Permatang Pauh is actually the name of a sleepy town in Province Wellesley. A small pocket of Chinese traders amidst a sea of their Malay brothers. Ordinarily, there's nothing going on there but since the past fortnight, Permatang Pauh is in every Malaysian's mind and on every Malaysian's tongue.
Permatang Pauh is also the name of the parliamentary constituency that's in the midst of a by-election. It's a three-cornered fight here but nobody is giving the luckless third chap any notice. So effectively, the fight is between Anwar Ibrahim and Ariff Shah.
Driving through the Permatang Pauh constituency in the morning is no fun. Most of the electioneering activities would have taken place the night before and will take place again nightly until Monday. So it's just like an ordinary day when I drove through Permatang Pauh the town today towards Kubang Semang and back to Bukit Mertajam. The only difference between driving through the area now and, say, two months ago, is the election decoration. Both sides of the roads are lined with posters, buntings and flags of the Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional. The third chap's election machinery is still stillborn so he can safely say Bye Bye to his RM15,000 deposit.
If you want to base this by-election on these decorations alone, I can say that it is a close call between the Pakatan Rakyat and the Barisan Nasional. For one thing, the decorations are horrible, totally lacking in imagination. For another thing, both political parties have lousy models as their poster boys. Yucks! I guess you cannot have everything, right?
So what's the story in Permatang Pauh? Where can you go to read the real stories about what's happening during the campaigning? Answer: not the mainstream Press. Instead, try the alternative Press and the blogs maintained by hordes of politically-minded bloggers.
The mainstream Press, of course, still haven't completely learnt from the lessons of the March elections, are still printing stories to run down Anwar. It's quite amusing to see their pathetic attempts. But then, readers have now learnt to read mainstream papers the right way. If the newspapers say BAD, interpret it as GOOD. If the story says HARSH SIDE, read it as SENSITIVE SIDE. Then you get a more balanced picture.
On the other hand, the alternative Press - The Malaysian Insider, Malaysiakini, The Nut Graph (a new one) - have been serving up mental images that are a complete contrast to the mainstream efforts. And they say that it is going to be a big victory for Anwar. In addition, there are so many other sources of information on the Internet, including pictures, that serve to support the reports by the alternative Press.
One of my friends said that the people in Permatang Pauh are a lucky lot. I think what he meant was, the voters of Permatang Pauh are the lucky ones. They get a chance to exercise their constitutional rights twice this year. Moreover, they are considered as king-makers this time around as they may actually be deciding the next direction which this country will take. On both counts, that's true. Otherwise, why should I be looking forward to the red letter day, 26 Aug 2008, when I'm able to cast my vote again?