Assistant Foreign Editor
Why Sept 16 didn't happen
September 17, 2008 Wednesday, 05:22 PM
Reme Ahmad on why a takeover might never happen for Anwar.
BELOW is one scenario on why Sept 16 didn't happen for Anwar Ibrahim. And why a government takeover might never happen for him.
After the dismal press conference yesterday, Anwar's boys are saying: Let's not rule out a change of government in Malaysia yet. They are saying things will work like this: We ask the sitting Prime Minister peacefully that we have the numbers and we want to take over. He rebuffs us. The next step is to show the Malaysian King, the Agong, that Anwar has this super-secretive names and that he can take over.
The King may or may not accept the new majority leader in Parliament.
If he does, PM Abdullah Badawi, Umno, Barisan Nasional (BN) and 51 years of history will be thrown out. BN and its old incarnation, Alliance Party, has always ruled the country since independence.
If PM Abdullah, on hearing that he is about to lose power, calls on the King, too, he could ask for Parliament to be disbanded.
Then, fresh elections would be called within 60 days - November or December? Maybe January.
And the 10 million plus voters, will pick the three Pakatan Rakyat (PR) parties over BN.
And within a few months from now, Anwar will be PM.
Hold that thought, though.
On paper, PR has 82 MPs in Parliament.
In reality, 81. This is because Ibrahim Ali, a former deputy minister in a Mahathir cabinet, is the House's sole Independent.
He was sacked by Mr Abdullah for standing in a by-election against an Umno candidate, and Abdullah has said the Kelantan chieftain can never rejoin the party.
Datuk Ibrahim, Tok Him to his people in Kelantan, won the March general election on a Parti Islam SeMalaysia ticket. Even then, PAS people had told me that they expect this guy to bolt anytime, because his heart is not PAS.
Tok Him declared himself an Independent not long afterwards, with an understanding that he will be an ally of PR.
But not in recent weeks, when he got nervous to learn that the new federal government, if Anwar pulls this off, would reduce the Malay-Muslim content of government.
So Anwar is left to work with 81 MPs.
That was why he said yesterday that he had in excess of 31 BN lawmakers on his side, because 81 + 31 equals 112.
BN now has 140 MPs. If it loses 31, it will have 109 left.
Add Tok Him to this side (assuming he takes BN as an ally), BN will have 110.
Anwar would then be the majority leader.
The supposed names
But, really, who are these 31 plus turncoat lawmakers?
Just a month ago, top leaders of PR had whispered they had 42 BN MPs.
And then the number went up to 47 just weeks ago, when Anwar won in Permatang Pauh and at the height of the "immigrants", "squatters" issue.
By the now-infamous date of Sept 16 yesterday, the word is that the list has been reduced to between 34 to 36 defectors.
Among them are indeed ministers and deputy ministers.
And these are names that would shake Umno and BN should they join the other side.
Many of them are from Umno in Peninsular Malaysia and from other Peninsular parties.
And then there are names from other BN parties too. Big names.
I won't go beyond that because the howls of protest that 'this is all a lie' would be too loud.
Since there are only 140 BN lawmakers, it is not too hard to find out their names. Just ask around.
Note that the leaders who made the biggest noises about their loyalty are not necessarily the guys who are the most loyal.
But here is the problem for Anwar -- these lawmakers had only made pledges (including verbal) that they would defect.
Yes, yes, many of them had indeed met secretly with Anwar.
I know some of the places that they met too.
One place, a new hotel in Selangor, would soon feature prominently in a court case. Another is the Desa Damansara condominium.
That diary boy-coffee boy, sodomy accuser Saiful Azlan Bukhari, knows a lot more.
What are they waiting for?
These leaders who met Anwar were fed up with the weak rule of PM Abdullah, apparently, and his weak control of the party, poor handling of sensitive issues, the economy, almost the works.
So, according to PR chiefs I spoke to, these leaders would not mind at all defecting if it saves their credibility, and that of their parties.
But all these are just tentative plans.
It's like saying 'I am 70 per cent sure I will buy that Ikea furniture today. But let me walk around a bit more and think whether my old furniture should indeed be junked'.
So when Anwar or PR leaders repeated ad nauseam that "We have the numbers", they are not lying. In one sense.
It's just that they had to wait for everyone to agree to jump at the same time -- they need a trigger event like the "immigrants", "squatters" issue.
Or another big fumble by the government, like the horrible handling of the ISA arrests.
But then, an unexpected trigger event happened.
The huge spoiler to this whole Anwar scheme of events, some say, happened just under three weeks ago.
It was the announcement that former-premier-turned-blogger Dr Mahathir Mohamad, after just three months in the wilderness, had been persuaded to return to Umno.
He is even openly backing his old arch-enemy, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Ku Li to everyone in Kelantan.
