If politics is the art of convincing people to follow one's beliefs, ideologies and principles, than the Bagan Pinang by-election should teach PAS, and the Pakatan Rakyat, some basic things in politics.
Allow me to firstly tell what happened to me some 4 years ago in London. I was walking along Old Bond Street, pushing a pram with my daughter inside. From about 10 meters away, a Malay man, followed by 3 other men, rushed towards me. He gave me a warm "hello, apa khabar" greeting and extended his hand to "bersalam" with me. He then introduced me to his 3 friends. We chatted for a while. He later pinched my daughter's cheek before saying he had to move on as he could not really stand still for too long in the cold winter. He then said bye-bye with a smile and left.
The thing was, I did not even know who he was. We haven't met before. And yet he was so friendly. It was as if making friends out of a total stranger was second nature to him.
What has this got to do with Bagan Pinang? Well, that man was Tan Sri Isa, the victor in the recently concluded by-election. It was so clear from the start that he was such a personable man and well liked by the folks in Bagan Pinang. His character alone was sufficient to win the state seat for the Barisan Nasional.
When a local boy with such personable character is put down as a candidate, it would always be a mountain to climb for PAS and the Pakatan Rakyat. Added to that the mighty machines of the BN; the mainstream mass media controlled by the BN and the various authorities who were more than a little bit bias towards the BN all the time; the lopsided application of rules and regulations by the authorities (the BN could campaign in the army camp while the opposition could not, for example) and the number of postal voters in the area, the odds were heavily stacked against the opposition from the word go. Never mind that everybody knows what the good Tan Sri had done last summer. Or every summer for that matter. The folks are not going to be swayed by some "technical matters".
Permatang Pauh had shown that when facing a popular and charismatic local boy, the opponent should not go about town ridiculing the local boy. Or bad mouthing him. That is like you coming to my house to tell me that my son is a corrupt man or that he was a sodomite. If you did not get a tight slap from me, you would be lucky. Unfortunately, the BN was given a really tight slap in Permatang Pauh. And now PAS had its derriere kicked for doing exactly the same thing.
The Pakatan Rakyat has shown that it is a force to be reckoned with in the general election last year as well as the many by-elections it had won. But it has yet to show the people that the motley crew that it consists are capable of working together as a viable alternative federal government.
It bears aspiration to win the next general election. All good and well. However, if the Pakatan Rakyat is devoid of any common stand on the fundamental issues, the people are going to see the Pakatan Rakyat as a marriage of convenience and nothing more. It is on this front - where a coalition is judged by the perception of the people - that the PR's Achilles heel lies.
The seemingly chaotic ideological warfare within the PR at best reflects a progressive democratic processes and practice. At worst, it is a sign of a coalition which is devoid of any sort of basic aims and goals. In Pakatan Rakyat, this ideological differences are on a different plane altogether.
PAS made a promise by joining the PR and its election manifesto. This is admitted even by YB Khalid Samad, a PAS stalwart himself. However, there are people within that party who have deliberately gone against that very promise. The radical and "fundamentalistic" stance taken by PAS in recent times have served ammunition to the BN, particularly UMNO.
The non-Muslim voters are of course wary of PAS' pragmatist approach towards the country's socio-political landscape. And not without substantial reasons too. The beer issue in Shah Alam. The Michael Learns To Rock issue after that. Than recently, the Beyonce concert issue. Then we have Hassan Ali establishing a moral police force with the power to arrest in Shah Alam. He then even questioned the Selcat, which was a state legislative machinery established by the Pakatan Rakyat government itself! These are but instances where PAS had opened its mouth wide to show its fangs to the absolute horror of the non-Muslims - and Muslims alike - in this country.
Added to that, the not too discreet "khalwat" between PAS and UMNO under the pretext of a "unity government" is a bitter dish which has to be swallowed by thousands, if not millions, of voters who had voted for PAS in the belief and trust that PAS was a permanent part of a coalition which was going to oppose the BN and UMNO, not to work with them.
The result of all these self defeatist posturing by PAS is there for all of us to see. The non-Malays have shunned PAS in Bagan Pinang. The Malays themselves, have not really warmed up to PAS save for some hardcore PAS members in the area. The fence-seaters jumped to the BN side of the fence. It was nothing short of a debacle.
So what is what in PAS? Which is which? What does PAS stand for? What is PAS fighting for? What? Those are the questions which the PAS has to answer. Those are the questions which the PR has to answer too if it has serious ambition of ruling this country. Added to that the PR must also deal with the theatrics of MPs like Zulkifli Noordin, who have proven time and time again, to be a trigger happy lone ranger on a rampage. The people expect the PR to settle all these issues once and for all. Lest political boredom would set in and the people might get numbed and go into a deep political slumber of the 70s, 80s and 90s The PR could then kiss its ambition a long goodbye.
In Bagan Pinang, sources from within the PR told me that PAS was almost going it alone. From the start PAS had disagreed with the choice of the candidate. The advice by the MP for Teluk Kemang, PKR's Datuk Kamarul Baharin Abbas that a local boy should be fielded was not followed by PAS.
During the campaign period, the focus of PAS machinery was to discredit Tan Sri Isa by, among others, reminding the people of what he did in UMNO and highlighting the projects which he had apparently abandoned when he was the Menteri Besar. That obviously did not work. Hence the seemingly chaotic and unfocussed campaigns run by PAS.
The only momentum gained by PAS was when Tok Guru Nik Aziz and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim came to town. PAS should really look at itself in the mirror why these two persons are really liked by the crowd. Is it any wonder why? The spiritual leader of PAS is well liked by all and sundry, Muslims and non-Muslims because he makes sense all the time. So is the case with DSAI. If PAS could stick to the PR's agenda, all the time, surely it would win the crowd all the time.
However, sadly, that is not the case.
It is obvious that an opposition coalition is a viable alternative to the BN. The 2008 momentum must be maintained if ever the BN is going to be shaken off its pedestal and if the country wanted to see a 2 party system at work. However, the political blueprint of the coalition must be prepared and agreed upon by all the players.
It is time that the PR sit down together and solve the differences of ideologies within its organisation. A common stand on fundamental issues must be agreed upon. There must also be an irrevocable undertaking by the players to conform at all time with the blueprint as and when it is ready. Any players, individual or in group, who deliberately go astray should be dealt with promptly, and severely.
Once and for all, PAS, DAP and PKR must be asked, "are you with the PR or not?" If so, you are in. If not, well, you are out.
Otherwise, Bagan Pinang could be the start of the demise of the Pakatan Rakyat.