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Despite defecting to PKR, Datuk Chua Jui Meng is turning out to be MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat’s best weapon in his battle with arch rival and deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek. Since leaving the party for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s PKR, Chua has singled out Dr Chua for attacks, and has repeatedly urged the government to prosecute his former colleague for having unnatural sex. “One has to wonder if Chua Jui Meng is working for Tee Keat to attack Dr Chua,” The attacks are in relation to Dr Chua’s sex video scandal, which has resurfaced more than 1½ years since it broke in late 2007, forcing the then health minister to quit all government and party posts.

But last year, Dr Chua made a remarkable comeback, clinching the party’s deputy presidency against all the odds. But in a bitter campaign, Ong and Dr Chua’s ties were damaged beyond repair. Recently, it was revealed that Dr Chua was being hauled up by the party disciplinary committee over the sex video scandal. He is expected to face the board hearing next week. Incredibly, the party president has claimed ignorance over the matter, and most party members believe this was another move by Ong to silence his biggest critic and rival. Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak had hit the roof when he found out about the plan to discipline Dr Chua.

The last thing the Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman wanted was for the man he had just appointed pointman for Pakatan Rakyat (PR) controlled states to be disciplined by his own party over something which happened so long ago. Ong is said to be unhappy with Dr Chua’s closer ties with Umno, and The Malaysian Insider understands from sources within the president’s camp that he wants to “finish off” his deputy. The feeling from the Dr Chua camp, it appears, is now mutual. Persistent attacks from Chua, now in PKR, against Dr Chua, are now raising eyebrows in MCA circles. Last year, Dr Chua was all set to take on Ong for the party presidency, but Chua’s decision to contest put paid to those hopes.

Dr Chua’s camp felt that the votes among party delegates would be split in such a way that there would be no way he could win the presidency. Eventually, he decided to contest the No. 2 post and won, while Ong defeated Chua for the top post. Nearly a year later, Chua is once again proving to be a headache for Dr Chua even though he has already left the party. Chua has also been singing the praises of Ong, and publicly backing the leadership of the MCA president, sparking amazement among many party members who are now openly wondering why he left the party if he was so happy with Ong.

Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat today dismissed suggestions that he was now reversing his earlier stand and supporting moves to bring about closer cooperation between PAS and Umno, saying that he only wanted to improve ties between the PAS-ruled state government and the federal government. His remarks will put to rest renewed concerns among Pakatan Rakyat (PR) partners that PAS was once again reviving the unity talks idea which had caused a severe split in the federal opposition alliance and even within the Islamist party.

“I proposed the relationship between the two governments to be improved in line with the spirit of federalism,” Nik Aziz said in a statement today. He said that his statement made at the launch of Kelantan Fiesta 2009 last Friday on improving the relationship had been misinterpreted. The PAS spiritual adviser said he only wanted the federal government to fulfil its responsibilities towards the state and he was willing to take steps bring the two governments closer together. He added that the federal government had to resolve the outstanding issues involving Kelantan, including the state's demand for oil royalty, federal financial grants and development projects in the state.

The state government is demanding the national oil company Petronas pay it more than RM1 billion for oil and gas extracted off Kelantan shores. Kelantan's demands for oil royalty and other federal grants have long been a contentious issue with PAS frequently accusing the Barisan Nasional (BN) federal administration of depriving the state of development funds in order to win back political support for Umno, which lost control of the state in 1990. Umno has also been taking advantage of the split in PAS over the recent unity talks proposal to rock the PR alliance in an effort to win back Malay voters lost to PR parties in last year's general election.

Since Nik Aziz's call for better federal-state ties last week, Umno leaders have stepped up the rhetoric to praise the PAS spiritual leader, who retains considerable influence in the party because of his religious credentials and reputation for being incorruptible. Umno is hoping to spark debate once again on the subject of Malay unity within PAS. But Nik Aziz scoff at suggestions made by a number of Umno leaders that he was now backing such talks which he had strongly opposed previously. “This is not party matters. I am not interested in getting the parties together, that is a separate matter,” said Nik Aziz today.

Nik Aziz, who has been the strongest critic of attempts by the conservative faction in PAS to explore political cooperation with Umno, said his stand on the matter remained unchanged. He said Umno leaders had overreacted to his statement. “This is Umno's game, it does not come from PAS,” he added.

The announcement of instituting two separate inquiries into the death of Teoh Beng Hock has indeed make a huge mockery of the public outrage, despondency and quest for justice, accountability and transparency. The decision of the Cabinet for two separate bodies, namely a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) to investigate the MACC’s standard operating procedure (SOP) on interrogation-cum-investigation and the inquest to determine the cause of Teoh’s death, is at best puzzling and at worst smacks of bad faith.

Given the already very dented image of the judiciary, any attempt at delegating responsibility to the magistrate (especially if he/she is a junior one, as is usually the case in an inquest) who, while acting as a coroner, has to be assisted by the deputy public prosecutor from the A-G’s office is surely very much unwelcomed by the discerning public. To make it worse, they have to rely on the investigation of the police, an enforcement agency currently very much wanting in integrity and transparency. Going by the many inquest proceedings of the recent past of deaths in custody, no police officials have been found culpable. Most deaths inevitably were classified “natural causes” or “sudden deaths”. So, will the rakyat be again shortchanged?

