Bring­ing it on in Jo­hor

Parti Pribumi turned one year old with a grand cel­e­bra­tion but can its 92-year-old su­per­star help turn around the floun­der­ing for­tunes of Pakatan Hara­pan?

The Star Malaysia - - Focus - Jo­ce­line Tan jo­ce­line@thes­tar.com.my

THE Se­lan­gor Men­tri Be­sar was wait­ing to pay his last re­spects to the late Sul­tan of Kedah when some­one whis­pered to him that Tun Dr Ma­hathir Mo­hamad was in the other hold­ing room in the Is­tana Anak Bukit.

Datuk Seri Azmin Ali made his way there be­cause “I just wanted to say hello”.

It was the first time the two had come face-to-face since that sharp re­tort from Azmin a week ear­lier over PKR’s plan to en­gage PAS in the gen­eral elec­tion.

In a stern voice and with a stoney face he had said: “I wish to re­mind Tun Dr Ma­hathir that Datuk Seri An­war Ibrahim is not only the ke­tua umum (supreme leader) of PKR but also of Pakatan Hara­pan. He has the right to his views and pro­pos­als.”

Azmin was re­act­ing to Dr Ma­hathir’s com­ment that Pakatan would put a stop to the PKR-PAS co­op­er­a­tion. His re­mark was re­ported by ev­ery sin­gle me­dia be­cause the last time he used that kind of tone on the for­mer Premier was when they were still on op­po­site sides of the fence.

All eyes were on them as they stood mak­ing small talk at the royal funeral. Azmin has made a seam­less tran­si­tion from fringe to cen­tre and the only thing amiss about his ap­pear­ance that day was that his black kain samp­ing did not sport the white bor­der that seemed to be part of the dress code for the men.

But the PKR deputy pres­i­dent was a no-show at Parti Pribumi’s first an­niver­sary in Bakri a few days ear­lier. The top-guns of Amanah and DAP were there but the PKR lead­ers were nowhere in sight.

Parti Pribumi put up a good show, turn­ing the con­fer­ence hall into a sea of red. The mood was up­beat and the sig­nal is that they in­tend to play a lead­ing role in Jo­hor in the gen­eral elec­tion.

“We had some teething prob­lems but af­ter one year we felt the mood to face the gen­eral elec­tion,” said Faizal Azumu, the party’s Perak chief,

Dr Ma­hathir was born to be on the big stage and he rel­ished ev­ery bit of the spotlight and adu­la­tion. As Tun Dr Siti Has­mah Mohd Ali picked up a piece of the yel­low pu­lut cake and made as if she could not de­cide whether to feed her hus­band or her son, Dr Ma­hathir play­fully pushed her hand towards Datuk Seri Mukhriz.

The au­di­ence loved the an­tics of the party’s first fam­ily but one could not help but read into the sub­text – papa nudg­ing mama to feed their son while Tan Sri Muhyid­din Yassin looked on from the side.

Muhyid­din is the party pres­i­dent but ev­ery­one knows that Dr Ma­hathir is the “top dog” both in Pakatan as well as Parti Pribumi.

He needs to get out of his se­cond fid­dle role given that his party is pro­ject­ing it­self as the new wadah or repos­i­tory of votes in Jo­hor.

He is the Pakatan’s lead­ing man in Jo­hor. DAP has won all the Chi­nese-dom­i­nant seats there are to win in Jo­hor and any fur­ther in­roads de­pends on cap­tur­ing the Malay seats.

The Pagoh MP has yet to in­di­cate whether he will de­fend the seat or move on to con­test in Muar which has a big­ger Chi­nese elec­torate. But run­ning from Pagoh to a seat with more Chi­nese would make a mock­ery out of their claim of a Malay tsunami sweep­ing them to power.

Muhyid­din has been quite a hit at DAP events in the smaller towns in Jo­hor where many Chi­nese are get­ting a close-up look at the man who used to be their Men­tri Be­sar.

He has learnt to let it all hang out, he is less for­mal, he cracks jokes in col­lo­quial Malay and ex­plains that DAP lead­ers whom he used to re­gard as kooi (devils) are now his friends. He told the crowd at a cof­feeshop ce­ramah that Lim Kit Siang had come to his house for din­ner the pre­vi­ous evening.

Once slammed by DAP for his “Malay first” la­bel, he is now seen as Pakatan’s pass­port to the Malay seats.

“Muhyid­din’s sur­vival hinges on his in­flu­ence in Jo­hor. If he can­not make an im­pact, then it’s over,” said po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor Khaw Veon Szu.

But, said Khaw, the room for Muhyid­din to ma­noeu­vre in Jo­hor is quite lim­ited.

“The state is associated with a man seen as a fu­ture Prime Min­is­ter (Datuk Seri Hisham­mud­din Tun Hus­sein) and it is pub­lic knowl­edge that the Jo­hor palace does not like Ma­hathir,” said Khaw.

Dr Ma­hathir is not an as­set in Jo­hor and Pakatan will have to ride mainly on Muhyid­din to win the state.

