November 30, 2013
MY COMMENT: Pakatan Rakyat(PR) has done well in the last elections, although it lost Kedah and was unable to take back Perak, and win in Negri Sembilan and Terengganu. To its credit, PR has shown in Penang and Selangor that it can govern prudently, but admittedly much more work needs to be done if PR is to take Putrajaya in GE-14. It is not going to be easy since UMNO-BN is equally determined to remain in power.
Anwar Ibrahim was the glue that brought PKR, DAP and PAS together in 2008. GE-12 is now history but for the first time since Independence the country had a strong opposition capable of taking reins of power from UMNO-BN in Putrajaya. Credit is due to Anwar.
Unfortunately, after 5 years of Pakatan Rakyat, it would appear that the de facto PKR leader has apparently lost his influence with PAS and DAP as a result of his own political fumbles, the most famous being the “September 16″(2008) episode which diminished Anwar’s credibility .
Internal PKR politics got the better of him, especially his close partnership with Azmin Ali. Anwar’s open criticism of Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim is counter-productive. The Menteri Besar of Selangor is a very competent and outstanding administrator. Criticisms against him are, therefore, politically motivated. He is now being made to appear as a liability to PKR. The reality is that Khalid Ibrahim is an asset since he has managed the affairs of his state well.
Anwar has also mishandled Sabah and the consequences are obvious to all of us. PKR Sabah is in shambles and if PR is to take Putrajaya, something drastic must happen. It is tough to revive PKR but given the UMNO-BN’s control over Sabah and Sarawak, thanks to both Musa Aman and Taib Mahmud, PR may have to depend on DAP. Frankly, I am not sure if DAP can do it on its own.
Murray’s comment that “PKR has shown itself to be opportunistic, with little in the way of its own thought-out ideological-based policies” is valid. Some commentators told me recently that PKR has become a twin sister of UMNO culture-wise. I agree that PKR has no ideology to speak of today. It, in fact, lost its ideological verve with the retirement of Dr. Syed Hussin Ali who I admire a lot. PKR today, as I see it, is no longer driven ideals of democracy, justice, and good governance.
PR must refocus and work towards being a true multidimensional coalition speaking with one voice on issues and policies, no longer one that is driven by one man’s ambition to become Prime Minister. –Din Merican
Pakatan Rakyat get your act together
by Murray Hunter@http://www.themalaysianinsider.com
PR urgently needs good strategists whose opinions are listened to. PR must advance from being a one-man crusade to becoming a true multidimensional coalition with a wide and varied intellectual input and consistent message.–Murray Hunter
The general election is almost six months behind us where the narratives of Malaysian politics have been defined.
The Pakatan Trio
Pakatan Rakyat (PR) may have won the popular vote in the last election, leading some to believe that the opposition coalition is owed a moral mandate. However, under a first-past-the-post electoral system, the game is about winning seats, not aggregate votes.
PAS has ruled Kelantan for many years in the social and cultural contexts of the state and has shown it understands the aspirations of the Kelantanese.
Khalid Ibrahim and Lim Guan Eng–Success Story in Selangor and Penang
Selangor has been prudently run as a corporation by Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, and Penang’s finances have been restructured with great fiscal skill, where industrial investment has been revived through relentless promotion by DAP’s Lim Guan Eng.
However, even with these achievements, Pakatan does not have the pedigree needed to form a federal government.Many inconsistencies and weaknesses within Pakatan exist. As a multidimensional party, PAS does not speak with a unified voice.
DAP has shown its failure to provide ideologically sound and loyal candidates for political office, causing the downfall of one state government. The coming DAP party elections in Penang show the mad scramble for positions of influence among party stalwarts.
To date, PKR has shown itself to be opportunistic, with little in the way of its own thought-out ideological-based policies. In fact, some of its views, like the one on salary hikes for politicians, are even contradictory.
The culmination of these problems, the failure to take tactical initiatives and electoral blunders have cost Pakatan Rakyat the grand prize of Malaysian politics –the Federal Government.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has been grossly unappreciated for his job of holding the line for UMNO in the recent election. He was written off before the election by many pundits, who expected great losses.
Many felt there was a real possibility of Terengganu and Negri Sembilan falling to PR. Perak was expected to be won back by PR. However, Najib held these states and wrested back Kedah as well.
