by Martin Jalleh
Is the Opposition coalition crumbling like a cookie? Is the door for real, relevant and radical change slowly closing in on us? Shall we just call it a day as we witness Umno’s final curtain of a failed State? Or shall we remain committed to a change in government no matter how challenging? Perhaps part of the answer begins with a review of the Opposition in 2009.
2009 saw the end of the euphoria that enveloped the whole country after the political tsunami of March 2008. It was a year during which the Opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR), was brought down to earth and was forced to face the enormity of the challenge to deliver what they had promised during the elections.
It was also a year when the public increasingly perceived the fledging PR to be a “fragile”, “feuding”, “fraying” “faltering” coalition – one that was “not on a firm footing”. For some members of the public, trusting the PR enough to vote them in as the next Federal government was farthest from their minds!
One would have thought that PR, after having lost Perak to the BN in Feb. 2009, as a result of Umno’s subterfuge and scheming, would come to its senses and seek an inseparable synergy. But they continued on with their petty and puerile inter and intra public squabbles, spats and skirmishes, much to the surprise and scorn of the public and the satisfaction of Umno!
Meanwhile, the great hope which the apolitical Hindraf gave to the Indians and in fact to the whole country came to a grinding halt. Some of its highbrowed leaders haggled over its future, hurled accusations at one another, hauled one another to court, and accused PR of hypocrisy. By year’s end, a splintered Hindraf appeared headless, helpless, hopeless and headed for oblivion!
Coming back to PR, in contrast to those disappointed, disillusioned and even disgusted over what they felt was the coalition’s failure to deliver and to stop its disunity, there were PR diehards who felt that it was too early to dismiss PR altogether or declare its death sentence. It deserved more time and trust to prove itself — even though time was not on its side!
“Are we being fair to Pakatan Rakyat?” asked a reader of Harakah Daily, Li Fook Gao. He commented: “Yes, we gave birth to PR – but unfortunately we expected too much in return and to make things worse, we expected PR to deliver instant results. We expected those 100 apples in PR’s bag to be 100 per cent perfect. When we find two or three rotten apples, we are very quick to punish PR and ask for a refund immediately.”
He concluded: “PR’s survival and success is about us and our country more than it is about PR or BN’s political prosperity. We must ensure that PR survives and becomes the big brother in Malaysia’s politics to kick-start healthy competition between BN and PR…For a better Malaysia, we need PR. Punishing them now will lead us to back to BN’s dictatorship, and that’s exactly what BN wants us to do.”
In 2009, the opposition coalition was only less than two years old as compared to the BN of more than 50 years. It was their first time ruling and PR was made up of many first-timers with very divergent ideologies and inclinations and like any coalition, has an assortment of leaders such as the enlightened, the exceptional, the enigmatic, the erratic, the eccentric, the egocentric, etc.!
Further, PR, like any new organisation, was going through the forming-norming-storming process in order to transcend to a performing and transforming phase. Slowly but surely PR was making made a big leap in its maturing process. The concerted cohesiveness and clarity with which it handled and responded to the “Allah controversy” is an excellent example.
Further, PR was ruling their states quite well. The Auditor-General (AG) gave the highest rating to Selangor and Penang in terms of good governance since March 2008, which compared very favourably against BN-ruled states. The AG also gave a commendable rating to the PR’s performance during its 11-month rule in Perak. Penang was also praised by Transparency International.
In 2009, PR also contributed significantly to Parliament in the form of better and bolder participation and stronger and more sensible arguments during Question Time and debates. In July, PR formed parliamentary committees in tandem with 25 government ministries to help its MPs deliberate on important bills and issues including the Budget.
Even in terms of by-elections, PR fared considerably well in spite of them having to come up against BN’s juggernaut of man, machinery, media, money and muscle. There was a time when it was a foregone conclusion that the BN would be the winner in any by-election. But in 2009 (a year of by-elections), PR and BN faced off seven times, with the opposition pact winning five times to BN’s two.
The successes of PR were however overshadowed by its many setbacks and shortcomings. In Aug., Anwar conceded that his party PKR was the “weakest link” in PR and that “there is a flaw in our vetting system. We rushed to choose candidates to contest in the last general elections but I promise that this will be improved.”
In Oct., PR was humbled in the Bagan Pinang by-election. Before PAS could reveal the results of its post-mortem, Anwar without any hesitation attributed the defeat to the “weaknesses and shortcomings” in PR. Some supporters were even relieved that PR had lost! It was a much-needed harsh wakeup call.
Lethargy had set in as the year went by. PR was being lackadaisical. If not for the political lassitude of 20 missing PR MPs in Parliament, the BN’s Budget Bill (in mid-Dec.) could have been voted out and PR could have won a vote of no confidence against the BN government. The coalition was resting on its laurels. It was also lagging behind and looked rather lost at times in its efforts to make inroads into East Malaysia.
An exasperated Lim Kit Siang warned: “Pakatan Rakyat had been suffering a prolonged and unceasing bout of loss of public confidence… to convince the Malaysian electorate in its credibility, cohesion, integrity and common sense of purpose.” PR may be only a “one-term miracle”, he prodded them on.
As the PR chief, Anwar also received a lot of stick from his comrades and supporters. In Feb., Karpal Singh slammed Anwar for “creating enough trouble” and asked him to quit. Raja Petra, a strong critic and supporter of Anwar said that the latter was in a “self-destructive mode”. Others accused Anwar for being too soft and slow to stop those who threatened the well-being of PR. But the seasoned politician took the slaps in his stride.
