The BN lost in a big way on March 8 last year. After that it performed dismally is 4 by-elections in Peninsular Malaysia. And that was despite the whole mighty election machinery of the BN being used in all the by-elections. In addition, even Government machinery was used in all the by-elections. In further addition to all that, Ministerial decisions were made to award contracts, allocate funds to schools, upgrade roads and what have you during the by-elections to the relevant constituencies.
Despite all those efforts, the BN still lost. And they lost with an even bigger margin than before. The BN however won Batang Ai. But with a 70 million ringgit promise to a constituent consisting of about 9000 voters, that victory was not even a moral victory for the BN.
Now comes Penanti. It is a state seat within the Parliamentary constituency of Permatang Pauh. And of course everyone in Malaysia knows what Permatang Pauh means. It is the birth place of "reformasi". Well, "reformasi" and Parti KeAdilan Rakyat were not born there. But the person who started the rallying cry was born there. His name is Anwar Ibrahim. The man many regards as the de-facto leader of the Pakatan Rakyat.
Against the backdrop of 4 by-elections losses and one meaningless by-election win, the BN now has to face a by-election in Penanti, which is right smack in Permatang Pauh, the home of Anwar Ibrahim.
One must also not miss the fact that UMNO - the dominant party in the Barisan Nasional - had just had a new President, Deputy-President, 3 Vice-Presidents, Wanita, Puteri and Youth Chief as well as a host of new faces in the Supreme Council. Despite the rallying calls for members to close ranks in one of the most hotly contested general assembly UMNO had ever seen, UMNO seems to be crumbling to its knees, if the events over the past few weeks are of any indication.
There is a revolt of sorts in Terengganu, where 18 of UMNO Assemblymen are apparently demanding the Mentri Besar to resign. The handling of this mega revolt by the top two leaders in UMNO was also baffling. The Deputy President said the revolting Assemblymen had the right not to attend the State Legislative Assembly. The next day the President aka our Prime Minister told the Assemblymen to stop squabbling and attend the Legislative Assembly sitting. The apparent divergence in approach by the top two leaders in UMNO was disconcerting to the members, at the very least. But the matter does not end there. When it began, there were only 10 Assemblymen who were revolting. Now there are 18 apparently. If at all, the crisis is deepening. In Malay, we say, it is like "retak menanti belah".
Then there is also news that trouble is starting in Perlis. Apparently, there are Assemblymen who are also asking for the Perlis Menteri Besar to resign. As of now, details are scarce on this issue.
Be that as it may, it is not all blue and sunny skies for UMNO right now. The PM and his Deputy must be having their hands full. To top it up, the various minions are acting like loose cannons. Despite the 1Malaysia calls by the Prime Minister - which to me, honestly, is a good rallying cry if he is honest about it - the various arms of UMNO are acting in complete repugnance of that call. Utusan Malaysia did not help with its "Bangkitlah Melayu" article. Even the Deputy PM did not help with his "ungrateful" - well he said it was "unappreciative" - and "if-you-do-not-understand-BM, we-can-send-you-back-to-school" call. It is a case of the arms and legs doing exactly different things than what the head wants done. Hilarious, to say the least. And disastrous, to say even lesser.
And against all these maze of confusions, Penanti is waiting. (by the way, quite coincidentally, "nanti" is "wait" in English).
Again, UMNO's and the BN's position on the by-election is full of contradiction. The Prime Minister apparently said the BN should not contest. That is understandable. Why waste money and time - primarily money, I suppose - over something which is a foregone conclusion? And why must the BN Government allow the PR to be able to speak to the people in big rallies on various contemporary issues and expose all sorts of things against the BN? If the BN does not contest, than the BN would have taken away the wind from the PR's sail, so to speak. The PR would not have to campaign and start exploiting whatever issues there are today (not least among which includes the technical trip to Disneyland by the simple man with a lot of entitlements).
But of course, there are always two sides to the coin. If the BN does not contest, it would be like the BN conceding that it would lose the by-election to the PR. It's like running away from a battle ground. This of course makes Mahathir Mohammad upset. There are of course talks in town that Mahathir Mohammad is not beyond telling our Prime Minister what to do. And so, Mahathir had come out openly to say that the BN should contest the Penanti by-election. He even said that he is ready to spear head the BN campaign there.
So. What is the problem? Well, there are many.
First of all, if the BN decides to contest after the PM said the BN should not contest, the theory that Mahathir is a not-so-hidden hand behind the current PM would gain a massive dosage of credibility. People would say, "there I tell you, the PM is following Mahathir's wishes!"
Secondly, Mahathir is well loved. And well disliked too. And the new PM does not know whether now, at this very moment, Mahathir is more loved than hated. It is a gamble. Mahathir could well be an advantage or he could very well be a liability which UMNO, and the BN, could not shake off. A case in point is the Bukit Gantang by-election. Mahathir hit the campaign trail. And guess what? The non-Malays ran helter skelter from voting for the BN. And to throw Mahathir to Penanti, which is right smack in Permatang Pauh, would be more suicidal than taking a trip - technical or otherwise - in one of our express buses.
This is the man who had arrested, detained and imprisoned Permatang Pauh's most famous son. This is that man. This is the man, under whose Premiership, the most loved son of Permatang Pauh was beaten in some dungeon by the Chief of Police. This is the man who had made the whole Malaysia more aware of the word sodomy, at the expense of Permatang Pauh's most revered son. This is the man.
So, to let this man head the campaign for a by-election in Permatang Pauh constituent would be harakiri for the PM.
Lastly, the PM had spearheaded the BN's campaigning in Kuala Terengganu, Bukit Selambau, Bukit Gantang and Permatang Pauh. The BN lost in all four. Now, this is tricky. Allowing Mahathir Mohammad to head the Penanti campaign would be like saying, "the PM is not good enough and so Mahathir should do it". That is obviously not on! Not very clever I would say, that one.
Added to that, what if, (and this is really a very very big "if") the BN wins in Penanti? What would that signify? All the by-elections in which the PM headed are lost and yet the by-election headed by Mahathir is won. That would tantamount to saying that the PM is hopeless.
One thing is clear. I wouldn't want to be in the PM's shoes at the moment.