It should have dawned on Premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak by now that gone are the days when the rakyat is easily mesmerised by big slogans and rhetoric. It was over with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Pak Lah. As for now it is sensible for Najib to understand that if he still insists and bent on shouting slogans, he has just got to live up to them immediately. The rakyat wants to see it in Teoh’s tragic death investigation. Wouldn’t it be in the best interest of “1 Malaysia, People First, Performance Now” that the Cabinet orders the immediate establishment of a royal commission of inquiry to comprehensively undertake the entire investigation of the SOP of the MACC and the cause of Teoh’s death as the two are, for all intents and purposes, related?

The public not only questions the wisdom or the lack of it in separating the two procedures with their separate terms of reference, but more importantly of the intention to separate the two probes. Wouldn’t it be in the best interest of “Performance Now” and especially prudent use of taxpayers’ money that the Cabinet orders only one credible and independent RCI of experienced distinguished personalities be instituted as to undertake the comprehensive investigation and everything that surrounded Teoh’s death? Wouldn’t it also be pertinent in the spirit of “People First” that the Cabinet empathises with the psychological trauma and suffering of the late Teoh’s fiancĂ©e and his loved ones as not to subject them to unnecessary further investigation save that of the RCI? Already there were the MACC, PDRM, now perhaps the inquest and finally the RCI. Is that Najib’s style of the mantra “People First”?

Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim succeeded today in bringing into PKR ex-MIC vice president Datuk S.S. Subramaniam and the members of 12 MIC branches. The senior ex-MIC man brought with him his younger brother and some 2,500 members from 10 MIC branches within Petaling Jaya and Meru, Klang into the PKR fold. The defections were touted as a boost for the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) but it is unclear how significant Subramaniam’s move is, considering he has little influence left in the Barisan Nasional (BN) party.

But coming on the heels of former MCA vice-president Datuk Chua Jui Meng’s defection into PKR last week, Anwar will be hoping to gain some momentum from Subramaniam’s decision to join PKR. Besides Subramaniam and Chua, Anwar had also succeeded in attracting former Umno minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim into PKR as attempts to strengthen his party’s position as a lynchpin in PR.He will also be hoping the defections can bolster his party’s and PR’s claims of being a truly multiracial platform in his quest to dethrone BN and take federal power. Speaking before the mostly Indian crowd numbering some 300 people at a function announcing the defections, Subramaniam said he had been supportive of PKR's multiracial, multicultural policies for a long time but only gained courage to jump after much thinking.

"In Barisan Nasional, MIC occupies the lowest place," he said, stressing that the party was wracked by in-fighting caused by party chief Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu's preferential treatment towards members of his own caste. It is an open secret that Subramaniam had opposed Samy Vellu on many occasions, causing him to be dropped from the vice-president’S post in 1994 in favour of his successor who bears a similar name, Dr S. Subramaniam. "But what we must have is a country that is united in diversity," said Subramaniam.

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Beleaguered opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim claimed today the federal government is pulling out all the stops in its charge to crush the fledgling Pakatan Rakyat alliance, but vows not to cave in. “We’re going to make it very difficult for them. We’re going to fight at every stage,” he told reporters grimly after an afternoon in the High Court here, where he faces a second sodomy charge in a decade. The former deputy prime minister expressed his disgust at what he claims is Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s attempts to “intimidate” the opposition. He (Anwar) had earlier failed to get the court to postpone hearing his bid for evidence he claims the prosecution is purposely withholding from him, effectively denying him a fair trial.

Anwar’s lead lawyer Sulaiman Abdullah had pulled out last night due to poor health. The PKR leader wanted the judge to give him more time to appoint a new counsel but was turned down. A disgruntled Anwar told reporters the “system still perpetrated injustice”. “We need to change the system,” he stressed. He pointed out that Najib’s administration had abused public institutions such as the judiciary and the national anti-corruption body MACC, whose setting up he had supported. “I supported in 1997 to give the Anti-Corruption Agency more power even though my colleagues in the Cabinet and Umno did not support this. “But now it’s being used as a tool by the Umno-Barisan Nasional,” he said.

Anwar alleged that the authorities had failed to take action against reports of massive corruption by government officials, including the Attorney General and the Inspector General of Police despite strong evidence in their direction. Instead, they use the powers to “harass” opposition leaders on the flimsiest of excuses, he added, referring to the latest MACC raid on two DAP lawmakers in Selangor today. “Your right to expect a fair trial, your right to be defended against gangsters and Ah Longs, what about PKFZ? Where’s the investigation there? “You think you can silence the opposition by intimidating and harassing me like this? You think harassing Anwar like this, he will behave himself?” he charged. “On the contrary, we will exercise our rights to speak up for the people,” he swore.

