FEB 13 — There has never been a more rudderless government in living memory. The loudest spokesperson for this administration is the Home minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. The government delivery is supervised by “everything” Minister Idris Jala and the deputy prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, is having a long farewell procession.
But this column is not set to bash Barisan Nasional, but rather to remind Pakatan Rakyat of the state of affairs.
Not being able to perch itself on the top and secure the three-party coalition as a government in waiting in the hearts of the voters in such favourable conditions, is a damning verdict of the state of Opposition politics.
It is akin to Pepsi not inching into Coke sales even after the latter owned up to putting arsenic into its bottles.
For it appears the leadership is not boarding the same ship, but staying on their own smaller vessels and except for a common trajectory, ignoring the choppy waters of Malaysian politics at their own peril.
If all are unwilling to sink together then they are not willing to rule together, that is the simple math preferred by the keen non-partisan observer.
As a foreign friend commented years ago, if all our explanations show that there is an inept administration responsible for delaying and jettisoning all the reforms necessary to get this country back on its feet, when it is so plaintively clear, why are those opposed to this administration unable to rock the polling booth?
Whether it is the fear or truth of cheating, gerrymandering, media blitz or good old fashioned thuggery, it does not explain why a crowd of conscientious and capable citizens cannot unseat this government.
There have been wins, unfortunately most of them Pyrrhic victories due to the re-engineering of the system supported by a largely obedient civil service leadership. Only winning federal power means real change, real reform. If PKR, PAS and DAP are committed to real change, real reform then they have to bite the bullet. There has to be a resolve bathed in conviction not expediency.
The anatomy of a believable resolve
The Kajang move, for example, shows fractures in the coalition.
I oppose the decision to vacate the seat so that a political shuffle can take place. But as a member, I support my party’s contest for the seat. PAS and DAP leaders give a range of reactions to the move, depending on who’s asked. While politics is always about the present, the long-term futures of all three parties are tied to the next general election. Squabbling today erodes votes at the 14th General Election. Pakatan leaders should consider this heavily.
(This is not to mean the voters in Kajang are obligated to vote for Pakatan. The voters are free to vote one way or the other, or just not cast a ballot. Pakatan leaders can critique the manner in which the situation developed and the internal spat inside PKR, but they have to show their allegiance to the coalition.)
Pakatan cannot move forward without discipline.
Coalition discipline is separate but tied to the respective party’s discipline. The coalition must agree on what falls under its jurisdiction.
The leaders often use the excuse they have to take proposals presented at the joint meetings to their own party hierarchy, and this gobbles up time and delays execution. A long as Pakatan Rakyat is a series of meetings in its leadership council and not a decision-making body, it will continue to define and redefine itself indefinitely. This will confuse the voters.
PKR, PAS and DAP have to secure a clear mandate from their membership on what Pakatan is and can do on their behalf in order to win a general election.
Seat allocations, seat level organisational relations, power arrangements when a majority is won, their government’s priority and end game for the coalition.
Pakatan is not permanent. The parties are divergent, but they cannot operate to their optimum and practise the politics sufficiently if the present government is in power. BN hides behind the shortcomings of a first past the post system — that there are X number of seats in total and each won by the candidate with the highest vote, and the party or coalition with the most number of those seats forming government.
Neither PAS, PKR or DAP will realise their aspirations under the dictate of an unrelenting BN government.
Therefore the three parties have to prepare a resolution statement, covering the points above and also the deal-breakers like religion, vernacular schools and Borneo rights.
And then, they must go down to their membership and sell this mandate through a referendum. There is two years at least to the next general election, if Pakatan wants to do spring cleaning this is the time.
All year round there are ceramahs everywhere to tell the converted that BN is doing a poor job. Perhaps the time has come to redirect these ceramahs to party members and win their support for the job Pakatan intends to do.
This will be a labourious task. PAS members who cannot compromise on accepting a morally upright state rather than an Islamic state may leave the party, as would PKR members who believe that principles apply only after Malay primacy.
But they would also know that these measures or compromises have an expiry date. Once a Pakatan government is installed it will take the attitude of a single term government.
One of the key measures to agree to would be to reform elections within the term. A preferential voting system like in Australia would enable for PAS, DAP and PKR to field candidates independently. A Pakatan supporting voter can then decide his order of preference so that a BN candidate is the last choice.
The electoral reform will also seek to include elected minority groups to provide more shape to the lower house. For example rather than appointing one Orang Asli senator in an ineffectual Upper House (Dewan Negara) there can be a separate party list so that smaller minorities like Orang Asli, trade unionist,s greens and socialists can get enough votes nationwide to get a seat in the lower house.
The reforms can realise a future where DAP, PAS and PKR can operate without needing to work under a single umbrella or choose to form a coalition after elections.
A real covenant
I said that a resolve bathed in conviction is necessary if there is to be a Pakatan victory at the polls. Only having a working relationship between party leaders will not suffice because those leaders for any reason, real or otherwise, can hesitate and become lukewarm by saying as leaders of another party they cannot betray the principles upheld by their members.
The battle to convince PAS youth membership will be most arduous for example, and to PKR’s chagrin cost two seats in Selangor in the previous general election.
Getting Abdul Hadi Awang’s blessing is inadequate, for even the president may think that what he promises at a Pakatan leadership council should not be evenly enforced on all PAS members.
The only way to circumvent this impasse is for each party to convince its members nationwide and prepare for those conflicted with these short-term compromises leaving the party. Pakatan can’t operate on support from all of the parties’ leaders but their members support is indeterminate.
And when Pakatan is certain it has the mandate to execute leading to the general election, then other groups from ABU (Anything But Umno) and PSM (Parti Sosialis Malaysia) operate as secure allies.
Pakatan giving itself an expiry date post-election success might be a masterstroke to tilt the undecided within the coalition parties.
When Pakatan as an idea has the support of its parties at a grassroots level, it may be the unstoppable force so many have predicted it should have been a long time ago.
* This is a personal opinion of the columnist.