PS: This is not an UMNO bashing piece. If UMNO or the Government is mentioned in negative light is because I am describing a point and not accusing them of anything. If your blood boils, then re-read this paragraph and try to separate what is described (i.e. Ali ate a cat) versus what the authors opinion is (SWK could not care if Ali ate a cat).
Between Anwar, Kit Siang, Hadi and Nik Aziz, the leader I respect the most is Kit Siang. The reason I respect Kit Siang the most has nothing to do with Kit Siang himself, but rather the effect Kit Siang has on the DAP. Under his leadership, the DAP has managed to survive many “near death” experiences to emerge as a very lean, mean fighting machine, which can get things done without having to buy people off. Kit Siang has also managed to strengthen the DAP party machinery, and pulled off a major coup when Dato Ariff Sabri and Aspan Alias joined the party. These gentleman are career politicians with an in depth understanding of the Malay psyche and a style that combines an deep intellectual rigour with a first class political mindset.This to me is the hallmark of a great leader, not in what he or she personally achieves but the impact he or she brings to the organisation.
In the same breath, we have to respect the DS Hadi – DS Nik Aziz combination as well. They have managed to steer PAS through a period when they could have succumbed to quick riches by joining forces with UMNO, but chose to remain independent because they were “long term greedy” and saw that UMNO had serious structural problems and was on the verge of imploding. Perhaps people will never fully appreciate the role they played in negotiating some of the most contentious racial, religious and political scandal issues that beset Malaysia in the aftermath of the 12th General Election, and ensuring the Opposition pact did not disintegrate.
However, neither of those leaders are destined to be Prime Minister.
For I believe, that the person who will emerge as the Prime Minister of Malaysia after the conclusion of the 13th General Election, is Malaysia’s most prominent politician, the one, the only Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
This election will be won on tenacity , political marketing strategy and execution.
I do remember many people mentioning that both BN and Pakatan will trade blow for blow and a clear leader will emerge only in the final stretch. In this aspect we have to commend Anwar Ibrahim’s political manoeuvrings. However it was not all smooth sailing as Anwar made some extremely bad blunders early in the season, with the Sept 16 fiasco and the Nasaruddin Hashim defection that led to Pakatan losing control over Perak. The situation went from bad to worse when a spate of PKR MPs defected, citing a lack of confidence in the leadership of DSAI. And against this entire fiasco, Anwar Ibrahim faced a sodomy trial that could have finished him off politically and put him behind bars for a long time. What is even more remarkable is that if that itself was not enough, there was the case of the Dato T video tape scandal.
These spate of scandals, allegations and missteps would have been enough to bury any other politician. Except of course Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim. DSAI maintained his innocence, blaming the Government for engineering a political conspiracy against him and literally rode his luck. Rather than lying low, DSAI raised his profile, maintaining a strong web presence throughout the episode and keeping himself relevant.
Perhaps UMNO has failed to realise one important aspect of DSAI. He fights best when his back is against the wall, and he defines himself as the one the Government is trying to destroy at all costs. Voters then work out the logic that since the Government has practically built an industry to attack DSAI, then he must be somebody special, and if he is somebody special then perhaps we should give him a hearing.
This combination of tenacity and fighting against impossible odds is how DSAI has defined himself ever since his sacking in 1998. UMNO must understand that when the Government goes into an overkill against DSAI, this triggers subconscious reactions in the minds of voters who remember the entire episode surrounding DSAI’s sackings. In fact, I would argue UMNO’s attacks on DSAI is what makes DSAI so powerful, because from a marketing perspective, UMNO is helping to position DSAI in the exact space that he should occupy in the voters subconscious.
I would to perhaps go into a bit more depth on this last aspect. DSAI right now is a champion political brand. His blog (http://anwaribrahimblog.com) has the highest web ranking, surpassing that of the Prime Minister. He regularly draws audiences of several thousands in the hamlets and villages he visits.
The only tragedy from UMNO’s point of view is their inability to understand that they themselves are to blame for this. UMNO’s relentless character assassination of DSAI establishes the brand associations namely
- “Di zalimi” – The Oppressed One
- A fighter for freedom
- A rebel against the system
- A tenacious individual
DSAI then sought this opportunity to re-engineer himself as a leader for a post Mahathir Malaysia. He defined a post Mahathir Malaysia as a country where there will benevolence for the people will take precedence over pure economic development. He nullified the Government’s advantage in funding infrastructure projects by linking those spending to the “Mahakayas”, so people no longer see “Satu Lagi Projek Barisan Nasional” as the Government helping the people, but rather the Government helping themselves to fat commissions. He also instituted the debate culture and repeatedly challenged the Prime Minister to debate him on policy issues, a move that is lauded by the people who want to experience the same atmosphere as that in a US Presidential election. Lastly he saw the early embers of a youth revolution and a sided unashamedly with the student leaders in campuses, going so far as to defend their actions in raising the Sang Saka flag.
In terms of branding, DSAI has chosen his segment of the Malay speaking base. He is going for those who are discontented, those who are oppressed, those who are rebellious and those who yearn for freedom. He is excluding those who are contended, those who want to be bribed and those who feel very strongly on Malay rights. He is neutral on those who view religion very strongly. This is the mark of positioning – which means making marketing to a certain set of customers and ignoring the rest.
Secondly the Malay speaking base is not just Malays but includes Bumiputeras from Sabah and Sarawak as well. That is the brains in being able to grow the size of the addressable market, and his big gamble on Sabah is starting to pay off massively.
- Brand Presence: Thanks to TV3 ,Utusan Melayu and the army of UMNO bloggers, DSAI has presence because his name is constantly mentioned night after night in all communication channels, both in print, mass media and digital.
- Brand relevance: DSAI moved the PKR brand away from the Indian base which had supported it during GE 13 and back towards its base, which was the “reformists” who are overwhelmingly Malay. When facing the multitude of controversies, DSAI chose to led leaders like Rafizi, Nik Nazmi and Faekah Husin step up to the plate to build up brand equity for the party, which he later borrowed, by positioning himself as the leader of PKR.
- Brand performance: DSAI maintains a gruelling schedule, criss crossing the country to deliver ceramah after ceramah, speaking at international conferences and giving interviews to the foreign media.
- Brand Advantage: DSAI’s ability to withstand the incessant attacks against him is now being compared against PM Najib’s failure to stand up against those who opposed his policies. The PM’s failure to stamp out widespread corruption after promising a lot is now being seen as a reason for voters to prefer a fresh choice rather than the old regime.
Above: The evolution of student radicals. DSAI chose to use protégé like Rafizi and Adam Adli to court the student and youth votes. Youths can bond with Rafizi and Adam Adli and DSAI can borrow brand equity from these guys to go after the youth segment. In contrast, Dato Seri Najib tried to go direct to the youths which is a product mismatch and poor marketing strategy.
- Brand Bonding : Perhaps in this regard, DSAI may not be able to reclaim the high brand bonding scores he used to enjoy in 1998 or in 2008. The attacks against him have taken a little bit of his lustre and the stress and toll is clearly showing on his face. However, it could be the case that this brand bonds now with a different older and mature set of voters than it did with the younger generation. However, by building brand equity through folk like Rafizi and Adam Adli, DSAI still can offer something to the younger generation that bonds with that segment, and borrow brand equity from them.