besar, he had contested as a PKR candidate after leaving Umno in 2005.
Dr Zainal Abidin had won the seat in 2008 with a majority of 198 votes over the Barisan's G Palanivel.
Major task for Zaid
Zaid, a prominent lawyer- turned- politician and former Minister in the Prime Minister's Department in charge of legal affairs and judicial reform does not hold any big post in his party.
However, he has been entrusted with a major task, which is, to put together a common policy for the three parties in the Pakatan alliance.
The parties had agreed to the draft of the '1Pakatan' charter when they assembled at their first convention last December. The media was later told that the group would apply to the Registrar of Societies (RoS) for a formal registration of the coalition.
Their leaders, it is understood, had agreed to an RoS suggestion to add the word 'Malaysia' to the current 'Pakatan Rakyat' name. Thus, the new entity would be known officially as Pakatan Rakyat Malaysia.
Should the RoS approves their application, the new political grouping is likely to make its debut at the next Sarawak state polls, expected earlier than May 2011.
And, possibly, the Sarawak National Party (SNAP) would join the bandwagon to make it a foursome for the coalition in the state.
At the last general election in March 2008, the three peninsula-based parties, despite different political ideologies, had worked on a pact to avoid contesting against each other and to only go for straight fights against the ruling Barisan.
The strategy worked and riding on a crest of the voters' disenchantment against the Barisan it managed to slice the ruling party's two third majority in Parliament as well as wrest control of four state governments – Penang, Selangor, Perak and Kedah – besides retaining its hold on Kelantan.
Perak, however, has since returned to the Barisan following a court ruling that condoned a decision made by the Sultan of Perak that the Pakatan had lost its majority in the state assembly after three legislators crossed over to the ruling party.
Considering his important role in putting together a common political policy for the Pakatan and also the fact that he is the only key person in the PKR (aside president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail) who is neither a Senator nor a wakil rakyat, it is not surprising that his name is being tossed as the next MP in Hulu Selangor.
With the likelihood that the Barisan would again be fielding Palanivel, a former four-term MP and MIC deputy president, the PKR has no choice but to also pit a 'heavyweight' against the ruling party's prospective candidate.
Palanivel, also a former Women, Family and Community Development deputy minister, continues to command much of the 12,000-odd Indian
voters' support in the Hulu Selangor constituency.
Furthermore, the three seats in the constituency - Batang Kali, Hulu Bernam and Kuala Kubu Baru - are all held by Barisan.
Quit as minister
Zaid too had been an MP before. He was the Kota Baru rep for one term until he was dropped from the candidates' list in the March 2008
Nevertheless, he was made a Senator and became a minister in the Cabinet of former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Within days of his appointment, however, Zaid told the Government to openly apologise for its handling of the 1988 judicial crisis, which saw the sacking of then Lord President of the Supreme Court, Salleh Abas, from his seat.
Zaid later surprised his colleagues again when he criticised the arrests of three persons - MP Teresa Kok, blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin and journalist Tan Hoon Cheng - under the Internal Security Act.
On Sept 15, 2008, he resigned from the Cabinet and when Abdullah was about to retire from office about six months later, he urged the Yang
di-Pertuan Agong not to appoint Abdullah's deputy, Najib Abdul Razak as the prime minister.
He argued that Najib had been linked on the internet and by political rivals to the brutal murder of Mongolian beauty Altantuya Shaariibuu.
Zaid also cited an alleged RM400mil commissions reportedly paid by the Defence Ministry while Najib was minister for the procurement of
submarines and pointed out that political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, Najib's friend, was an agent in the deal.
This was after former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad also said that Najib did not shine as a deputy prime minister and stated that Najib carried a lot of baggage into the Prime Minister's job.
But, despite his heroic criticisms against the Barisan administration, Zaid was once also implicated in money politics while in Umno.
He, however, maintained that the findings of Umno's disciplinary tribunal against him was flawed and one of the first things he did when he was made a minister was to ask the then Anti-Corruption Agency to investigate the findings.
He was suspended as Umno member in early December 2008.
Zaid had said when he first joined the PKR in June last year that he does not aspire to assume a leadership role in the party and that he only wants to be a 'facilitator' to bring about the realisation of a strong, credible and united opposition.
The opposition he envisioned is one with a strong leadership, sound common policies and structures that are meaningful alternatives to that of the Barisan.
Pakatan advocates call him a statesman and a great asset to the PKR, whose presence helped in improving the public profile of the party.
Voters will decide Zaid's fate
However, he also has his share of brickbats, with critics labelling him as just an opportunistic politician who was also once an opportunistic businessmen cum lawyer.
Says one critic: "He moves from place to place, from person to person just to pursue his personal ambitions.
Nothing more nothing less.
"This is the person who has milked all sort of businesses from his Umno friends and businessmen in the past.
"Now, he perceives a change in thinking of the electorate for the opposition.
"Can we just put him in a proper perspective? Just forget about him. He is not worth the leader he professes to be."
If he is the "chosen one" to carry the Pakatan's hope in Hulu Selangor, it really does not matter what his fans and foes think. It's the voters who will have the last say. - Malaysian Mirror
SHAH A DADAMEAH is senior editor with the Malaysian Mirror.