By Phlip Rodrigues
Ring the bell. The fight is on.
Here comes the motley crowd of political wrestlers who are all primed up for the 2022 general election. It promises to be a no-holds-barred contest, where all the dirtiest tricks imaginable will mostly likely be used to maximum effect.
It’s a match where you can (metaphorically, of course) hit your opponent with steel chairs, spray his eyes with irritating liquid, knock him out with a knuckleduster or choke him with a chain – all with the single-minded goal of forcing your enemy to surrender to a more superior force.
It does not look as if there are any referees around to cry foul, giving all the aspirants for the championship belt a free hand to beat each other up mercilessly.
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The ground rule is simple: all they have to do is to throw each other out of the ring until only one is left standing – and that person and his party will be declared the undisputed title-holder.
Now take a look at the fighters in the small sports arena named ‘Malaysia Square Garden’. Such a tiny space with so many hats thrown in. They come in all sizes and shapes – big, small, scrawny, muscular, tall, short.
For maximum publicity, all the main combatants sport distinct looks to represent their party. Some are clad in traditional baju Melayu (Malay traditional attire) and armed with keris. Others are dressed in flowing robes and sporting turbans with the look of divine wrath on their faces.
Some others are running around the ring waving their flags emblazoned with the unmistakable logo of a rocket about to take off on yet another mission to penetrate enemy strongholds or to defend their turfs.
All these contestants have fought in previous bouts dubbed by-elections, featuring inevitably old foes on both sides of the political divide. But these are small matches foreshadowing the bigger campaign, which comes every five years.
Such a moment has arrived. This 15th edition of ‘ElectionMania’ is shaping up to be a battle royal because it is a do-or-die tussle for all participants – they either make it to the pinnacle of the political pyramid or lie buried deep down in the political dung heap, never to rise again.
Let’s focus on the few important figures milling restlessly about the arena. Take that old man there in his baju Melayu with the keris. That’s Big Show, who had been the king of the ring for over 60 years until his reign came to an inglorious end in 2018.
By right, he should have retired graciously but Big Show, whose real name is Umno, refuses to bow out. He wants to make a comeback after winning a few small electoral bouts, which boosted his ego and confidence.
Despite being inducted into the Hall of Infamy for various misdeeds while in the power, Big Show – known for his brash behaviour during his glory days – shows no remorse at all.
This show-off thinks he still has the old magic touch to snatch back the belt and hold it until hell freezes over. His signature move is to use a ‘steel chair’ – call it abuse of power – to hit his opponent’s back when the latter is looking the other way.
This veteran also uses his massive weight (accumulated through decades of untrammelled power and untold wealth) to pulverise smaller wrestlers into submission. No one can mess around with this hulking figure for a very long time.
In that seething crowd, Big Show’s rival is also flexing his biceps. The Edge – that’s the stage name for PKR – is still fuming mad after Big Show, who was beaten in that historic election four years ago, grabbed back the championship belt in an underhanded manner (with the help of a ‘steel chair’). Now the Edge has a chance for a grudge rematch.
Then there’s this formidable warrior, popularly called the Sheikh in the wrestling universe, who wears a white mask and a dark green robe calculated to inspire fear as he circles round his arch-enemy, the Rocket Man (aka DAP), waiting for a chance to spray ‘pepper’ into his opponent’s eyes. The Sheikh or Pas looks with extreme loathing and contempt at the Rocket Man, whom he denounces as the Great Infidel.
This election is unlike any other because an unelected government is fighting for dear life to stay in the saddle. If it loses, it is a death sentence: it will not have a cat in hell’s chance to warm the seat of power ever again.
So, who will lift the championship title in ElectionMania 2022? Will it be the Big Show showing some signs of resurgence? Will it be the Edge being helmed by an angry man determined to punish the betrayers? Or will it be the Sheikh who has one leg tied to Big Show and another leg chained to newcomer The Backstabber?
Or will it be one of the upstarts like the Young Swashbuckler (or Muda), who is gunning for young voters who might rally around his banner in droves?
Political pundits wouldn’t want to bet on Big Show making a stunning comeback. They have practically written off this scandal-plagued, lumbering old Malaysia with nothing much left to inspire respect.
The prediction is the Edge (PKR) will give the sluggish old man a heave-ho in this return match.
But the Edge might also come to a grievous end at the hands of the Sheikh, who believes God is on his side.
The Backstabber? No one is giving him much hope to see daylight as he is up against bigger muscular opponents.
Will the Sheikh and the Rocket Man be the last two fighters in the ring? The Rocket Man will try his level best to blast the Sheikh to oblivion, while the latter will swing his scimitar to try and make mincemeat of the Rocket Man. If either one wins, it will be a historic ‘game-changer’ – for better or for worse.
Voters will know who will be the last man standing and champion – the Sheikh or the Rocket Man – on election day, come rain or shine.
Phlip Rodrigues is a former journalist