Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Najib watches with glee as PKR implodes

Prime Minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's best Deepavali present did not come in the form of the by-election victories in Galas and Batu Sapi.

Rather, it comes in the form of PKR imploding slowly but surely by in-fighting among its top leaders.

One can imagine Najib still trying to resist to scratch the itchy pock marks left by his bout of chicken pox, but gleefully reading all about the mud-slinging between PKR's Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, who was contesting the deputy presidency, and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the de facto leader.

Today, Datuk Zaid, who was a former Minister of the Barisan Nasional government and member of Umno, held a press conference and blamed Azmin Ali and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for the allegations of fraud and malpractices plaguing the party’s ongoing elections.

He said both of them should leave PKR.

“I would like to say, if PKR wants to move, Anwar and Azmin must go... because they are the source of the problem," he added.

Yesterday, he sensationally announced that he was pulling out of the PKR deputy presidential race, claiming that there were fraud and malpractices.

Actually, the situation is rather simple - Anwar prefers (or wants) Azmin to be the new deputy president of PKR simply because he is a trusted and loyal confidant whom he can trust not to reveal his darkest secrets that perhaps only the two of them know.

Furthermore, Anwar is preparing for the day when - not if - he is sent back to jail for the sodomy case that he is still fighting in court. He would rather have Azmin effectively in charge of PKR than Zaid.

And to ensure that Azmin wins, if the allegations are to be believed, there are some rumours of irregularities in the election process.

Sadly, Anwar does not realise that his maneouvres to back his favourite confidant may ensure that his man gets to lead the party, but his image as a highly-principled leader fighting for "Reformasi" and "Justice" has been smeared very badly.

It would appear as if PKR itself needs "Reformasi" while Zaid deserves "Justice".

That is why Najib is probably rubbing his hands with glee after tucking into a thosai or two and watching as PKR implodes.

It is even more satisfying for Najib and his Umno (and Barisan Nasional) leaders because they do not have to do anything at all - they just have to tuck into the Deepavali delicacies, burp with satisfaction and watch the interesting events unfold.

Come to think of it, all Najib and gang need to do is simply make some snide remarks - like any other normal spectator - and speed up the PKR implosion.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Anwar Ibrahim's worst enemy is Anwar Ibrahim

The on-going PKR elections have revealed one thing - PKR is just like most other political parties.

It has its fair share of shady deals, vote manipulation and cronyism - in fact, it seems to be a mirror image of Umno, its sworn enemy.

Some people say it is due to PKR having too many ex-Umno members and leaders who brought with them the so-called Umno culture of money politics and politicking.

On Monday, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, who was from Umno, quit the PKR deputy presidential race saying the party "leadership actively condones malpractices and electoral fraud to achieve its designed objectives."

"I wish to announce my withdrawal as a candidate from the contest of deputy president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat and my resignation from all posts held in the party," said Zaid in a statement.

Zaid also resigned as the party's political bureau member, Federal Territory chief and Wangsa Maju chief.

He said he decided to pull out of the No 2 due to blatant vote manipulation, The Star reported.

PKR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was also from Umno, countered that Datuk Zaid should provide evidence of fraud - which actually sounded very much like a typical reply from any Umno leader.

He said PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution had on Sunday explained that it was impossible to cheat due to the internal security features embedded in the ballot papers and process would not allow cheating to occur, The Star reported.

"I have read Zaid's statement (on his resignation) and the leadership feels that whatever accusations and allegations there are, can be forwarded (to us)," Anwar told reporters at the Parliament lobby Monday.

Anwar said accusations which appeared in Haris Ibrahim's blog on Saturday had also been explained that they were unture.

In his blog, Haris said an informant had showed him a stack of ballot papers for sale and the informant could produce more of the papers.

The informant allegedly indicated Azmin Ali, Zaid's rival for deputy president's post, as the culprit behind the vote rigging.

On whether the leadership would accept Zaid's resignation, Anwar said they had not received any resignation letter from him.

"We need the contribution and participation of all leaders, including Zaid," he said when asked if he would urge Zaid to reconsider his decision (to resign from all party posts.)

Anwar added that Haris' allegations had no basis and Zaid should not make allegations without producing the evidence.

On whether Zaid is still in the running for the PKR deputy presidential race, Saifuddin said Zaid's name "is still in the ballot paper" and he had not received any resignation letter from him.

