On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Barisan on a stronger footing

I beg to disagree. I think the Barisan has performed very well in these two
constituencies, never mind if they managed only to win one seat.

The important point here is that Barisan managed to win the Pendang
parliamentary seat and reduced the majority of PAS in the Anak Bukit state seat

One should bear in mind that these two areas were held by
Datuk Fadzil Noor, who was the PAS president and Opposition Leader. Both
constituencies were regarded as opposition strongholds.

But the results of the by-elections on Thursday night showed they are no longer
as impenetrable to Umno as some in the opposition ranks might want to

Despite the expected sympathy votes for PAS after Fadzil's death, the party was
unable to stop the swing towards the Barisan in Pendang while in Anak Bukit,
the ruling coalition put up such a strong contest that many of its campaigners
thought the seat was theirs.

Towards the end of the campaigning, even many PAS supporters conceded that they
had lost Anak Bukit but might retain Pendang. Some Umno leaders even predicted
boldly that the Barisan would win both seats.

The strategists in Umno and PAS and even intelligence sources had assessed the
ground feeling inaccurately. So did members of the press covering the
by-elections who told their colleagues in Kuala Lumpur
that the Barisan would win Anak Bukit but would lose in Pendang.

Some aides of ministers, at one point, even dismissed the cautious prediction
of the reporters, saying the Barisan would sweep both constituencies as PAS
officials stubbornly insisted that they would win both seats too.

There will be some disappointment and relief among the campaigners, depending
on the outcome they had expected. Many will not want a draw between Barisan and
PAS, preferring a clear win.

But if PAS had expected a clear endorsement of its controversial hudud law,
which provides for amputation for theft and death by stoning for adultery among
other forms of punishment in Terengganu, then it is wrong.

The votes from the Chinese electorate were solidly against PAS, with many
openly telling the press that their biggest misgiving was the hudud law. It is
a point conceded even by PAS president Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang.

PAS had also fanned protests against the use of English to teach Science and
Mathematics at their ceramah, attempting to convince their listeners that the
language was unimportant.

It is sad that the PAS leaders, with their closed minds, had attempted to
denigrade the language and ignored the long-term benefits of learning the
language for political expediency.

The Barisan's victory in Pendang and the reduced majority of PAS in Anak Bukit
should be a loud message to the PAS leaders to re-evaluate their radical, if
not unsound, policies.

The results of the by-elections have shown how crucial the votes of the Chinese
and the Thai communities are. In the next general election, the non-Malays will
continue to be the decisive factor.

It is clear that PAS can only rely on the Muslim votes with its radical brand
of Islam while the Barisan is able to win broad appeal with its liberal and
moderate politics.

No doubt Barisan has its flaws and there is much it needs to improve but the
Chinese community will continue to be wary of PAS and the inability of its
partners, Parti Keadilan Nasional and Parti Rakyat Malaysia,
to check the party.

The task, if any effort is made at all, will become difficult now that the
party's leadership has been taken over by Hadi, who is a hardliner.

The firebrand has made no apologies for his remarks against other religions,
particularly Christianity. It is sad that Hadi is blind to the multi-racial,
multi-religious and multi-cultural composition of Malaysia
by stirring up radicalism among the Muslims.

Derogatory remarks made against Barisan leaders have been defended by PAS
leaders with gangster tactics openly carried out to intimidate Barisan

Opposition sympathisers who often claim that Barisan employed unfair tactics
should think again. Never assume that men in religious clothing and are seemingly
pious are unable to deploy dirty political tricks – they just cover themselves
better. Don't forget, they are also the same ambitious politicians.

On a brighter note, the victory in Pendang and the reduced majority of PAS in
Anak Bukit are a clear indication that the Barisan's consecutive victories in
the by-elections of Indera Kayangan and Ketari were no flukes.

There is also the unmistakable swing of Malay votes back to the Barisan, in
addition to the increasing support of non-Malays, including those who had voted
for the opposition in the 1999 general election. But Malaysians can expect the
same kind of tough and bitter campaigning between Umno and PAS in the next
general election, particularly in the rural heartland.