Anwar enthrals the crowd while Arif manages only small groups

Carolyn Hong, The Straits Times

Ceramah – rallies – are always the most entertaining part of an election campaign, and it is no different in Permatang Pauh. After all, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is a known orator – witty, funny, with a finely-honed ability to hammer home his points with well-timed repetition and quick humour.

The Barisan Nasional doesn’t really do ceramah rounds, and when it does hold one, the crowd rarely matches that of the opposition. I guess it’s more fun to hear a bit of government-bashing, than the government being on the defensive.

Anwar’s ceramah have been drawing crowds of hundreds to thousands every night. He does about three each night, speaking for less than an hour before rushing off to the next.

The themes are fairly standard. He speaks of the sodomy charge against him, slamming the government for what he describes as a trumped-up accusation to discredit him, and spends time recounting his rectal examination and how his private parts were measured.

He also takes pains to defend the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance’s multi-racial platform, and to refute claims that he is sacrificing Malay interests for his own political ambition.

So far, the response seems to be good, and the audience responsive, although they tend to clap louder at his salacious recollection of the rectal examination than at his promise to defend multi-racial interests.

Anwar definitely has the edge when it comes to rallies, and going by the response and anecdotal evidence, it appears that he also has the edge in this battle to win the Permatang Pauh by-election.

Even the Umno side appears to concede that. His opponent Arif Shah Omar Shah claims to be catching up, but is still behind Anwar in the vote count. He has been actively going around meeting voters, and attending events.

I have yet to hear him speak at rallies; indeed, so far, he has not held any except for talks to small groups. He said he believes in the personal touch, listening and speaking to individual voters.

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