Tuesday, October 3

A paradigm shift for Barisan Nasional


THE hot topic of recent days has been the furore between People’s Progressive Party and Saratok MP Tan Sri William Mawan Ikom as well as PBB supreme council member Datuk Abdul Karim Hamzah over the issue of winnability of candidates as opposed to a BN component party’s right to contest its traditional seats.

Mawan was quoted as saying that “a strong support base is the key factor in ensuring the winnability of the chosen BN candidate”. In the same report, Mawan had also warned any aspiring candidate and party not to rock the BN boat and play up their right of claim to the detriment of unity and stability in Saratok constituency.

This was followed by a news report a few days later in which Abdul Karim, concurring with Mawan, stressed that all factors on candidacy must relate to the people’s choice and that strong grassroots support and acceptance must prevail in the consultation and decision-making process.

PDP leaders took umbrage at this and were quick to castigate both Mawan and Abdul Karim. Their outrage is understandable given that Mawan had the temerity to leave their party and take his Parliamentary and State seats with him.

No less a personality than State Barisan Nasional Secretary General Dato Sri Dr Stephen Rundi Utom has joined the fray.

“Winnability is of utmost importance for candidate selection and this is only possible with sound and strong ground support,” Dr Rundi said emphatically. He pointed out that, among the factors that contributed to the strong ground support and acceptance for a prospective candidate were the latter’s good relationship with the local community, including the community leaders, clean history without any record of controversies and an endearing approach to dealing with the people.

What we have here is a clash between picking the most winnable candidate or leaving a Party to hold onto its traditional seat regardless of winnability. The BN leaders have to choose between trying to win the maximum number of seats or to placate its component members at the cost of losing some of the seats.

There was a time when BN regularly won a 2/3 majority in Parliamentary so that it had the luxury of sacrificing a few seats to keep component parties happy. But times have changed.

New political alliances are being forged and this is most clearly shown in the opposition group where, in a dramatic turn of events, Tun Dr Mahathir and his fiercest foe Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim are now allies with the sole aim of bringing down the BN government.

In this scenario, can the BN stick with its old formula of keeping the BN as an exclusive club by rejecting alliances with other parties that are able to deliver key seats for BN? Or has the time come for the BN leaders to adopt a paradigm shift?

A paradigm shift is defined as a time when the usual and accepted way of doing or thinking about something changes completely.

In the Malaysian political arena, the shift came when the late Tan Sri Adenan Satem took the decision to field BN direct candidates in the last State election. Most of them won handsomely, even in constituencies where so-called “independent candidates” campaigned under the banner of BN component parties.

In Opar, Dato Ranum Mina has gone on record to say that he has video, audio and photographic evidence of a candidate campaigning against him using the banner of a BN component party.

In Bawang Assan, Dudong, Mambong and Engkilili, the respective BN direct candidates have informed BN leaders that the same thing happened to them.

But what is notable is that, despite the “independent” candidates campaigning under a BN component party banner, those candidates lost. The direct candidates won. This proves that grassroots support is all important – Rundi, Abdul Karim and Mawan are all correct.

When the Prime Minister and the Sarawak Chief Minister sit down to confer on the choice of candidate, they will be confronted with this paradigm shift. The opposition has taken the plunge. Erstwhile enemies now fight side by side.

Can the BN afford to cast aside winnable candidates just to keep some component parties happy? Can BN afford to maintain itself as an “exclusive club” or has the time come to forge new alliances too?

Adenan Satem in his wisdom decided to set aside this “exclusivity” and he won the Sarawak State elections in a landslide.

Rundi and Abdul Karim acknowledge the new political reality. They are young rising stars in PBB. Despite their youth, they have years of political experience and it would be fool-hardy to brush their advice aside.

Sun Tzu in the “The Art of War” wrote that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Hence, parties like Mawan and United People’s Party are allies that the BN can ill afford to discard in an election where every seat will count.

The top leaders in BN must decide whether traditional allocation of seats to component parties or the overall interest of BN is more important.

Is BN prepared for this paradigm shift?