Sunday, June 22, 2008

Anwar keeps 'em guessing

Sunday June 22, 2008

Anwar keeps 'em guessing


Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim does not really have the numbers and his plans to form the next government are tenuous at best but he has been making his Barisan Nasional opponents dance like cats on a hot tin roof.

IT has been like trying to squeeze blood from a stone getting the Pakatan Rakyat politicians to talk about their top-secret meeting in Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s house last week.

One of them jokingly called it a meeting of the “government in waiting.”

The inner circle of about a dozen leaders who gathered at Anwar’s Segambut bungalow had been told to seal their lips about the discussion and some were so restrained they even refused to divulge the venue.

Datuk Kamaruddin Jaafar: 'Anwar is more interested in forming the Government than contesting in a by-election'

Apparently, Anwar had briefed them about his plans to win over Barisan Nasional MPs and how “more and more of them were calling him to talk.”

But they were not told about the SAPP’s scheme of a no-confidence vote against the Prime Minister.

Anwar has been so secretive about his Sabah plans that when the SAPP dropped its bombshell, the Pakatan Rakyat partners were as stunned as those in the Barisan.

Speculation that Barisan MPs would defect to the Pakatan Rakyat has been rife for more than a month but no one had jumped yet and Anwar’s credibility was beginning to come under question.

As such, the SAPP plot, which has Anwar’s signature all over it, has given him a much-needed boost.

There is also the likelihood of SAPP being out of the ruling coalition in the weeks ahead and although they have only two MPs it would cause damage if they do jump.

“It’s a masterstroke that sent shock waves all over and there will be a momentum,” said DAP strategist and Bukit Bendera MP Liew Chin Tong.

A number of them came away from the hush-hush meeting impressed, even convinced that they were indeed the government in waiting. Others, especially the more seasoned ones, were sceptical. They had, as the Chinese say, eaten more salt than rice, meaning they were not gullible.

At the hush-hush meeting, he also claimed to have the numbers but had to keep the names confidential to protect the would-be defectors.

As such, he said, the less he revealed the better the chances of his plans succeeding.

But it is clear by now that he does not really have the numbers otherwise he would not still be waiting to be the Prime Minister.

It is possible that he had, at one time, up to about 17 Sabah MPs on his list but the dynamics has shifted somewhat since the overtures made to the Sabah people by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Anwar is now banking on the SAPP move as a catalyst that could lead to a snowball effect.

“He has to deliver some people in the next one or two months. Forming the government by Sept 16 may not happen but he has to effect some crossovers to keep his credibility intact,” said Liew.

And as some from Anwar’s coalition pointed out, he would not want to grab power to form an even weaker federal government than the one headed by Abdullah.

The Barisan has 140 seats to Pakatan Rakyat’s 82 seats in Parliament, giving the former a clear majority of 58 seats.

If Anwar were to get the 30 MPs he has been talking about, he would be forming the government with a majority of merely two seats. Who in his right mind would want to hop over to an even weaker coalition?

And as Umno treasurer Datuk Azim Zabidi pointed out: “Defections can happen both ways, you know.”

Besides, Sabah has only 25 MPs of whom three are ministers and four are deputy ministers. Assuming that those holding government posts are unlikely to hop, that would leave only 18 MPs for Anwar to poach.

Given that, Anwar would still have to rely largely on crossovers from MPs on the peninsula side and that is where his problem lies.

Loyalties rooted
Peninsular politics is rather different from that in Sabah. Parties are more established and loyalties more rooted. Party hopping does happen but those who hop lose respect and are treated with disdain. He would have an even more uphill task in the peninsula.

Tengku Razaleigh: Overtures were made to the Kelantan royal but he was not interested.

There has been talk that overtures were made to royal politician Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah who is also Gua Musang MP.

Having a few blue-blooded MPs would give Pakatan Rakyat the Malay legitimacy that it needs and, besides, everyone knows how Tengku Razaleigh feels about Abdullah.

Unfortunately, Tengku Razaleigh dislikes Anwar even more than Abdullah so the courtship did not proceed beyond the first date.

In the meantime, Anwar has been playing games with the media. The flurry over his comment last week that MCA parliamentarians including a minister would be joining him was apparently one of those games.

He had been in Penang for a string of events, one of which was to launch the service centre of his political secretary Sim Tze Tzin, a former Silicon Valley engineer who is now Pantai Jerejak assemblyman.

There, reporters had asked the inevitable question: Which parties and MPs was he looking at? He grinned playfully and rattled off a string of parties – MCA, MIC, Gerakan and a few others from Sabah.

When asked if he was serious about the MCA, he said with an even bigger grin that, yes, he was very serious and it may even involve a minister.

It was not very responsible of him but he was probably bored with having to tackle the same questions wherever he went and which he had no intention of answering.

As those who have covered Anwar in his heyday in government, he can be helpful and informative but he has also been known to joke and flirt his way out of answering questions when not in the mood.

Unfortunately, the media misread his cheeky irony that day, hence, the storm of denials from MCA leaders.

Even his persistent reference to Kuala Kangsar as a possible by-election choice is aimed at needling his old antagonist and Wanita Umno chief Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz who is in danger of losing her Kuala Kangsar seat because two of her three nomination forms were not signed on nomination day.

Anwar is aware that Perak Malays can be rather parochial, and he would probably prefer a more urban and neutral seat in Kuala Lumpur or Selangor.

His long-time friend and PAS secretary general Datuk Kamaruddin Jaafar said: “A by-election is not his top priority right now. He is more interested in forming the government.”

Despite his role in the storm blowing in from Sabah, Anwar’s prospects of forming the federal government are still rather tenuous given the way the numbers are stacked against him.

His other problem is that his coalition lacks a strong Malay component. He desperately needs some key Malay figures, preferably from Umno, to join him.

But overall, he has certainly succeeded in making Barisan leaders dance like cats on a hot tin roof and most of all, in undermining the already unstable leadership of Abdullah.

Anwar and his No. 1 foe Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad share a common aim in wanting to effect a change of Prime Minister. But Dr Mahathir’s methods are beginning to look rather dated, like Molotov cocktails compared to Anwar’s smart bombs.

And while Abdullah’s ship is sailing in choppy seas, Anwar has defied the odds to emerge as a pivotal figure in national politics.

“Most people do not realise that Anwar did not stop campaigning after March 8. His focus and energy has been on capturing the federal government,” said Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian.

Everyone, said Ibrahim, will be watching to see what he will pull out of his hat next.

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