DEWAN DISPATCHES: Anwar Ibrahim moshes his way surrealistically to the House

After the tumultuous yet cruise-controlled victory yesterday at Permatang Pauh, Anwar Ibrahim’s homecoming to the Dewan Rakyat is a tad surreal. Tomorrow, when he re-appears as a bona fide MP for the first time since 1998, the atmospheric pressure inside the House should be bobbing between high tension and restraint euphoria. If you are inside the House while the tension/euphoria is throttling, the Barisan Nasional Government/backbenchers should be curdling with resentment while the Opposition bloc would be practically dancing to MC Hammer’s anthemic number “You can’t touch this!”

While we try to gauge which direction the tension/euphoria needle oscillates, one reality will soon seep in: Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is here to stay, sodomy charge, inducement charge, corruption charge et al. The prosecutors at the Attorney-General’s Office, in preparing for the tendentious sodomy trial, may have put together a rap sheet designed to put Anwar away for a longer time but there’s no escaping his pervasive surfing on the national political slipstream.

Even when Anwar is absent, he is lingering on the rafters of everybody’s conscience, a one-man thought-provoking dream machine able to inspire a huge army of supplicants to rant, rave and demonstrate to whatever tune he wants them to gyrate to. Once, the true believers, which included supplicants in Umno, swayed wistfully to Anwar’s romantic notion of justice and freedom. Now, they rap aggressively, spewing a scrappy polemic of political demands while rejecting traditional BN lucre and pork-barreling.

The Permatang Pauh parliamentary by-election results, which Anwar won handsomely, reflect this contemporary state of mind. And Anwar, like a preening mega rock star, jumps into mosh pit of feverish political adulation, allowing him to be moshed round and round until the pit steers him back towards the stage, preferably one that is called the Prime Minister’s Office in Putrajaya.

Whatever he’s been through in the 10 years since he was cast away in a political wasteland (sacked from Government and Umno as the Deputy Prime Minister and party deputy president) while desperately trying to configure his bearings (facing court charges for abuse of power and sodomy) and find his way home (leading the Opposition revolution for a slew of March 8 polls’ victories), he still can’t get the respect he may yearn mostly from the people he had worked with for many years and who are now his bitterest rivals, just several metres across the political divide inside the House.

Which is why the tension/euphoria measuring machine was activated the moment Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia announced that Anwar Ibrahim will take his oath of office after the ritual prayers tomorrow morning to start the day’s business with the Question & Answer session.

"We were notified by the Election Commission this morning and we have got in touch with him," the Speaker told the media at his office. Earlier, inside the House at the start of today’s session, Pandikar Amin informed the House that the Opposition Leader-in-waiting would take his oath on Thursday. “The result for the Permatang Pauh by-election is already out and the decision favours Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, so he will be sworn in tomorrow,” he told the House.

While Pandikar Amin may be loathed to think that he was “pressured” into facilitating Anwar’s swearing-in barely 36 hours from the time Anwar was pronounced the winner in that engraved-in-stone victory, the Speaker appeared very accommodating to the idea that Anwar should become full-fledged MP as soon as possible, noting that the PKR supremo has 60 days to take his oath. “(But) it can be done anytime. Not necessarily in the House. It can be done in my office too," the Speaker stated.

One of the more profound values the Speaker hopes that Anwar can inject into the House is better decorum among the Opposition ranks. "I expect him to control his members better,” Pandikar Amin implored. “If the Deputy Prime Minister of the day can smile when he is hammered (by the opposition), I don't see why the he can't do the same (when attacked by backbenchers). Better decorum in the Opposition ranks? What about decent values among BN backbenchers, with their sleight of hand and frothing expletives? Perhaps Anwar can have a neutralising effect on all forms of MP vulgarities.

Already, the spin today from the defeated ranks of the BN was "cautious optimism" for the future. Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek, who took on Anwar in a spirited fuel price hike debate last month but lost on “charisma points”, spun it confidently that Permatang Pauh had always been PKR's seat. “He did not take a BN seat so there's no reason that his victory will threaten the BN's position," he averred at the Parliament lobby. For the PKR, the by-election was a matter of the life and death of Pakatan Rakyat but for the BN, it was just another seat.”

Will the roads leading to Parliament House be clogged and blocked for Anwar Ibrahim's homecoming the House tomorrow? Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Nazri Abd Aziz appeared magnanimous in the BN’s defeat, sounding out that while he expects more people to turn up, security will be normal, which was echoed by Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar. “There will be no road blocks or extra policemen stationed on roads leading to parliament,” he said.

Anwar is also expected to take up the seat vacated by his wife, the erstwhile Opposition leader Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail, directly opposite Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

With Anwar basking on the glow of his triumphant conquest, Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir (BN-Jerlun), son of an erstwhile Prime Minister and a reputed exponent of everything bad that Anwar may have committed, trained his long knife towards someone to blame for the BN’s defeat. And that someone is the Umno leadership. Parroting what his father had always maintained, Mukhriz extolled the virtues of arresting the public backlash against the coalition against further electoral hammering in the near future.

Mukhriz viewed the Permatang Pauh by-election defeat as yet another signal for Umno to change. "It is clear voters did not see any visible changes in the Government, which remained the same since the March 8 general election," he told reporters at the lobby.

Contrary to the defiant stance of the Government and backbenchers, Mukhriz felt Anwar’s victory said he will be a "moral booster” for the Opposition and predicted that the situation in the House will transform with Anwar orchestrating all efforts to reconstitute the House into a dominant Pakatan Rakyat domicile. “We know he is clever at rhetoric, even though he does no use facts but with his oratorical style alone, he will convince people. We have to be better prepared in dealing with him. If we don't we may lose out to him during debates," he mused.

NST online

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