Sunday, November 09, 2008

JOCELINE TAN: Still waiting in the wings


Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has not been able to produce the numbers but he will continue to impress on his supporters that he is still on course for Putrajaya at the PKR congress this month.

IT was one of those ironic moments in politics when Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak arrived in Parliament to unveil the economic stimulus package.

It was his first major outing as Finance Minister I in Parliament, and seated right across him was the former Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Holding all the numbers: Najib is the one with the real numbers after sweeping through the nominations for Umno president. He is seen here arriving in Parliament on Tuesday.

To compound the comparison, one is the Deputy Prime Minister while the other used to be the Deputy Prime Minister.

But most contentious of all is that each of the two men are seen by their respective supporters as THE Prime Minister-in-waiting.

It has been more than two months since Anwar took his place in Parliament as the new Opposition Leader and Permatang Pauh MP. Interest in him has not waned, and he is still lionised by the media.

He has made a marathon speech that is said to have set a record for its length and has presented an alternative budget to the one tabled by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

He has not been as aggressive and confrontational as some thought he would be, and there is a very good reason for that. His supporters regard him as the next Prime Minister, and he needs to be seen as the Premier-in-waiting rather than as an all-out oppositionist.

At a PKR function during the fasting month, guests watched a video titled The 6th First Lady of Malaysia. It was not about Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor. Rather, it was about Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s political journey from devoted wife and mother to political leader.

The majority of PKR members still believe or want to believe that they will be calling the shots in Putrajaya sooner rather than later.

Hoping for the numbers: Anwar’s supporters believe he still has a date with destiny. The PKR leader is seen here leading opposition MPs in a walk-out as Najib was speaking in Parliament.

This, despite Sept 16 having come and gone and that the real Prime Minister-in-waiting is sitting opposite Anwar in Parliament.

There has been so much talk about Anwar “having the numbers” but the numbers have not materialised.

Instead, the numbers are with Najib who has accomplished a near perfect sweep of the 191 Umno divisions and with that, the ticket to the post of Prime Minister.

Najib’s sure-footed ascent in Umno has dealt the PKR leader a bigger blow than the fact that nothing happened on Sept 16.

The speeded-up transition, as many have noted, has brought a new stability and focus to Umno members and helped quell the rebellious mood especially in Sabah.

Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, another aspirant to the premiership, has secured only one nomination.

But during a hush-hush meeting with Anwar a few weeks ago, he had also talked about having the numbers. He had said that he could get up to 70 nominations and that he had the support of the palace and military.

Anwar was right to be sceptical about Tengku Razaleigh’s numbers even though his own have been more talk than reality.

But PKR members still believe that their man, like Barrack Obama, has a date with destiny.

PKR’s leading strategist Saifuddin Nasution insisted: “Nowadays, people don’t ask whether we have the numbers. They ask: When is Datuk Seri Anwar going to take over the Government?”

Party leaders are now talking about a new take-over date in December.

But their credibility among ordinary Malaysians has been somewhat dented after Sept 16 and the new promise of forming the Government has not generated the sort of anticipation or excitement as before.

Premier-in-waiting will be the image he will carry with him to the PKR annual general meeting or congress at the end of the month.

This will be the first congress following the party’s successes at the polls that saw the party rocket from a single parliamentary seat to a total of 31 MPs.

They have assemblymen in the other state governments under the Pakatan Rakyat umbrella while one of their very own, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, is Mentri Besar of Selangor.

Not everyone in the party is happy with Khalid’s maverick style of doing things but he is a respected figure, not the sort to insult civil servants with brooms or offend the sensibilities of other communities.

“We want to keep our success story going and make Selangor a model state,” said Saifuddin.

Saifuddin said this year’s congress at the Melawati Stadium in Selangor will be different.

“We want to celebrate how far PKR has come,” he said.

The congress in Seremban last year had been marked by bickering over party posts and disappointment that Anwar was legally barred from taking over as PKR president.

This year, the most important speech at the congress will be made by Anwar in his capacity as de facto leader or ketua umum as they call him in Bahasa Malaysia.

Even though people may be disappointed that he has not been able to produce the numbers, it cannot be denied that he has brought the party from zero to hero. It has been an amazing journey given the odds that were stacked against them in the run-up to the last general election.

A key segment of Anwar’s speech will have to address the party’s hopes for him to become Prime Minister. More challenging for him is how he can keep their hopes high.

Element of surprise

But Saifuddin has hinted at an “element of surprise”, a sort of bombshell announcement at the congress.

Is it going to be the announcement of Barisan Nasional politicians crossing over?

“Maybe there will be some cross-overs. You’ll have to wait and see,” he said.

It is no secret that Anwar had asked various PAS politicians to woo Tengku Razaleigh over to Pakatan Rakyat while another Kelantan Umno politician, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, was seen having a collegial time at the PKR open house in Titiwangsa.

Are the Kelantan Prince and the Umno rebel going to be part of the surprise? Or is the Sabah promise finally going to bear fruit?

Or is this going to be another Sept 16 that will get everybody all worked up for nothing?

“My lips are sealed for now,” said Saifuddin.