Former MCA vice-president Datuk Chua Jui Meng last night delivered his first public address at a PKR rally in Sungai Besar near here, sharing the stage with opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. The former health minister was the last speaker before Anwar, befitting his status as PKR's latest and biggest catch. Chua, who lost the MCA's presidential race to Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat last year, joined PKR last weekend, claiming that he was convinced that he was “standing on the right side of history at a defining and critical moment of our nation’s history”. He first contested for MCA's No. 1 post in 2005, but lost to Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting.

Last night to a largely Malay crowd in this small town near the Perak-Selangor border, Chua once again explained his reason for defecting to PKR. The Malay villagers, mostly in white skullcaps, listened attentively, as he elaborated on the excesses of the government that he was once part of. He spoke with regret of the role played by the two Chinese-based Barisan Nasional (BN) parties, Gerakan and MCA, in the 1999 general election, when the ruling coalition lost Kelantan and Terengganu and a significant number of Malay-majority seats, as a result of the sacking of Anwar from the government. “In 1999, Umno had lost the support of the Malays, it was MCA and Gerakan that ensured Umno remained in power,” said Chua in perfect Malay. After the end of his speech, together with Anwar, he welcomed several unknown MCA grassroots leaders into PKR.

If there was one thing that PAS did well throughout the Manek Urai by-election campaign, it was pretending that all was well in the party. It pretended that the senior leaders of the party were united, when it was an open secret that certain leaders, including deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa, were barred from campaigning. The ban was only lifted after the state leaders realised the national implication of such an action.

Nasharudin's brief appearance in the rural constituency, and his act of performing prayers with Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, was among attempts to show that all was well between the PAS No. 2 and the state leadership. The Bachok MP had initially admitted that he was barred from campaigning, only to make a U-turn hours later, pretending not to know anything about such a directive. PAS also tried to show that the unity government or unity talks episode — which caused the campaign ban in Manek Urai — was finally behind it. But the problem was hardly solved.

Just weeks earlier PAS Youth and Umno Youth held a joint press conference to announce their intention to hold what they termed as “intellectual discussions”, just one day after senior Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders declared their commitment to the coalition. The weeks before campaigning started also saw a central committee member barred from criticising the unity government proposal, which was mooted by party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang. A commentary by Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, the PAS strategist, slamming the idea was removed from the party newspaper, Harakah, and thousands of copies of the publication had to be reprinted.

Throughout the campaign PAS also projected the stability and the success of the Kelantan state government led by Nik Aziz. At all rallies the party spiritual adviser spoke of the implementation of Islamic principles in the state, and how well Kelantan was run compared to other Barisan Nasional (BN) states. But the days of stability in the Kelantan government are numbered. The frail-looking Nik Aziz has no credible succession plan. The most popular and perhaps experienced executive councillor Datuk Husam Musa had publicly said that he was not interested in leading the state government.

But like any Islamist movement, PAS has to continue pretending that everything is well, in line with the practice of keeping the secrets of the jemaah from the public. And it paid the price yesterday when more than 1,000 voters who had voted for the party just last year backed BN instead, giving PAS an embarrassingly tiny margin of victory of 65 votes. For PAS, pretending can be fatal.

Anwar Ibrahim

Whatever the outcome of the Manek Urai by-election, it will not be by a landslide majority. Both sides of the political divide seem to agree on this as they battle for what they say are just a small number of fence-sitters in the predominantly Malay constituency. According to Kelantan Umno chief Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, fewer than 15 per cent of voters were undecided when the campaign began and there is now under 10 per cent of votes up for grabs. Making up over 99 per cent of the 12,300 voters here, rural Malays are known for usually pinning their loyalties onto a familiar flag.

"In Manek Urai, there are a lot of resettlers here who came to toil the ground and found a better life. Those that were brought here by PAS will vote for PAS and those brought by BN will go for BN," said Tumpat MP Datuk Kamaruddin Jaafar. The former PAS secretary-general said that while PAS was confident of a victory in a seat it has lost only once in six previous votes, he said that it would be difficult to increase the majority by a large margin. However sources in PAS Kelantan say that they are predicting a 2,000-vote win, an increase from the 1,352 margin achieved here by the late Ismail Yaacob in the 2008 general election. To achieve this, it has to bring back outstation voters to balance out the young votes.

Most of the youth who still live in Manek Urai are desperate for job opportunities and BN appears to have successfully played up its promise of projects here amid accusations that PAS is incapable of bringing development to the area. "There are about 1,900 voters outstation. Most of them are youth who have been in urban areas and because of that, mostly support Pakatan Rakyat," a PAS MP said. BN deputy chief and election director Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has also urged his election machinery to win the July 14 poll bit by bit. "If each day we take one per cent, we can win," he had said.

While his maths may not be accurate — the eight-day campaign will only gain BN 984 votes this way, which is still short of overcoming the previous majority — he made his point that every single vote will count in the seat it won by a mere 53 votes in 2004. The schedules of both PAS's Mohd Fauzi Abdullah and BN's Tuan Aziz Tuan Mat have also not been too hectic with a lot of ad-hoc visits being made rather than packed pre-planned events. Tuan Aziz had time yesterday to make an unscheduled stop at a parent-teacher association event after taking a mid-morning break at home while Mohd Fauzi even took time out to meet some bloggers.

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