And Dr Mahathir is wooing Umno vice president Muhyiddin Yassin to stand with Ku Li as Team B, to fight the Team A partners of Abdullah-Najib for the Umno December elections.
With Mahathir-Ku Li in one team, many in Umno, apparently, had decided to realign their positions vis-a-vis Anwar. For now.
Many in Umno, after fighting a losing battle with Anwar since the March general elections, are now saying: If anybody could beat Anwar, it will be his old boss Mahathir.
This was the man who raised Anwar from a young leader in Muslim group Abim, put him up on a pedestal as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, and then took Anwar with many accusations and got him thrown into jail.
And with Ku Li in the same game also - Ku Li tried to oust Mahathir as Umno president in that now legendary 1987 internal elections - gee, why should we join Anwar yet, they say.
Deputy PM Najib, when he saw this, went to see Dr Mahathir, some leaders in Pakatan say.
He was told, again, not to back Abdullah or else he might not survive the December Umno elections, if it went that far.
That was why last week he suddenly shifted his position and said the planned exit date for Abdullah, 2010, should be looked at again.
Eyes on Supreme Council meeting tomorrow?
The first test of the renewed hope in Umno that its ineffectual and weak leader, Abdullah, could be dislodged soon, is tomorrow, Thursday Sept 18.
This is when the powerful Umno Supreme Council meets.
There are some 40 Council members - from Umno ministers to state chief ministers and the leaders of the Women, Youth and Puteri (Young Women) wings.
Deputy PM Najib and vice presidents Muhyiddin and Mohd Ali Rustam, and information chief Muhammad Muhammad Taib had all indicated last week that members should be allowed to decide if Abdullah should quit earlier as Umno president.
If they found new spine in the Mahathir-Ku Li team, and push this agenda through tomorrow in that meeting room in the 38th floor of the Umno headquarters, then Abdullah will agree to quit earlier.
Anwar's "31 names" will then dissipate.
But what is likely to happen is, errrr, nothing.
Abdullah wants to stay on, and his people have told him to fight. If Abdullah loses, so will they.
The meeting will likely end, unless something unexpected happens, with Abdullah and Najib still as a team and the 2010 exit date for Abdullah intact.
But there might be an agreement to let the Umno 191 divisions - holding their annual meetings between Oct 9 and Nov 9 - pick whomever they see fit to run as president and deputy president.
And today, Abdullah moved to signal that he has strengthened Najib and thus ensure his own survival.
Abdullah has passed to Najib the powerful Finance portfolio (he took up Defence instead in a swop), and said he might resign before the agreed-upon date of 2010.
This reduces Anwar's chance to make good his promise, because it might pacify the Umno ground, now that Abdullah wants to leave earlier.
Then again, the possible Umno defectors might want to wait until Nov 9 (at the end of all the division meetings) to see if Abdullah gets enough nominations to retain his presidency.
And to see whether Ku Li gets enough nominations to stand as a contender.
If there is a Abdullah-Ku Li fight for No.1, then, again, no one will jump to PR.
Worse still for Anwar, if there is a Abdullah-Najib vs Ku Li-Muhyiddin fight. Who the hell wants to join PR then?
Everyone wants to see the outcome of this first!
They will wait until the Dec 16-20 Umno annual assembly, to see and to vote in the party elections which are held every three years.
Only if Abdullah wins, and despair spreads again in Umno by Dec 21, could Anwar hope to see mass defections.
But if Abdullah does not get enough nominations by Nov 9, or if Abdullah fights but loses to Ku Li, then Anwar's Sept 16 is indeed a mirage.
Dates to watch:
1) Oct 9 - Nov 9 -- Umno's 191 divisions hold their annual meetings, and nominate names for the president, deputy president and other top posts. Both Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and former finance minister Tengku Razaleigh wants to run as president. Deputy PM Najib Razak wants to stand as deputy president, and the divisions might also name International Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin as deputy president.
2) Dec 16 - 20 -- Umno holds its annual meetings and its elections - held only once every three years. The 2,500 delegates attending the meeting will vote for party president (who becomes Malaysia's Prime Minister), deputy president (Deputy PM), three vice presidents and 25 Supreme Council chiefs.
The Women, Youth and Puteri (Young Women) wings will also hold their own elections.
[After all the talks, what is coming is more of the same. Mahathir and Tungku Razaleigh rising from the ashes to lead again? Old wine in older wine skins. There is no fresh blood, no fresh perspective, no new directions, just more of the same, trying to get back to business as usual. What Malaysia needs is a new deal. The problem of Malaysia is not just the Malays and Umno. For as long as Umno does not see beyond their race and their own petty needs, they cannot lead their country to greatness. Partisan politics cannot forge a nation, it just institutionalises fault lines.]