DAP and PAS ready for war, Anwar is missing

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The spectre of a looming GE13 turned 2012 into a year of focus as Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat returned to form, to the former’s joy and the latter’s chagrin.

Najib is emerging from this year resurgent and reform-minded, while a diminished Anwar is beset by headaches inside the DAP, inside PAS, and inside PKR.

A year that began with a feuding but still nominally unified Pakatan is ending with a feuding and perhaps irretrievably fractured Opposition.

A year that began with talk of internal battles in Umno endangering Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s chance to turn out a win at GE13 instead sees a Barisan unified, ready for battle and quite energised at the prospect.

It was not supposed to be that way, in Pakatan’s collective mind, and it perversely began with the end of what many perceived as the greatest threat to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s political career in recent years. Anwar’s acquittal in his Sodomy II trial – for which Pakatan had collectively rallied, and which was met with a spate of positive media profiles and what appeared (briefly) to be a resurgent Anwar – instead became the complete destruction of his power base.

No longer was he Anwar the Martyr, Anwar the unique target of Umno’s hatred. His vindication rendered him just another Pakatan leader – the Opposition leader, to be sure, but as GE13 approaches, his role as de facto head of PKR is more important than his nominal position in the Dewan Rakyat. No longer the star of glowing profiles in the international media, now his every action is scrutinised, to the point at which his infamous gestures at the Bersih 3.0 rally that launched the riot there are now condemned by some of those same foreign publications.

So lowered is his stature that PAS feel they can dismiss him as the next Prime Minister, and the recent DAP National Congress saw only Karpal Singh glancingly mention Anwar as DAP’s choice for Prime Minister. Anwar did not even show up.

Anwar’s own party has descended into the sort of in-fighting in which the former Deputy Prime Minister specialises, yet with Anwar as a bystander this time, and members of his family involved. The effects on Selangor’s governance both undermine PKR’s claim to competence and raise critical questions of Pakatan’s ability to work together in the most visible of the states they govern.

So weakened is Anwar – and so chastised by his last attempt to interject himself openly into Pakatan’s open internal battles – that he has been virtually unseen even as DAP and PAS prepare to go to war. He is missing.

This caretaker-style leadership has had profound implications for Pakatan Rakyat, none of them terribly good. Most of all, this left a big opening for Najib and BN.

Najib signalled early this year that GE13 could come at any time, and made a great show of ‘going to ground’ to rally support and to directly identify the rakyat’s concerns ahead of the general elections.

With his party and his coalition coalescing behind him, and his policies proving successful, especially on the economy, Najib was able to do this while avoiding the kind of trench warfare that has characterised the three parties of the oppposition pact.

Also, Najib’s winnable candidates selection process, now strengthened further by MACC vetting, is much more transparent and effective politically than the confused state of Pakatan’s method of agreeing on seats.

Pakatan instead finds itself caught in three-cornered battles amidst its own members daily. Who will be Prime Minister if Pakatan defy the odds and capture Putrajaya? Anwar? Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang? What role will hudud play in the coalition, other than fracturing it?

Hadi did not show any support for Anwar when PAS acclaimed him as the prime ministerial candidate recently, and Anwar offered a half hearted remark in response.

DAP are demanding a greater seat allocation, as are PAS. From where can these seats come except PKR?

Perhaps the most damning aspect of this entire debacle is that Hadi – who failed as Terengganu Menteri Besar, openly flirted with retirement earlier this year. He said he was “fatigued” and he could not stop his party’s schisms or battles with DAP. Yet he is now considered by some as a viable alternative to Anwar for Prime Minister. Anwar’s unwillingness or inability to put down this challenge within his coalition not only speaks to PAS’ relative power, but to Anwar’s fear of disturbing the radical party so close to GE13.

Voters will naturally question why this would change after the elections.

Barisan Nasional, by contrast, faces GE13 united, determined and ready. The troubles in Umno at the end of 2011 are such a distant memory that Umno’s reform wings and old guard joined hand-in-hand for this year’s General Assembly and openly spoke of regaining the two-thirds majority. Seat allocation has, by all accounts, gone well inside BN – a fact confirmed both by leaked reports of harmony and by an absence of contrary leaks.

BN sports a Prime Minister with approval ratings well over sixty per cent and usually edging toward seventy per cent – a remarkable achievement in today’s polarised atmosphere. Najib’s reform programmes, which focus more on need than on race, have proven popular with all races, and have stolen much of Pakatan’s thunder in this area. He has proven himself to be the Real Reformer.

More importantly, BN have acted as if the election might come any day. Disagreements have been resolved quietly and behind the scenes. Umno’s disparate factions, broken into squabbling groups in the aftermath of G12, are clearly united behind Najib; even Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tun Abdullah Badawi, while still not reconciled, made it a point to appear publicly together at the General Assembly.

The story of BN in 2012 is one of unifying the party ranks and strengthening the coalition.

There have been no terrible headlines, no open rifts, no wars for dominance or policy or seats.

The Government has overseen incredible growth in the face of terrible economic headwinds the world over.

The Government’s programmes are popular and fulfilling their purposes.

The handful of defectors who have crossed the floor to Pakatan were widely believed to be outside the running to stand at GE13.

Bersih 3.0 was a televised show of restraint by the police and a successful display of the slate of reforms Najib pushed through; and when it descended into chaos, it was the protesters and perhaps some of their leaders, and not the police, who were to blame.

This may be Najib’s greatest legacy: a moderate, careful, but undeniable and historic series of reforms in law and in his own coalition even in the face of the most powerful Opposition any Barisan Government has ever faced. He has repositioned his party and his pact better than almost any observer imagined possible in the aftermath of GE12.

According to The Choice, this year will have begun with an explosion and ended with a whimper; it seems clear that what the rakyat sees today is what it will see when the general elections are called. There will be no great event such as the end of Sodomy II to alter the political landscape between now and April.

Both Barisan and Pakatan have been dealt their hands. It is now to be seen how they play them.