There have also been grow­ing calls for Dr Ma­hathir to con­test the gen­eral elec­tion. His age does not seem to de­ter his sup­port­ers and he has played along, telling a news por­tal that Langkawi or Pu­tra­jaya would be his pre­ferred choice.

“There are many voices ask­ing Tun to come back and con­test, it’s im­por­tant that he con­cen­trates on lead­ing the charge on be­half of Pakatan,” said Faizal, who is also the Pakatan chair­man of Perak.

He is 92 and he will not be able to break the record of Maimun Yusof aka Tok Mun from Tereng­ganu who was 94 when she con­tested the last gen­eral elec­tion.

But like Tok Mun, he will become a par­ody of sorts be­cause there is noth­ing charm­ing about a politi­cian who can­not let go.

Like many Chi­nese, Datuk Cheng Lai Hock, pres­i­dent of the Kedah Chi­nese Assem­bly Hall, has been both amused and puz­zled by Dr Ma­hathir’s po­lit­i­cal come­back.

“He is re­spected and he has done his part for the coun­try. It is time to leave pol­i­tics to the younger peo­ple and leave be­hind a good mem­ory for us,” said Cheng.

Dr Ma­hathir’s ap­peal is strong­est in Kedah, his party will have the most trac­tion there. He has a poor im­age in states like Sabah, Ke­lan­tan and Jo­hor.

But in Kedah, it is not Umno but PAS which is stand­ing in his party’s way. PAS has an es­tab­lished pres­ence in the north­ern state.

“If he goes on quar­relling with PAS, he will only alien­ate them. PAS mem­bers have never liked him be­cause he has been fight­ing with PAS all his life,” said Datuk Wan Al­bakri Mohd Nor, an Umno politi­cian from Tereng­ganu.

PAS deputy pres­i­dent Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man re­cently gave Dr Ma­hathir a shelling for dis­miss­ing PAS as a “spoiler” party.

In an open let­ter, Tuan Ibrahim ba­si­cally told the older man not to talk big be­cause PAS has been fight­ing Umno longer than any other party and did not need a one-yearold party lec­tur­ing them on how to fight Umno.

PAS politi­cian Datuk Mustafa Ali said there is ab­so­lutely no more co­op­er­a­tion or un­der­stand­ing with Parti Pribumi. It is for real and his party will take on Dr Ma­hathir’s party in the gen­eral elec­tion.

Mustafa also claimed that Pakatan would not be able to de­feat Barisan Na­sional in the gen­eral elec­tion.

His pre­dic­tion is that Pakatan will win only 75 par­lia­men­tary seats in a best case sce­nario and only 50 seats in a worst case sce­nario. He said PAS could get 20 to 25 par­lia­men­tary seats while Amanah will not win a sin­gle seat.

There are 222 seats in Par­lia­ment and any side needs 112 seats for a ra­zor thin ma­jor­ity.

The two par­ties were shar­ing the same stage at ce­ramah just a few months ago but now they are trad­ing in­sults. Parti Pribumi says that a vote for PAS is a vote for Umno. PAS re­turned fire say­ing a vote for Pakatan is a vote for DAP.

But how far re­ally has Parti Pribumi come af­ter one year? Have they got what it takes to give Umno a run for their money?

Can their ce­ramah crowds trans­late into votes?

What sort of in­roads have they made into the Malay heart­land where Umno and PAS hold sway?

Will they end up like Amanah which be­gan with such high hopes but went down­hill af­ter fail­ing in the Sun­gai Be­sar and Kuala Kangsar by-elec­tions?

And given that the party is sup­posed to de­liver the Malay votes, can they match Umno and PAS in as­sur­ing the Malays about their con­cerns on Is­lam and Malay rights?

“It’s pretty much an untested party. The hype about them is mainly be­cause of the three Ms,” said Khaw.

For in­stance, not many peo­ple are aware that Parti Pribumi has not only been fish­ing for mem­bers from Umno but also from Perkasa.

The party’s Pe­nang chief Marzuki Yahya was the for­mer Perkasa chair­man for Pe­nang. The Se­lan­gor Parti Pribumi chief Abu Bakar Ya­haya was the for­mer Perkasa chief in the state. Me­jar An­nuar Ab­dul Hamid who is the Kedah deputy chief was also a for­mer Perkasa leader.

The big­gest name from Perkasa to join Parti Pribumi was Tan Sri Ab­dul Rashid Ab­dul Rah­man who is now a party vice-pres­i­dent. Pakatan’s con­dem­na­tion of Perkasa’s rightwing Malay pol­i­tics is now a thing of the past.

But there was an over­whelm­ing num­ber of Malays in their 30s and 40s at the party’s an­niver­sary gath­er­ing and that is a good sign even if their chair­man is old enough to be their great grand­fa­ther.

One year on: Pakatan’s ‘top dog’ is en­joy­ing his new lease of life on the fast lane of pol­i­tics as his party marks its first an­niver­sary in Muar.

Faizal: Af­ter one year, we feel the mood to face the gen­eral elec­tion.

Wan Al­bakri: Op­po­si­tion has been weak­ened with­out PAS.

Marzuki: For­mer Perkasa chief is Parti Pribumi chief of Pe­nang.

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