A Dr M video to tug at the heartstrings

Opinion  |  Terence Netto
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | A picture is worth a thousand words, goes the proverbial saying. An iconic political image may be worth much more, in terms of the shifts it may cause in voters' preferences.

Will the video, now trending on the net, of a lachrymose Dr Mahathir Mohamad lamenting the way things are and why he has to do what he is doing to an inquiring little girl do for the Pakatan Harapan cause in 2018 what a similarly heart-tugging image of Tunku Abdul Rahman did for the opposition's banner at a momentous time in 1988?

Would both images come to be seen to have caused decisive shifts at the ballot box?

Newspaper photographs of a teary Tunku Abdul Rahman, sitting in a wheelchair and speaking to a large crowd at a rally in Johor Bahru in August 1988, had a tremendous effect on the vote in the poll in the Johor capital three decades ago.

The poignant image of Malaysia's then retired first prime minister weeping over the state of national affairs helped independent candidate Shahrir Samad win comfortably the election for the parliamentary seat of Johor Bahru against an Umno candidate.

Incumbent Shahrir, who was then Umno MP for Johor Bahru, had resigned his seat to force the by-election after accepting a challenge from an Umno flunkey.

Shahrir was then a prominent member of the opposition to Mahathir within Umno.

The by-election was regarded as a bellwether of opposition to Mahathir, not only within Umno but also the country.

The poll came in the slipstream of two pivotal events: one in April 1987 when Mahathir narrowly beat back a challenge for the Umno presidency by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, and the other was the sacking and impeachment of the country's top judge, Salleh Abas, in May 1988.

The by-election was held in the bitter aftermath of both interconnected events, Lord President Salleh's sacking ostensibly having to do with the supposed displeasure he caused the king through a letter he wrote him over what came to regarded as a trifling matter.

But discernible in the background to Salleh's sacking was the whine of a bigger axe being ground: Salleh had called the full complement of nine judges of the supreme court to hear the appeal of a High Court decision to declare Umno illegal on grounds of the participation in the Umno polls of April 1987 of 13 illegal branches.

It was a momentous case, for if the appeal was rejected, Umno would have had to hold a re-election, with the close result of the first enactment of the poll in April 1987, issuing in Mahathir's razor-thin victory, in danger of reversal.

Thus much rode on the outcome of the appeal. Salleh's sacking and eventual impeachment came to be regarded as collateral damage in the whole saga of the 13 allegedly illegal branches' participation in the...

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