Sunday 2 September 2012

Credit it to the bus-a-nova

  • Terence Netto
  • 12:10PM Sep 2, 2012
Democracy is never fully realised. At best, it's an ambition, a quest for a goal that often eludes the grasp of its aspirants.

To revisit the reformasi movement, 14 years on from the week of its convulsive beginnings in the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim from Umno and government, is to celebrate a popular awakening but also to acknowledge the difference between the rapture of rebellion and its realisation in reformed and democratic institutions.

Unfortunately, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, the alphabet of democratic aspiration of the masses is marked more by its fragility than its fulfillment.

pkr campaign bus attacked in kota bharu 1In our country, this reality was underlined in jarring fashion in Kota Bharu early yesterday when the windscreen of the campaign bus launched by PKR the day before was smashed.

Emblazoned with the party logo and visage of its iconic leader Anwar, the bus is an American-style campaign prop whose novelty is certain to draw attention.

By introducing the campaign bus, PKR are pushing at the frontiers of democratic persuasion in this country by employing as agitprop items hitherto put to more conventional uses.

Sporting the slogan, ‘Jelajah Merdeka Rakyat' (‘Journey of Emancipation'), the bus was on a 14-stop tour of five states - Pahang, Kelantan, Perak, Kedah and Perlis - when unknown hoodlums hurled a hard object at its windscreen in the Kelantan capital, cracking the screen in several places.

Reactionary forces lurk in the more dingy folds of our democracy, but PKR are, apparently, undeterred. They said the battered bus would be driven to the other stops in its three-day ‘fly-the-flag' campaign tour.

Prevented from taking selected media representatives on what was its inaugural journey by the refusal of the Road Transport Department to grant it a permit to carry passengers, the bus, nevertheless, was driven off to a start in its 14-stop journey after its launch at the PKR headquarters in Tropicana, Kelana Jaya, on Friday morning.

The bus, sporting the party's logo and the smiling countenance of its leader are certain to draw popular notice, not just for its novelty as a political campaign tool, but also for the panache of its styling.

Campaign lore 

Few things are as fruitful of inspiration as democratic competition between political parties. The use of the bus will add to the campaign lore surrounding the 13th general election.

This was confirmed by the minor stir its arrival caused late Friday morning at Taman Meranti, in Bentong, where PKR held an Aidilfitri gathering, attended by Anwar and wife, Dr Wan Azizah Ismail.

NONEAnwar (right), who had just begun speaking by the bus was maneuvered into the car-lined lane leading up to where the gathering was held, paused to allow the 400-odd people assembled, to survey the novelty before resuming his theme of how the grant of independence to the Malaysian people, 55 years ago Friday, did not conduce to their real emancipation.

When the RTD grants permission that would allow the bus to carry passengers, Anwar and other PKR leaders are likely to stump towns and villages on the campaign trail, using a retractable staircase and platform from which to electioneer.

Just when the American presidential election cycle is in full flower, the introduction of this campaign bus here in Malaysia ought to give a fillip to trends that would make a head-to-head debate between the two point men of the competing coalitions - Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and Opposition Leader Anwar - well nigh irresistible.

So far Najib has weaseled out of the challenge to debate Anwar, but PKR continues to think up an innovative pattern of responses to Umno-BN's reliance on the staid and sterile in campaign methods.

The setting-up of a whistleblowers' centre and now the use of a stylised campaign bus are examples of this creative pattern that has starkly contrasted the ossified methods of Umno-BN with the newfangled strategies of its rival.

 Drawn out marathon

Now, with constant deferments to the date of the 13th general election, the election campaign has become a drawn out marathon, a race that goes to the steady, not the swift.

Bt Jalil Merdeka NajibPM Najib (left) must be thinking that an even gait and a great fund raiser would allow him to outlast Pakatan Rakyat and the battles of attrition the latter are always launching.

But a movement for change, such as reformasi that was triggered 14 years ago, can only be quenched if there is a paradigm shift brought about either through the implementation of the agenda for change or through a shift in the perception of the deciders: the voting public.

Thus far neither that agenda for change nor a perceptual shift is discernible. That would make the quest for change even keener as time winds down on the clock to a constitutionally mandated electoral verdict.

In these straits, the chances of the innovative rather than the staid coming through must be rated the more highly simply because salvation is always for those who never cease to strive.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them. It is the ideal occupation for a temperament that finds power fascinating and its exercise abhorrent.

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