Worshippers at Masjid Qariah
MASJID Qariah Bagan Pinang, Port Dickson, is sandwiched between a major Barisan Nasional (BN) operations centre and PAS’s main by-election headquarters along Jalan Pantai. On Friday, 9 Oct 2009, the mosque was bursting at the seams with worshippers.
In his khutbah, the imam said Islam is a religion of unity and fraternity. He added that one of the ways to ensure unity and fraternity was for Muslims to stop slandering and condemning each other. Although this was a rightful and righteous sentiment, the imam was clearly paddling his boat against the current of the Bagan Pinang by-election campaign. The campaign was not just riddled with slander and condemnations. It was also full of abuses of power — institutional, physical and religious.
Ismail reminding cooperatives where their money comes from, and how to thank the BN when voting
For example, barely three hours before Friday prayers, Domestic Trade, Cooperative and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob addressed a crowd of Malay Malaysian cooperative members. He was launching Hotel Mesra, along Jalan Pantai, a budget hotel that was made possible by the investment of cooperatives.
That the hotel also housed the information, communications and culture ministry’s by-election media centre could have been a coincidence. But it was not. During his speech to the cooperative members, Ismail reminded them that cooperatives get their money from the government. And so, he said, they needed to show their thanks by voting for the Barisan Nasional (BN) on 11 Oct 2009. Yet this was only one example of a government minister using a public function as a means of campaigning for BN candidate Tan Sri Isa Samad during the past week.
There were other perplexing examples. The journey to Ismail’s event that morning was slowed down by a traffic jam from Bandar Port Dickson. The jam was due to volunteers sporting BN vests handing out free copies of Malay-language dailies, Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian. It is well-known that the two newspapers are controlled by and linked to Umno. But that the BN would be handing them out so openly on the streets of Port Dickson during its by-election campaign, as if these dailies were the party’s organ, was flabbergasting.
And then there are the allegations of violence perpetrated by suspected Umno members. True, Umno deputy president and Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has denied ever instructing BN volunteers to roughhouse the opposition here. But seriously, when a PAS party worker’s head starts bleeding from slash wounds inflicted while he was out putting up campaign materials, he is not engaging in “psychological warfare“. At the minimum, the crime needs to be investigated swiftly and independently, with the perpetrators brought to justice.
Crowd at DAP operations centre
And all this is on top of allegations of corruption against Isa that just wouldn’t go away. Yet, it did not seem to affect Isa’s campaign. He charged through with his daily programmes, disarming and charming the press and potential voters. He and the rest of Umno’s big guns even had the gall to call themselves more Malay and Islamic than PAS.
And yet, the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)’s campaign was hardly inspiring. PAS candidate Zulkefly Omar remained as uncoordinated and inarticulate at the end as he was at the start of the by-election campaign. DAP party workers griped to journalists that he was a bit of an embarrassment. His programmes were topsy-turvy, and he eventually got impatient when asked questions he said were “unrelated” to his campaign — specifically on PAS’s position on concert-banning and alcohol-drinking Muslims.
But colourless and uncoordinated PR candidates have won in by-elections before. Just look at Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)’s Dr Mansor Othman in Penanti and S Manikumar in Bukit Selambau. And it is unfair to judge a candidate by his or her level of charisma. The point is that once elected, the candidate has to deliver on his or her campaign promises.
Manikumar in particular seems to be doing just that. He came down to Bagan Pinang on 8 Oct and delivered a funny and inspiring, if a little bit frantic, speech at the DAP operations centre’s night-time ceramah. He talked about all the work he’s been doing since getting elected in April, and it was clear that he has grown into his role and is now an able orator.
But it was not Manikumar who was supposed to carry the PR’s campaign. What about the other PR big wigs? Before Manikumar, DAP secretary-general and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng swaggered onto the stage and opened his speech to the 500-strong crowd with a pantun. The closing line of the pantun was, “Undi PAS dapat pahala.” The mostly Malay-Muslim Malaysian crowd went wild.
Lim continued to pepper his speech with references to Islamic tenets and Arabic terms. Voting for PAS, he said, was a way of upholding the principle of amar makruf nahi munkar — enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. So frequently did the DAP stalwart bend over backwards to please the Muslim audience, it seemed that his political spine was made of rubber.
Jamlus has “studied religion a bit”
The PR ceramah was full of other strange moments and inconsistencies, but none more glaring than the assertion made by Jelebu PAS deputy chief Jamlus Mansor. Jamlus said, “We (PR) need to win over at least three more state representatives here in Negeri Sembilan.” He said, “If we win Bagan Pinang, by Allah probably two more BN reps will jump over to PR.” And yet, Jamlus remained indignant about the “violent and illegal” overthrow of Perak’s PR government by the BN-engineered defections of three state assemblypersons in February.
The clincher was when Jamlus said, “If you support corruption and immorality, Allah will curse you, including if you vote for [Isa].” And then, catching himself, Jamlus declared, “I am not an ulama, but I have studied religion a bit.”
Poetry in motion
Several speakers also tried to downplay intra-PR spats — some saying problems in the PR are like small arguments in a family or between spouses. At the end of the day, everybody kisses and makes up. What a nice way of framing something like Selangor religious exco Datuk Dr Hasan Ali‘s frequent outbursts, including at the state PR government.
Perhaps the most poetic summary of the PR’s by-election strategy was when PAS spiritual leader and Kelantan Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat took the stage. The whole thesis of his speech was “Umno mengarut”. At one point though, he was at a loss to find the English word for “riba” — interest. He fished around, mumbled incoherently, and then finally said to the audience, “Undi PASlah, senang.” End of speech. The crowd laughed, but it was sad that even the sweet-natured Nik Aziz fumbled like this.
It is hard to tell anymore whether such shenanigans are bizarre or normal in a by-election. Perhaps when you’re in the pot, you don’t really feel the water coming to a boil. The water boils in Bagan Pinang today, on 11 Oct, as voting begins for this much watched by-election, the ninth since the March 2008 general election.
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