The change in government in Perak carries with it great implications for a long list of actors on both sides.
The Pakatan Rakyat government of Datuk Seri Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin has been replaced by the Barisan Nasional coalition following controversial defections that left the state assembly with 28 on each side, and with three independents declaring support for the BN.
There has definitely been a shift in power and a realignment of forces has certainly taken place. However, what we are witnessing is far from being an end game of any kind. The game goes on. Indeed, it is not even clear who the real winners actually are. A lot depends on the time frame one chooses to use.
In the short term, Premier-in-waiting Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak certainly did gain an advantage — he did manage to outsmart the Pakatan Rakyat state government. He displayed to Umno that he does have leadership qualities, and that he has able advisers.
The Perak crisis undoubtedly improved Najib’s stature just in time for the Umno elections next month, when he is to become party president, and therefore Prime Minister of the country.
But since his claim to the presidency is in no doubt, the practical advantage of his success in felling the PR government in Perak lies more in bolstering support for candidates he favours for other positions in the party than anything else.
One other person keeping an eye on the party elections is Khairy Jamaluddin, the son-in-law of Prime Minister Abdullah Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Khairy is one of the three candidates trying to become the head of Umno Youth. After the trouncing that Umno received in last year’s general election, Khairy had been trying to reinvent himself as a closet liberal on the verge of coming out.
Khairy grasped the opportunity offered by the Perak crisis to defend a purported challenge to the Perak royal house, and called for Nizar to be expelled from Perak. This return to hardline methods undid much of the hard work Khairy had been putting into improving his image in the eyes of the general public.
PR’s anger at losing a government caused leading members of the coalition such as Nizar and Karpal Singh, a MP and a veteran of the DAP, to express dissatisfaction at Sultan Azlan Shah. Karpal went so far as to threaten to sue the monarch.
The popularity that the Perak sovereign had enjoyed before the crisis dropped sharply after he refused to dissolve the state assembly at Nizar’s request but instead granted the BN — which lost the state in last year’s elections — to build a new government based on support from PR defectors.
The outraged Karpal had also called for opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to take responsibility for PR’s defeat and resign. DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng had immediately reprimanded Karpal and advised him to use internal channels for expressing his dissatisfaction. Karpal is under pressure from all sides to retrace his steps.
HIGH PRICE OF VICTORY
Anwar is being given much of the blame for the crisis, seeing how he was the one who had been, since March 8 last year, attempting to engineer defections from the BN in order to gain federal power. Pressure on him to regain the initiative in the ongoing battle with Najib is also mounting. Two upcoming by-elections will provide Anwar with that chance.
In the long run though, the victors may have to pay a high price for the Perak “coup”.
What the four defectors in this Shakespearean drama will actually gain is not clear in any way. Aside from whatever might have been promised them by the BN, their political future looks very bleak indeed.
The two PR-defecting assemblymen were, and are, facing corruption charges. The BN offer for them to switch sides promised them some respite. But as with Datuk Nasaruddin Hashim, the BN defector who triggered the drama on Jan 26 and who re-defected 10 days later, the duo cannot expect a long career in politics.
DAP’s Hee Jit Foong’s decision to fell the government — whether done for monetary gains, for position or to spite her party — has made her a hated person in her constituency, and it is a mystery how she imagines to continue being in the public eye after her defection.
The lesson that the PR has to learn from this is that it cannot hope to achieve stable and good governance in the long run if incompetence and a lack of commitment continue to riddle its ranks.
Many of its state assemblymen gained positions beyond their ability to manage following the March 8 voter revolt. The PR will have to take on the uncomfortable task of dismissing inept loyalists and replacing them with new talents in some graceful fashion.
It will also have to imagine a life after Anwar. To do that, it has to form coalitional institutions to keep dialogue and understanding alive among its members.
As for the BN, the price that it will have to pay will not be small. Further polarisation has now taken place, not least among Perakians, and much anger has been stirred up against Najib’s methods. This will make it practically impossible for non-Malay BN parties in the north to campaign in any effective fashion in coming elections.
The Perak crisis also reminds Malaysians that the war between the coalitions will continue for a long time to come, and where the peninsula is concerned, it will be fought in the electoral frontline states of not only Perak, but also Kedah and Negri Sembilan.
Barisan Nasional may pay a high price for Perak power grab