The latest ruckus, rigmarole and rubbish churned out by Zulklifi Nordin and Zahrain Mohd Hashim reinforced the fact that the PR has its fair share of riff-raff, rascals, rotten apples, and renegades who want to ruin the PR for good. Whilst there is no need to be alarmist, such political rogues should not be allowed to run riot. They need to be reined in, reproved or removed!
Umno spent 2009 in making a mockery of the people’s mandate given to the Opposition by sabotaging the PR-ruled states through the manipulation and maneuvering of key institutions of democracy such as the judiciary, the office of the attorney-general, the police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.
Najib himself explicitly inferred that the institutions were no longer impartial. Tengku Razaleigh pointed at Umno as being the source of the faltering institutions, adding that Umno has “become corrupt, this corruption has weakened it, and as it grows weaker it is tempted more and more to fan racial feeling and abuse public institutions to maintain power. This is a death spiral.”
The stage for the Sodomy II Trial or show-trial was set up in 2009, the 10th anniversary of the first trial. Sivarasa Rasiah a PKR vice-president would write: “…what is really at stake here is the use of this framed up case as a political weapon to stop the advance of Anwar Ibrahim and the political movement of PR that he leads which threatens the very existence and future of the current BN government and its key leaders.”
With the help of the mainstream media, the ICT and the internet, and Apco Worldwide, a global Public Relations consultant, employed to re-engineer and redeem the PM’s flagging image, PR was portrayed as weak, wavering and wobbling. Umno was on the other hand presented as a party that was reformed, with Najib back in the saddle rendering rhetoric and all ready to take the country for a ride!
PR’s successes were downplayed. Detractors, dissidents and disgruntled leaders within the coalition were used to derail its progress. Attention on Umno’s scandals and schisms were diverted by distractions of all sorts. Federal funds to the PR-ruled States were either denied, delayed or distributed discriminately. Along the way, people and things disappeared!
PR leaders were demonised. Anwar whom Umno had once deemed “irrelevant” was denounced as a “traitor”. (Ironically from the speeches and stance of Dr M and Tengku Razaleigh, it is Umno that has become increasingly “irrelevant”!). Umno was displayed as the great defender of Islam, the Malay race and the royalty and self-declared the “People’s Champion”.
But it soon became very clear that Najib’s “culture of change” was a mere charade, claptrap and chicanery. One need only to look at 2009 – a year of big slogans, buckling economy, bad judgments, brutal police, biased mainstream media, “bloody racists” and burgeoning bigotry – to easily spot the leopard in Umno!
The forming of Perkasa by a man who keeps on party hopping to save his own hide, and who now wants to bring hope to the Malays by harping and hanging on to Umno’s racist past, reduced Najib’s “inclusive” Umno to hollow hype and hypocrisy. The fact that Perkasa’s Selangor chapter was launched by the “Father of all racists” gave Najib a further headache!
On the last day of the year 2009, Lim Kit Siang noted that Najib’s promises were nothing but play-acting, i.e. a mere “performance”: “After nine months (of Najib’s premiership), 1Malaysia. People First. Performance Now has proved to be mere publicity and propaganda puff of Najib’s premiership with no meaningful change or consequence to the lives of Malaysians.” The performance persists till today.
The fire bombs on churches as the aftermath of a landmark ruling by the Kuala Lumpur High Court on the Allah issue, reduced to ashes Najib’s 1Malaysia boast. After being PM for almost a year, and being obsessed with annihilating the PR, Najib failed to fight the fires of racial and religious fanaticism often fiercely fanned by his own party and the Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia which has what Nazri Aziz calls, “an outdated racist propaganda”.
A dead constitution, a divided nation, decaying institutions, a dour economy and a PM dogged by allegations – perhaps the events and issues of the year 2009 point to the pressing reality that all real, relevant and radical change in Bolehland can only come about by a change of Government!
Coming back to PR, the leaders of the coalition were undaunted by the onslaught of a desperate Umno and the tasks ahead. In Dec. 2009, PAS MP Dzulkefly Ahmad introduced the PR’s Common Policy Framework as a “Dawn of a New Awakening” – a daring framework of common goals and grounds derived out of debate and discussion of the three parties, determined to deliver the “revolution of a political culture” in unison.
The leaders of PR must realise that the road to Putrajaya requires stomach, stamina, solidarity and the sacrifice of personal agendas and parochial party issues for the nation’s larger scheme of things. Sloganeering and navel gazing will not do. With each passing day they need to be reminded of the dictum like the 1,500 delegates at PR’s 1st National Convention were: “Perform or Perish!”
The Opposition is not alone on the narrow less-travelled path to Putrajaya. There are many Malaysians like those the country witnessed in 2009, with an indomitable, intrepid and inspirational spirit who are willing to pay the price to bring about the change the nation so badly needs, be they ordinary citizens, government servants, politicians or even judges.
But the nagging question many are prompted to ask is whether the members and the leaders of the Opposition are ready? They have to make the choice of either seizing the moment or selling their souls!
1 Feb. 2010
(The above article is an edited version from a series of articles by the author on a review of the year 2009 published in the latest issue of Aliran Monthly. Get a copy, its a “must read”!)