It’s Chinese New Year – a time to visit relatives and friends, renew relationships, share the joy and even give gifts.
And whether PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang is aware of it or not, he just handed Pakatan Harapan a, shall we say, Chinese New Year gift.
What’s the gift, you ask? Well, it is Hadi’s withdrawal of his defamation suit against Sarawak Report founder and editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown.
Hadi had initiated defamation proceedings against Rewcastle-Brown in London on April 21, 2017, over her allegation that RM90 million had entered the accounts of top PAS leaders to woo them into supporting Umno and Barisan Nasional.
PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan had then said Hadi was seeking damages for libel in respect of words published by Rewcastle-Brown in an article titled “As Najib Denies All Over 1MDB, Let’s Not Forget His Many Other Criminal Connections – Comment”.
He said Hadi was also seeking an injunction to stop her from publishing the same or similar article, and other relief.
Takiyuddin said Rewcastle-Brown had published a false report alleging Hadi had received or accepted or agreed to accept a large bribe from then prime minister Najib Razak to “compromise” PAS’ political stand against him.
He said she had failed to respond to a letter seeking an apology and removal of the article, resulting in the filing of the suit.
Three days ago, on Feb 2, it was reported that Hadi had settled the defamation suit out of court through a consent order dated Feb 1 at the London High Court of Justice. The terms of the consent order have not been made known.
However, what is clear is that Rewcastle-Brown did not apologise to Hadi and she did not remove the offending article.
Certainly, PH would not be so foolish as to not use this fortuitous occurrence to bash Hadi and PAS in the coming Semenyih by-election campaign as the withdrawal without apology raises many puzzling questions. Some may even make damaging inferences.
Why drop the suit after being so gung-ho about it? How come there is no apology from Rewcastle-Brown? How come the offending article has not been removed? Won’t PAS supporters who donated about RM2.1 million for the case to proceed be disappointed?
To tell the truth, I am disappointed because now I will never know the truth about the allegations. I suppose others, including many of the voters in Semenyih, are disappointed too; or, at the very least, curious about the actual situation.
The issue, therefore, should resonate with the more urban and educated Semenyih voters who have to go to the polls again following the death of PPBM assemblyman Bakhtiar Mohd Nor from a heart attack on Jan 11.
I am certain after the drubbing at Cameron Highlands, Pakatan Harapan would naturally be a little concerned, if not worried, about the Semenyih state by-election on March 2.
Some say Barisan Nasional (BN) won the Cameron Highlands parliamentary by-election on Jan 26 because it fielded an Orang Asli candidate; some say it was because people had lost faith in Pakatan Harapan as it had not kept many of its election pledges; and some say it was due to the strong support BN received from PAS.
Even PH chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad said BN won the Cameron Highlands seat because PAS had joined forces with Umno.
Certainly, I would expect Umno and PAS to go the usual route of “Islam is under attack, Malays are under threat” given that 67.71% of the Semenyih electorate is Malay.
In the 14th general election last May 9, PPBM secured 23,428 votes to win the Semenyih seat with an 8,964-vote majority against Umno’s 14,464 votes. PAS secured 6,966 while PSM garnered 1,293 votes.
The 16.69% Chinese and 13.73% Indian votes may not matter to Umno and PAS, so they will continue their attack against PH by claiming the real people running the government are DAP leaders – and by inference the Chinese.
In fact, Umno Youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki is reported to have said the party’s message that the rights of Malays are being undermined by a ruling coalition “controlled” by the DAP is gaining traction among the Malays.
PAS, as Youth chief Muhammad Khalil Abdul Hadi is reported to have said, believes the cooperation between Umno and the party which had brought success in the Cameron Highlands by-election can be repeated in Semenyih with an equally good result.
But they may be missing the fact that there is a difference in the location, lifestyle and education levels of the Malays in Cameron Highlands and those in Semenyih. And the fact that Semenyih is in Selangor which is under firm PH control, while Cameron Highlands is in Pahang under the rule of the BN.
It is true that BN won the Cameron Highlands by-election because of the strong support of Malay rural voters but the situation is not the same in urban Semenyih where people understand issues better and are far less likely to be persuaded by emotional appeals.
The Malays in Cameron Highlands may believe the Umno-PAS line of argument that Malays and Islam are under threat, but, I believe, the majority of Malays in Semenyih will be able to see that this is pure political propaganda and that the Malays in PH, led by Dr Mahathir, are very much in the driver’s seat.
But if they do believe the Umno-PAS line, then the nation is in serious trouble. For now though, it does not look that way.
So, here’s to a bright and wonderful Chinese New Year. Gong Xi Fa Cai everyone.
A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.