With state elections scheduled for Aug 12, Anwar Ibrahim must build on his cult of personality if he wants to keep Perikatan Nasional at bay and turn a presumed “green wave” in his favour.
That cult is something he created after his unceremonious sacking from the government and Umno almost a quarter of a century ago. It is something he has developed meticulously through long and arduous legal and political battles.
The time has come for Anwar to take that cult to the next level by creating an idealised and heroic image of himself as the supreme leader of the Malays and government.
It is something Najib Razak attempted during his term in office.
Remember “Ah Jib Gor”, Najib’s version of a moderate Malay leader intended to woo the Chinese community? What about that enormous full figure cut out that went on display near the Batu Caves temple during Thaipusam twelve years ago?
Najib’s strategy was to use his then soaring image as the prime minister and Umno leader to draw support for Umno, BN and the government. Unfortunately, it was scuttled by the 1MDB fiasco.
A subsequent attempt at reinventing himself as “Bossku” after being forced to relinquish Putrajaya and leadership of Umno was also initially successful.
It allowed BN to sweep the Melaka and Johor state elections respectively – only to be derailed by his jailing following a criminal conviction in the SRC International corruption case.
Anwar, however, will not expect to be beset by such troubles.
But with the unity government’s performance to date steady but unspectacular, and seeing that the Malay community’s support is critical for PH-BN to win at the state elections, the charismatic prime minister will do well to leverage on his own personality and unrivalled oratory skills to draw the crowds, and their votes, in.
With interracial relationships at an all-time low, religious rhetoric at excessive levels and troubles plaguing the economy, the rakyat today appears to have lost a significant amount of faith in the country’s institutions and systems.
When that happens, the common folk search in earnest for a charismatic individual on whom to bestow authority.
In Malaysia today, Anwar is the only one who fits the bill.
None of our former prime ministers of recent years – Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Muhyiddin Yassin, Mahathir Mohamad or Najib – ever had the kind of adulation from Malaysians across the board that Anwar enjoys.
To his supporters, Anwar is a Hero-King, the only man capable of restoring the sanctity of Islam, avenging of deep-seated corruption and riding through tough economic times.
It now falls on him to use that personality to drive the PH-BN unity coalition to victory at the upcoming elections in Negeri Sembilan, Selangor, Penang, Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan.
When campaigning, Anwar must convince his own people that he is worthy of their allegiance. He must seize on his inherent popularity with the Malays and show that, as the incumbent prime minister, he is the only one who can protect their rights and interests.
He must assure the Malays that despite any misgivings about PKR, DAP, Amanah and especially Umno, a vote for those parties is in fact a vote for him.
In turn, all other unity coalition leaders must promote Anwar while playing down their own significance and the importance of their parties.
For PH-BN to win, Anwar must be their “poster boy”.
Anwar simply has to tell his story. It is a compelling one. He is, after all, the only adversary to have taken Mahathir on and won.
At the end of the day, Anwar’s cult of personality is probably PH-BN’s best bet of winning at the ballot box.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.