The significance of the Bukit Gantang by-election

Posted on March 31, 2009



A certain blogger has it that the Bukit Gantang by-election is really a contest between Anwar and the Sultan.

Clearly, this blogger, whilst steeped in experience in the media industry, having served  UMNO-owned and controlled newspapers for a long, long time, does not quite appreciate the divisions of power within our constitutional set up.

Or maybe this blogger suffered a lapse of memory, thinking he was still writing for the UMNO-owned newspapers.

No, the Bukit Gantang by-election is not a contest between Anwar and the Sultan.

Simply, its about people power.

You see, a little over a year ago, Malaysians went to the polls and inflicted a painful lesson on BN such as it had never suffered before.

The loss of its otherwise seemingly invincible 2/3 majority in the Dewan Rakyat.

Selangor, Perak, Penang and Kedah joined Kelantan as state governments now under Pakatan Rakyat control.


What brought about this result?

Malaysians, for some time now better informed of what was being done to the nation by inept, self-serving and corrupt  politicians, thanks to the alternative media, and tired of being lied to and constantly deceived, wanted  change.

The people of Perak, too, wanted change.

And through that power that the constitution bestows on the people to determine who shall govern, the majority of the people of Perak decided that they had had enough of BN and voted for change.

And so, the Pakatan Rakyat state government of Perak was born by the will of the majority of the people of Perak.

Not by the prerogative of the Sultan, but the will of the people.

Yes, the majority of the people of Perak rejected BN and its arrogant disregard of the wishes and needs of the people.

After the last general elections, many had thought that UMNO would read the election results and understand that reforms in that party and the BN coalition were the only thing that would save them from ultimate political irrelevance and demise.

Why even the other component parties seemed to implore the UMNO leadership to bring about the requisite reforms so as to match BN with the aspirations of the 21st century Malaysian.

Did it happen?


Post the 12th GE, UMNO went into its ‘ketuanan Melayu’ overdrive and continues with this madness to this day.

And Najib, driven on by Dr M, the real puppet master behind the scenes, saw the dismal election results as the golden opportunity to displace Pak Lah from the seat of power.

And they pushed.

They pushed hard.

In October, last year, Pak Lah finally buckled under all the pressure and struck an arrangement that would see Najib ascend to the office of PM in March or April this year.

However, the results of the Permatang Pauh by-election on 26th August, last year and the Kuala Terengganu by-election on 17th January this year, both under the stewardship of Najib, saw many questioning if Najib was indeed the right man to lead UMNO and BN out of the stormy seas that the coalition found itself in post 8th March, last year.

More bad news was to come for this aspirant to the PMship of our beloved country.

On 25th January, slightly a week after the KT by-election results, the BN state assemblyman for Bota, in Perak, Nasaruddin Hashim, defected to PKR. His reason, as reported in Malayisakini, was that he made this decision after considering the interests of his constituents.

This latest setback for BN and Najib set the warning bells ringing in the Najib camp.

Come end March / early April, after he had ascended to the office of president of UMNO, and Pak Lah stepped down as PM, and Najib headed to the palace to present his claim to the PMship, might Najib have to contend with Anwar laying claim to the latter commanding the confidence of the majority in the Dewan Rakyat and therefore the more entitled to the PMship?

Might His Majesty be forced to resolve such a situation by calling for a special sitting of the Dewan with a view to two motions of confidence being voted on, to ascertain which of the two contenders was a ‘pretender to the throne’?

And if this should come to pass, might the parliamentarians from East Malaysia, long suspected as being those who would make up the numbers needed by Pakatan to stake their claim to the right to federal governance, together with others from Semenanjung, all now emboldened by the crossover of the Bota assemblyman, show their hands at such a vote?

Something had to be done, and done quickly.

Perak was the answer.

Round about the time that then PKR and Perak state exco members Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi and Mohd Osman Mohd Jailu were detained to facilitate investigations into allegations of corruption, Perak Umno liason chief Tajol Rosli, as reported in Malaysiakini, had declared that the Pakatan state government would fall on Merdeka day.

That never happened.

A plan, however, had plainly been hatched, involving those two PKR reps, and either their coercion through the threat of prosecution, or inducement by some promise of gain, to topple the Pakatan state government by the mechanism of crossovers.

This plan was hastily resurrected after the Bota assemblyman defected to PKR.

Now, I am one of those who, whilst earlier opposed to Pakatan forming the federal government through the mechanism of crossovers from BN, finally, in September last year, chose to support this effort.

My reasons?

In September, last year, my friend, Raja Petra, had been detained under the ISA and a two year Home Minister’s detention order had been signed. It looked like the authorities ( read this to mean Najib ) were going to leave him to rot in Kamunting.

Pakatan had promised that if they formed the federal government, one of their first deeds would be to repeal the ISA.

They also promised reforms to the electoral process, like the clean up of the electoral roll, the doing away with the postal ballot, the repeal of the many draconian laws and, most importantly, after all those reforms were put in place, they would at the soonest possible thereafter, call for fresh general elections.

Provided Pakatan kept to its promises, my friend would be be out sooner than otherwise and, more importantly, the people’s power under the constitution to effectively determine governance of the nation would be made more real.

These ends, to my mind, justified the means.

What were the ends of Najib and his camp in trying to topple the Pakatan state government of Perak by means of crossovers and defections?

To save the rakyat from an incompetent regime?

To put in place reforms so that governance of the state of Perak would be, as is constitutionally intended, of the people, for the people and by the people?


It was to ensure that Najib’s ascendancy might not be scuttled at the eleventh hour by crossovers.

With lightning speed, the earlier plan, now slightly modified, was hastily executed.

We all know now what followed.

Nizar asked for a dissolution of the assembly and for fresh state elections.

Najib asked that BN be allowed to form the new state government.

And in the crisis that ensued, so many Perakians beseeched His Majesty not to do that which would deny them their government of choice.

Sadly, their pleas went unheard.

And so, with the installation of BN as the new state government, the voice and the will of the people of Perak that had spoken on 8th March, 2008, was silenced.

And then, almost as if some divine force had heard the cries of the people, Bukit Gantang fell vacant.

A seat won by BN Pakatan at the last elections was to be contested.

BN would have the platform to back its claim that it ruled by the popular will of the people.

The people of Bukit Gantang, for and on behalf of every decent Perakian, on the other hand, would now have the opportunity to make known to their constitutional monarch that, either by reason of being ill-informed or ill-advised, His Majesty had erred.

Whether His Majesty responds appropriately thereafter remains to be seen.

And a vote in favour of Nizar over the BN candidate would send home the strongest of signals to every institution established under the federal and every state constitution : that the will of the people may be delayed, but can never be forever denied.

That, in my view, is the significance of the Bukit Gantang by-election.

Posted in: Bukit Gantang