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The most awaited political battle is finally around the corner with Barisan Nasional’s Arif Shah Omar Shah taking on Pakatan Rakyat de facto leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for the Permatang Pauh parliamentary constituency.

Many have described the battle as the mother of all by-elections. It has indeed stimulated tremendous interest, not only among the locals in Permatang Pauh but the nation as a whole.

The whole nation is focused on this battle, set to take place on Aug 26. With the campaign picking up steam, everyone is talking about Anwar and his impending return to Parliament. Will it happen?

If it does, will it be for the better? Can Pakatan take over the federal government as claimed by Anwar? Can he become the next prime minister? These are the questions in the minds of most Malaysians.

This by-election is very different from all previous ones. The voters of Permatang Pauh are faced with a very important task, a national duty that must be executed with great wisdom and discern, for they may not only be electing a member of parliament, but the new opposition leader who could be the next prime minister of the country.

Anwar in his speeches all over the country has outlined the problems that plague the nation and its people - killer inflation, corruption, judicial crisis, and abuse of power and above all, misappropriation of the country's wealth by an elite few.

He has pledged to put a stop to all these, promised to bring down fuel price and introduce a more balanced economic policy for all Malaysians regardless of race.

Anwar’s pledges may sound too good to be true but nevertheless we see some hope for change that is so badly needed. He seems to have understood the plight of the ordinary man on the street in this time of financial crisis and willing, if given the chance, to introduce reforms to meet these challenges.

He consistently speaks of the need for all races to unite as Malaysians and outlined his vision of a developed and progressive nation where all citizens regardless of ethnicity are treated equally and fairly so that they live together in peace and harmony.

He advocates the concept of ketuanan rakyat and says he is an agent for the Malays, Chinese and Indians alike.

In short he is the people’s agent. He talks of Malaysian unity, not Malay, Chinese or Indian unity. These are sentiments that are rarely heard from our politicians these days, when race politics have become the norm.

The BN on the other hand is still reeling from its losses at the last general elections. Umno has yet to come to its senses and accept the peoples’ verdict and introduce reforms demanded by the people.

The power struggle within the party is threatening its unity and in this state of disarray, Umno is not in a position to effectively lead the other members of the coalition, particularly MCA, Gerakan and MIC.

The recent steep hike in fuel prices has resulted in marked inflation, which had thrust a tremendous burden on the people who are already finding it hard to make ends meet with their meager income. The BN has yet to offer tangible economic policies to overcome these financial woes.

Corruption and wastage of public funds needs to be checked more aggressively so that the people will be able to see the BN is seriously concerned about their plight. The present action of the ACA against some senior officers is a positive sign but much more has to be done to convince the people that the BN is committed to fight corruption.

At the same time, reforms aimed at restoring the integrity and independence of the judiciary, police force and civil service has to be accelerated and implemented boldly without fear. Politicisation of these institutions must be stopped immediately.

The other major problem is the escalating ethnic polarisation. Our inter-ethnic and inter-religious harmony, which was the envy of many before, is fast deteriorating and the BN must quickly address this before it leads to a disaster.

Serious efforts must be made to overcome the grouses of the various communities by dialogue. A multiracial approach is needed to address the various problems faced by the various races.

Race-based policies of the past are becoming obsolete in the present highly competitive global world where the talents of all citizens must be fully tapped if we want to succeed.

The BN, in its campaign, should address these pressing problems that plague the nation. It is not a time for Anwar bashing, as his personal problems are not the issues in this by-election. Instead it is a time for concrete policies to tackle the economic crisis, promote genuine racial integration and tackle corruption.

Anwar may be contesting in this by-election but the election is just not about Anwar alone. It is about the reforms that he is pledging to undertake. The people want reforms and the BN is in a position bring those changes but does it does not seem to have the political will to do so. Unless it finds that will soon, it may be too late.

The world has advanced tremendously, so has Malaysia. Voters are more educated and better informed now and they are more concerned about good political governance, inflation and corruption that have affected their daily lives. They are not going to be tricked into being distracted by the personal life of one individual.

The voters of Permatang Pauh have been given a golden opportunity to send an effective opposition leader to parliament, who could work towards creating a two-party system of democracy to offer an effective check and balance for the government.

He could well become the next prime minister of the country. After 50 years of failed policies, it may be time we give him a chance as we have nothing to lose even if he fails.

The people of Permatang Pauh have this simple but important decision to make, a decision on behalf of all Malaysians, present and future – do they want a change or continue with obsolete policies that are doomed to fail in a world that is highly competitive and where only the best succeed.

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