It is common knowledge that Anwar is backing Azmin - his favoured confidant - for the deputy presidency. The talk is that Anwar would rather have Azmin, his loyalist and favoured one, take over leadership of PKR when - rather than if - he goes to jail for the sodomy charge that is still being heard in court.

But Anwar must realise that he carries on his shoulders the hopes of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Malaysians who are convinced - rightfully or wrongfully - that he has the right stuff to take over the helm of the country.

Anwar must realise that his cries for "Reformasi" and "Justice" had fired up a generation of rebellious and impressionable youths who have become staunchly anti-establishment. They have been converted to his cause and are blind to his faults.

And if PKR is indeed guilty of "vote manipulation" and "electoral fraud" as alleged by Datuk Zaid, then the political struggle of the brigades of youths would be in vain. Anwar would have betrayed those who not only supported him, but believed him.

If the PKR elections become even more shambolic and disgraceful, it does not augur well for Pakatan Rakyat in the general election which is likely to be called next year.

Sadly, the dreams of those who had desired a change in government would be dashed. Ironically, the blame would be on the very person who could have brought about that change.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Controversial skyscraper

The 100-storey Warisan Merdeka building to be constructed in the former Tunku Abdul Rahman Park area near Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur has become a most controversial project with hundreds of thousands of Malaysians opposing and ridiculing it in FaceBook, Twitter, blogs and online news portals.

The points raised mostly involved money - "Sheer waste of money", "Money could be better used elsewhere", "Where is the money coming from?", "Can the government afford it?", etc.

Other points involved the location - "It'll create even more traffic jams", "The place is congested enough", etc.

I agree on the point involving the location and that it'll create even more traffic jams, but I shall take a contrarian view on whether it should be built.

The skyscraper will be built by Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB) and its president and group chief executive Tan Sri Hamad Kama Piah Che Othman held a press conference to explain that the development costing RM5bil would also have a shopping complex and condominiums.

The 100-storey tower – touted to be the country’s tallest – will cost RM2.5bil to RM3bil and will have gross floor space of 3 million sq ft and 2.2 million sq ft of net floor space .

“PNB’s existing headquarters, Menara PNB will be 30 years old by the time the new tower is completed. We are looking for strategic positioning for the future and will need new office space for the expanding PNB group of companies. The Warisan Merdeka tower will become the new PNB headquarters while Menara PNB will be upgraded and leased out for recurring income,” Hamad told The Star.

He said PNB had the capability to finance the project through internally generated funds but he did not discount resorting to borrowings “if the interest rates are attractive.”

On the rationale for PNB’s decision to undertake the project, Hamad explained: “We have been planning to develop the land since 2004 after acquiring it in 2000. After holding the land for so long, we decided it is now the right time to move ahead with the project. As an investment house, our intention is to optimise returns from the development.”

He said the project was expected to yield reasonable returns of between 8% and 10%.

PNB paid RM310mil or RM220 per sq ft to buy the 36-acre land from Pengurusan Danaharta Nasional Bhd in 2000. Hamad said the market value of the land was estimated at RM800 per sq ft today.

Of the 36 acres, around 17 acres are occupied by Stadium Merdeka and Stadium Negara, which have been identified as a national heritage buildings. Conservation works have been undertaken to restore their heritage characteristics and the two stadiums are now being managed by the National Heritage Trust.

The overall Warisan Merdeka development on 19 acres would have to complement and blend with the heritage theme, and together with the restored stadiums, the site was set to be another major landmark in Kuala Lumpur, The Star reported.

The issue of financing was answered by Tan Sri Hamad - it would be internally financed. So government funds would not be utilised. This is a vital point as many of the detractors seem to be confused over government funds and PNB funds - they are not the same. PNB's funds belong to PNB; if PNB resorts to borrowing money, PNB has to repay the loan, not the government. PNB has to generate revenue through its investments and business activities to get the cash to repay the loan.

Now to discuss the location. Property developers would salivate when told where the land is - hundreds of meters from the Petaling Street Chinatown tourist attraction, a short walk from heritage stadia where events/concerts are still held, two monorail stops from the Imbi/Bukit Bintang shopping district and smack in the middle of Kuala Lumpur.

It seems to be a nice prime location, but - there's always a but - the detractors are right about the area being congested enough.

Recently, I drove in town during the peak hour at 5pm along Jalan Tun Perak and I was stuck in a horrendous traffic jam for around 45 minutes. I was at a traffic-light junction near the Maybank headquarters and the traffic lights changed a few cycles and I did not move even an inch.

