The Prime Minister: Permatang Pauh a sure win for National Front

The Prime Minister, who saw his promised 35,000 crowd to 7,000 in blinging torrential rain last Tuesday when he entered the Lion's Den of Permatang Pauh, is now sure the parliamentary seat is the National Front's, as it always has been. His high profile visit to the home ground of He Who Must Be Destroyed At All Cost, he now insists, had no political significance. Even the New Straits Times had doubts about that: "However", it reported today (NST, 3 July, p1), "he held talks with state and
Permatang Pauh Umno leaders and explained the situation." The situation, of course, the unmentioned problem of excorsing the ghost of the purpose of the prime ministerial visit. The Prime Minister said: "I told them it is up to you to explain to your people ... I don't want to talk about this problem in front of an audience which is really not interested in that problem." Indeed, but he went there for the same reason why people climb mountains: because it is there. At a press conference, he deflected a question on whether he was campaigning. The National Front, he implied, is the underdog; the opposition had been campaigning for the past two years; "You must give us a chance to campaign for at least one year before the election ... perhaps".

This visit to Permatang Pauh is one more example why he needs a new spin doctor. The newspapers, with their slavish reportage of what he says, guff and all, destroy his credibility every time he opens his mouth. During the 1969 general elections, I was working with The Malay Mail, covering politics with my old friend, Michael Quinn, alas now no more, the Malay Mail became quickly more reliable and believable, because it was not under the same constraints as The Straits Times (as it was then known): the then editor-in-chief, Tan Sri Leslie Hoffman, alas no more, insisted that the Alliance, the predecessor to the National Front, should get six times or more coverage than the opposition parties. This meant the opposition could get about three columns of news coverage every day. The news that went into these three columns were well edited to put the essence in it -- yes, in those days, reporters covered government and opposition much better than newspapers cover government events today -- while the Alliance coverage was loose and spread out, if only to fill the space and quota.

The Malay Mail, on the other hand, throughout the 90-day elections coverage, reported the news as it should, and we even came out with an exclusive with the Alliance manifesto in the Malay Mail, out on the streets as the then deputy prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak, was releasing it at UMNO headquarters in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. (The paper was brought in as he spoke; he glanced at it; looked at my direction, and muttered: Celekah, Pillai, Celekah Pillai; and went on!) It was also more believable than the Straits Times's leaden coverage. But the point is that when news coverage is done without a reference of what the other side is doing, it would necessarily suffer. No one seriously believes anything the government says or does these days. The opposition is only to be attacked. This is something the government knows only too well: in its overkill damnation of He Who Must Be Destroyed At All Cost, it lost direction, struggles to regain it, loses ground. Those unhappy with how the man was treated, whilst supporting the government, now prefer to keep quiet. Especially, when contrarians are held lup for
public condemnation. Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's appointment as deputy prime minister changed the tactic: to not attack the man any more. But his ghost hovers over every government and UMNO action. Which is why the Prime Minister runs hither and thither trying to convince that the all powerful National Front is actually standing on quicksand, implying that the opposition is not, and should therefore be given special consideration because the opposition is running circles around it. What the Prime Minister tells us that the present predicament of the National Front has all the makings of a David-and-Goliath battle. We know how that battle resolved itself. I remain unconvinced David can defeat Goliath this time. But then my analysis has all the elements of capitalisis worked into it!

M.G.G. Pillai