Post-Mortem Pilihan Raya Kecil Manek Urai

Manek Urai — The many implications

Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad is a member of the PAS central working committee and MP of Kuala Selangor.

JULY 20 — The recently-concluded Manek Urai by-election provides me the opportunity to again say it to all that the New Politics is here to stay. While still in its infancy, the New Politics has consistently presented itself to have almost a life and a momentum of its own.

Recognising and better still mastering it immensely enables political practitioners and parties to derive huge electoral benefits from it. Denying and worse still remaining oblivious of its existence subjects political practitioners and parties to its wrath and fury.

Manek Urai despite being remotely rural and nothing close to being an “enlightened constituency and with informed voters”, supposedly the genesis of the New Politics, is a testimony to my above assertion.

Will Pakatan, now largely recognised as the “government in waiting” propelling its way to Putrajaya, suffer the fate of a still-birth for failing to nurture and leverage on the New Politics?

Will Umno/BN, now widely perceived as suffering the pangs of an excruciating terminal cancer, reinvent itself by virtue of its willingness to embrace nay foster the demands of the New Politics?

Again Manek Urai may not be the best constituency to illustrate my thesis. It is not the typical mixed-seat constituency, reflective of the real 60-40 demographic make-up of a truly plural Malaysia. If anything it is aptly a Malay seat in the Malay belt with 99 per cent Malay-Muslim voters.

Be that as it may, this piece argues that if PAS and its Pakatan coalition front choose to remain in denial, we do it at our own peril.

Firstly, the writer is willing to accept that as in all by-elections, PAS and Pakatan have to take on the entire firepower of the BN machinery. But as massive and as gargantuan a task it may be, that has always been the case anyway in all by-elections. Voters expect huge monetary handouts and goodies of all kinds to descend on to the “war zone”, depending on how desperate Umno/BN wants to win the seat.

Hence the argument of money changing hands alone may not suffice to explain the razor-thin majority of a meagre 65 votes won by the PAS candidate from a majority of 1,352 only 16 months ago. Now that they have got the seat back, it’s time for PAS and Pakatan to come to terms with the stark reality of Manek Urai and beyond.

The New Politics demands that political players understand the needs, demands and expectations of voters. With both core voters of Umno and PAS almost cast in stone and split equally, the contending parties should make no mistake that their best bet were the fence-sitter and the young voters. Incidentally these are the real stake-holders of all electoral contests of the future. In Manek Urai they are only Malays. Elsewhere they could also be Chinese, Indians, Kadazans, Muruts, Ibans or Dusuns. They indeed, alongside the non-partisan civil-society actors, both passive and active, are the harbingers of the New Politics. Make no mistake in that! They are neither partisan nor are beholden to any political parties and coalition fronts. They have their interest and the nation’s at heart.

The painful question to answer retrospectively is “were we oblivious of their expectations”? Let’s look at the issue of candidacy. While Abe Uji, the now elected representative of PAS, is said to be almost alike to the late Pak Wae Su in so many ways, little did we realise that the votes that the latter used to garner from even the other divide (i.e. BN) were personal to holder and were not transferable.

There was hardly anything exceptional and “sexy” to the Gen-Y about the PAS candidate. PAS hasn’t thought through in offering anything concrete and solid to them. More importantly perhaps is to respond to their quest for employment opportunities in the state.

PAS’s audacious claim that the younger voters were theirs and that 1,300 were coming home to vote was perhaps misplaced.

PAS openly admitted that it only required 800 votes from them to win handsomely. Such claims were rampant and oft-repeated. Perhaps PAS didn’t have much of a choice by way of candidate but not hinging one’s offer and policy articulation with the end target in mind smacks of Old Politics. This is far removed from the knowledge-based New Politics. That mistake shouldn’t recur in the next GE.

PAS has evidently misread the situation. A closer examination of the score sheet revealed that PAS took 50.4 per cent (2,902) of the young voters, while Umno 49.6 per cent. (2,864). The young voters formed 47.8 per cent of the entire voters in the electoral roll.

Umno, another un-savvy player of the New Politics, wasted no time in mooting the notion and blowing its trumpets that the younger generation is back with them. True? Yes and no. Yes, in the case of Manek Urai. But no certainty that it is sustainable. Judging from events unfolding lately, the latest being the debacle of the MACC with the death of a member of their Gen-Y, it could only spell further doom for Umno and the BN.

PAS has to contend that it lost in five of the nine polling stations. Of the four that PAS won and sufficient to cross-subsidise for the deficits in the other five, they were all PAS strongholds dating back to time immemorial as far back as Datuk Asri Muda’s leadership. PAS has evidently lost significant ground in the votes that matter i.e. the fence-sitters that formed 27.6 per cent of the voters. That will really be a bad omen for PAS and the Pakatan if this is to be the trend of future contests.

Did they succumb to the appetising offer of a new bridge? Could they have been tactical in giving their votes to the BN so as to put it in a spot to deliver its promise?

Or was it simply a case of the voters giving PAS a knock on its head, notwithstanding all its valid excuses of being marginalised by the federal government, for failing to deliver meaningful basic amenities commensurate with quality of life required by all?

PAS could no longer deflect all blame to its political nemesis in the era of the New Politics. PAS must buck up and strengthen its support by humbly admitting its shortcomings and quickly deliver all it can. PAS’s religious and moral credentials are unchallengeable, but with its delivery on the physical aspect of development, it will be a death kiss to Umno and the BN.

Will PAS take heed of this admonition of the New Politics of fulfilling the demands and expectation of the rightful owners of democracy i.e. the rakyat and the voters?

It will also be critical to note how PAS and its Pakatan component parties have blissfully shot at each others’ foot, and both feet sometimes. Intra-party squabbling or infighting is no less acute and caustic as to instil a sense of despondency and disdain on the part of Pakatan well-wishers.

PAS particularly has yet to knock the final nail into the coffin of the unity government proposal and send it straight to the grave. PKR has also to learn how to manage dissent amicably within the party. While DAP may be slightly better off in terms of party infighting, the state government of Penang may require a more concerted and collective Pakatan response in addressing some of the state government’s problems.

That may not be pertinent to only Penang but it could very well be said for all states under Pakatan, especially if Pakatan is serious of taking over Putrajaya come the next general election. There has been a clear absence of policy advocacy in countering the many policy prescriptions of the Najib administration. Najib’s 1 Malaysia has neither been intellectually rebutted nor politically responded save in our usual oppositional rhetorics. Najib’s recent penchant for liberalisation equally awaits Pakatan’s policy responses. To the more discerning voters and actors of the New Politics, that is still conspicuously missing.

Manek Urai may have given some comfort to both PAS and Umno for the time being. But none can deny the looming contests that await them. The ability to understand the dynamics of change and master its changing realities and demands seem prerequisites to attaining success in future competitions.

That’s the crux of the New Politics. Whether it be Pakatan or back to Umno/BN come the next GE, the greatest beneficiary must always remain the rakyat and the voters. That will truly be the New Politics when the people-cum-voters become the real Boss of Democracy!

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