The leaders of the nation, City Hall officials and town planners should take a drive in the middle of Kuala Lumpur during peak hours to find out for themselves just how bad the traffic jams can be. The problem is the leaders and VIPs have police escorts who shoo away other motorists with their sirens and flashing lights so that their journeys would be smooth.

I recall a former Transport Minister who had never taken a ride on the LRT before and when he did for his first time, it was a major media event. It was also probably his first and last time on the LRT.

Building a 100-storey skyscraper would mean increasing the daytime population of the area by tens of thousands and also increase the number of cars by the thousands. Building condos in the area would mean increasing the night-time population of the area by the thousands and, yes, there will be hundreds of cars being driven back to the condos when offices close.

The roads in the vicinity of the proposed Warisan Merdeka project such as Jalan Hang Jebat, Jalan Hang Tuah, Jalan Maharajalela and Jalan Sultan are already very busy and congested at any time of the day. You can imagine what the traffic situation would be like when the Warisan Merdeka project is completed.

If PNB decides to go ahead with the project - and chances are it will - there will have to be much planning done to solve the traffic congestion in the area otherwise it would be another of KL's great town-planning disasters.

The project would be rendered worthless if getting in and out of the Warisan Merdeka skyscraper, shopping mall and condos means getting stuck in an hour-long jam.

Perhaps the project can be downsized to reduce the impact.

In that case, the 100-storey skyscraper can be built in a greenfield location where proper town planning can be done, highways built and LRT lines constructed. The skyscraper could then be the central development of a township (like Cyberjaya) and tens of thousands of people (and their cars) can be lured to live and work away from the crowded and congested centre of Kuala Lumpur.

And one final point to consider - why build a 100-storey skyscraper when you can build a taller one? A 100-storey skyscraper is a neither-here-nor-there structure. It will be just another skyscraper, just another building, just another phallic symbol.

My view is this - if you want to be build a 100-storey skyscraper, you might as well just add a few more storeys and make it the world's tallest.

Still an uphill battle for Barisan

As expected, Barisan Nasional cruised to victories in both by-elections in Galas, Kelantan, and Batu Sapi in Sabah.

The mood in the Barisan Nasional camp is obviously buoyant and everybody seems to be in the mood to celebrate especially since the victories coincided with the Hindu festival of Deepavali, which marks the victory of good over evil.

But just because of that coincidence, Barisan should not treat the by-election victories as victories of good over evil.

To treat the Opposition as evil would be the downfall of the ‘good’ guys.

This is simply because the victories are not reflective of the situation in other parts of Malaysia.

In Galas, which was a Barisan stronghold and a state seat within the Parliamentary constituency of Gua Musang where Umno veteran and Kelantan prince Tengku Razaleigh has reigned as king for many years, it was Ku Li’s charisma, influence and stature that won over the Orang Asli and Chinese voters (and some Malay voters too) that resulted in the Barisan victory.

Barisan’s Abdul Aziz Yusoff polled 5,324 votes against Dr Zulkefli Mohamed from PAS who obtained 4,134 votes.

In Batu Sapi, some observers say it was the emotional factor that pulled in the sympathy votes since fielding the widow of the late Batu Sapi MP, Datuk Edmund Chong Ket Wah, ensured that voters would be sympathetic to her cause (if at all she had a cause).

Barisan candidate Datin Linda Tsen Thau Lin of PBS won the Batu Sapi Parliamentary seat - she polled 9,773 votes to defeat PKR’s Ansari Abdullah (3,414 votes) and SAPP president Datuk Yong Teck Lee (2,031 votes).

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was quick to state that while the wins in Galas and Batu Sapi could bolster the coalition’s chances in the next general election, it should not take things easy.

“Barisan can’t take things for granted, we still have a lot to do,” the Deputy Prime Minister said at the MIC Deepavali open house at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur on Friday.

He is right - Barisan cannot take things for granted. Two victories in battles (in rather remote battlefields) do not mean Barisan can win the war.

Can Barisan win the battles in the urban areas? Can Barisan win the battles in Chinese-majority seats? Can Barisan win back the States and seats now controlled by Pakatan Rakyat?

Can Barisan win over the support of impressionable, rebellious and disenfranchised Malaysians? Can Barisan win over the support of the young voters who have grown up from adolescence to adulthood in an atmosphere of cynicism, skepticism and disbelief?

Despite the easy victories in the two by-election battles, it will still be an uphill battle for Barisan in the next general election.