But the newsmen need not worry. The results clearly show
the world that Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's moderate and progressive
Islamic approach could win in a democratic election.
Malaysians who follow the Prime Minister's speeches are aware that he never
shows off his Islamic credentials by sprinkling his speeches with Quranic
verses in Arabic. Neither does he keep a beard, wear a turban and boast to his
listeners that he is an Islamic scholar.
There was never a need for all that. Instead, he won the hearts of Malaysians,
including conservative Muslims in the Malay heartland, with his trustworthy
leadership, sound policies and rational arguments.
Abdullah's non-confrontational, non-literalist and non-ideological approaches
were his winning ways. PAS leaders like its president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang and
spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat were more preoccupied with forms and
structures, preferring to emphasise on dressing and imposing Islamic
When Hadi criticised Abdullah for not leading the prayers during his mother's
funeral, the latter chose not to hit back. It was a costly mistake for Hadi.
But his party has obviously not learnt.
On Monday, after PAS' narrow win in Kelantan, Nik Aziz, in an outburst against
Umno, said: "We will not halalkan (legitimise) the money they received, the
water they drank or the rice they swallowed. They will earn the wrath of God
for their entire life."
At the discussion with me on Monday were Isis chairman Tan Sri Dr Noordin
Sopiee and political scientist Dr Chandra Muzaffar. All of us share the same
opinion – PAS was rejected because Malaysians felt uneasy with the kind of
politics practised by the Islamist party.
PAS gave up on the Chinese and Indian votes, relying entirely on the Muslim
votes, but they had a shock when the majority of Muslims opted for a more
contemporary form of Islam.
That is the difference between Barisan and PAS – the ability of the Barisan to
draw its strength from all Malaysians, irrespective of race, religion or
culture, and not just from one section of society.
Dr Chandra also attributed a large chunk of the votes for Barisan to women and
young people – women who were unhappy with the restrictions imposed by PAS and
young people who believed that Abdullah should be given a chance to pursue his
agenda against corruption.
It was clear that he won a resounding mandate for his initiatives and reforms,
especially the moves for more transparency, efficiency and credibility in the
It has been a happy ending for Abdullah in what is billed as the greatest
victory for the Barisan since independence, winning more than 90% of the
parliamentary seats but, in his own words, there is plenty of work ahead.
Having given a strong mandate to him, Malaysians expect him to fulfil his
promises. It would not be wrong to say that Malaysians expect him to have a
Cabinet that reflects his pledge for a clean government.
He will certainly be watched closely. Malaysians would want him to appoint
ministers who are not tainted by allegations of corruption and even fresh
faces. It is a new government and the line-up must reflect its freshness.
Without doubt, there must be a blend of experienced people, although those who
have been in the Government for the past two decades should be prepared to pave
the way for younger leaders.
They must be given a chance to prove themselves and, at the same time, be
groomed for bigger roles. After all, they will eventually lead the nation and
that training must begin now. Knowing Abdullah, he will also impose a high
moral standard for his line-up.
As Noordin told the journalists on Monday, Abdullah should be given a free hand
and Malaysians hope he can choose the leaders that he wants. After all, he has
earned himself a massive mandate and he should use it fully.
Abdullah, of course, cannot run away from the reality of having to appoint the
heads of major Barisan component parties. One or two leaders may not be exactly
popular with Malaysians, but the fact is that they had delivered the
More importantly, the Barisan government upholds the concept of sharing of
power and that has been the winning formula for the coalition. That has been
the basis of the politics of consensus and accommodation, which is admired by
Abdullah will also take into account the huge success in Kelantan and
Terengganu. He will need to reward Barisan voters with key appointments for
leaders who won there.
Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, who won the Jeli parliamentary seat, is likely to be
given a Cabinet post. If the Barisan had captured the Kelantan state government,
then he would have been the automatic choice as mentri besar, but being three
seats short, the Barisan will have to accept that it has to remain in the
It will not come as a surprise if women leaders are given a bigger role in the
Cabinet. Their contributions, irrespective of whether they are from Umno, MCA
or MIC, have been tremendous.
Abdullah has been cautious about how he intends to form the Cabinet, saying he
will consider all aspects, but the most important thing is the ability to serve
as good ministers of the country and the Barisan government.
By the time the Isis discussion ended, the foreign reporters were convinced
they could expect a sensible and balanced government, headed by an extremely
popular Prime Minister.
I believe by this weekend, Abdullah will have a fair idea of what the Cabinet
will be like, and by the following Wednesday, he will make known the full
line-up to Malaysians.
To borrow from Noordin's parting shot – Pak Lah is known as Mr Nice Guy, but
Malaysians want him to be firm and, on this occasion of naming his Cabinet, he
can be not so nice to ensure that he lives up to the wishes of