Debate and anti-hopping bill favour Najib

It is very likely — if the events subsequent to the famous Sheraton moves are anything to go by — that the scheduled debate between former prime minister and now Umno adviser Najib Razak and PKR president Anwar Ibrahim and vice-president Rafizi Ramli will turn to Najib’s advantage.

Rafizi threw Najib a dare to debate the financially-troubled Sapura Energy Berhad after the latter suggested a government bailout of the company. Najib took up the dare on the condition that the debate was with Anwar with Rafizi alongside.

In doing so, Najib framed the debate as one between equals, a former prime minister and the current Opposition leader. It lends credibility to his position as a force of influence and diminishes his conviction for criminal charges in the eyes of his supporters which, precisely, is his objective.

In addition, he is turning the debate into a major public relations exercise as he wants to live stream the debate. Najib sees the debate as a chance to “rock it!” Live-streamed and rocking it as he engages with an equal, his credibility enhances in the eyes of his voter base. His voters will see him as having an intelligent discussion with opposition politicians and will be impressed, seeing him as a capable leader holding his own.

Even if he loses the debate in that Anwar and Rafizi may succeed in rebutting him, he will still come out smelling like a rose because he framed the debate as one between friends on opposing sides of an issue who are simply “rocking it”! So, in gentlemanly fashion, he would graciously accept defeat, offering a handshake to the winners as they are still friends. His target voter base will be warmed to know the debate between the Malay leaders was so amicable even if Najib lost. Another of Najib’s public relations exercises which will bring about the desired payoff. More votes for his side — Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN)!

But, what will PKR get?

PKR is probably hoping that their attempt at an expose will undermine Najib’s appeal. Will it work against his PR campaigns? So far it hasn’t. PKR was thrashed in all the recent elections in Malacca, Sarawak and Johor while Najib successfully worked the crowds and won without discussing issues and simply humbly smiling a lot and identifying with the base.

(Of course, there’s that other issue of alleged cash incentives that follow his campaign trail. That’s just the icing on the cake. They come together, the voters know!)

Can PKR match it? Or will the issues Anwar and Rafizi raise fall like water off a duck’s back?

If PKR is hoping to lure the fence-sitters, Anwar and Rafizi, perhaps have not fully understood that the fence-sitters don’t need convincing. They are already convinced about who Najib is and voted for Pakatan Harapan (PH) in the 2018 general elections to get rid of him only to be disappointed by PH by the subsequent decisions it made which have brought him back to a position of influence.

So, engaging Najib in any form whether through a debate or a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with his party is just playing into his hands. He benefits at the expense of the other side.

Besides, the Sapura Energy issue is of national importance as it involves taxpayers’ money and should be discussed in the Dewan Rakyat which will expose the issue to a wider national audience.

With regard to the MoU, is it also another chance to play into Najib’s hands? Apparently, Bersatu is not keen on passing the anti-hopping bill — a condition of the MoU — which means the government is not confident the bill will be passed with a two-thirds majority, which is the requirement for the bill to be passed.

PH parties want the bill passed and have declared they will support it. Other opposition parties have not made their stand.

In the current political scenario, which party stands to gain the most from passing the anti-hopping bill? Umno, because if some of their MPs leave to join other parties, Umno will be unable to form a majority government. So, it serves Umno’s purpose for the anti-hopping bill to be passed.

The Umno-led government has deferred the introduction of the bill to a special Dewan Rakyat sitting next Monday but as of yesterday it was announced that the bill will not be introduced but an amendment to the federal constitution will be introduced instead which must be passed with a two-thirds majority to “facilitate” the future passing of the bill.

If the bill can’t be passed now with a two-thirds majority, what needs to “facilitate” the passing of the bill in the future? It can only mean one thing: The introduction of the amendment to the federal constitution is meant to allow for the passing of the anti-hopping bill later with a simple majority and not a two-thirds majority.

That may be possible even if Bersatu MPs oppose the bill. If that’s the case, MPs must be allowed to vote according to their conscience. If the anti-hopping bill can not get a two-thirds majority of support from the MPs, it should be shelved. This bill is too significant to be passed with only half the house supporting it.

It was reported that Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob will be holding a meeting on Sunday to inform the MPs what the amendment to the federal constitution will entail. Whatever that is, MPs must be allowed to vote according to their conscience.

It is unethical to twist the constitution to pass an amendment with the help of an MoU in order for the easy passing of an important bill that will affect every constituent in the country just so that a bill is passed with a simple majority to protect political parties — particularly Umno in the current political scenario — and bring back a leader and his cohorts to power aided and abetted by opposition parties.

Umno stands to gain but PH may see losing more ground.

That is playing into Najib’s sleight of hand!


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