GE-13: Najib’s strategic brilliance or Anwar’s blunders?
We will never be sure whether it was Najib’s strategic brilliance or Anwar’s blunders that resulted in the final result.
The defeat for PAS in Terengganu in 2004 and the recent return of Kedah to Barisan Nasional (BN) indicate that voters won’t accept incompetence by any PR government, although they may not apply the same standard to BN. The Kedah win, led by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s son, Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, will be difficult to reverse in the next election.
Sabah Politics badly handled by PKR
PR, particularly PKR, has made a major blunder in Sabah. PKR wants to run candidates under its own banner rather than work with the existing opposition forces in the state, leading to a number of three-cornered fights.
As a result, the opposition is divided into a number of groups, which played straight into the hands of UMNO strong man and Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman, allowing UMNO to dominate the state’s political landscape.
This cost the opposition forces four federal and eight state assembly seats. In addition, PKR itself seems to be disintegrating in the state where between eight and 12 leaders have quit the party over the last few days.
Sarawak: Taib Mahmud’s Bastion
Although DAP has made inroads into the towns of Sarawak, the rural regions of the state remain the bastion of Tan Sri Taib Mahmud’s Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Besatu (PBB)-dominated government. PR appears to have grossly underestimated the political mastery and respect Taib carries in the rural heartlands of Sarawak.
Taib has the qualities of a leader, rather than the administrative mould of many other national leaders, making him a strong adversary. It’s not the work of PR that has made small inroads into PBB support, but rather the work of Radio Free Sarawak and other independent local activists.
In Sabah and Sarawak, it is difficult to see where PR can make future gains unless it can change its understanding of the political dynamics of both states. From the people’s perspective, this maybe even more difficult as PAS, PKR and DAP are considered by many as “peninsula-centric”, as DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang said in a recent blog posting.
Sabah and Sarawak are mathematically critical in deciding which side of politics forms the federal government.In the last election campaign, PR focused on preaching to the converted. This didn’t win new voters. The inroads into Johor were good for PR, but city campaigns with perhaps the exception of Anwar’s daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar in Lembah Pantai where she was challenged by the then UMNO Federal Territories minister Datuk Seri Raja Nong Chik Zainal Abidin were wasted efforts.
If the Pakatan leaders had not run the mass rallies in Johor, conveying a syok sendiri or chauvinist manner, the UMNO rhetoric after the election may have been much more conciliatory and inclusive than the current divisive narrative coming out of the party.
PKR –A Dynasty
Many perceive PKR to be a dynasty with husband, wife and daughter holding high-profile positions. This is one reason the Azmin Ali influence is so strong within the party, to the point of being bitterly divisive. His recent comments over the pay increase announced for Selangor lawmakers make Azmin look more like an opposition leader in Selangor than a member of the government.
There is more to Azmin’s antics than just naked ambition. He has a point that many in the party agree with. One Sabah PKR leader Jelani Hamden upon his resignation from the party a couple of days ago said that there was too much central control. This is a rift that could paralyse the party, particularly when the rank-and-file members are needed on the ground during elections.
The current disagreement about how funds in Selangor should be utilised shows the policy malaise of PKR. There is also a wider dimension to policy issues where PR has not been able to deal with the issue of hudud and an Islamic state. The concept of an Islamic state is ill-explained. The issue could have been easily resolved through adopting the concept of governance through Islamic principles rather than going all out for an Islamic state.
The best advantage for UMNO is for PAS to continue focusing on hudud. For as long as PAS promotes hudud, UMNO will stay in power.
It’s time for the PR to eradicate “ego” from the coalition leadership and make a serious attempt to regroup under a new guard for the next election.
To do that would shed the usual suspects of PR to allow a new vanguard of politicians to emerge, who are younger and more energetic than BN. This doesn’t mean that the old guard of Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh withdraw totally but rather, give others “room to move” in the generational transition.
Anwar should stand aside
The best thing for PKR might be Anwar declaring that he had no more ambition to become PM and stand aside. This would go a long way in winning over voters who mistrust his intentions. As long as Anwar clings to the hope of one day becoming PM, PR is doomed to remain in opposition. The myth that Anwar is a vote winner must be overturned. His immense international popularity doesn’t equate to winning new voters here.
When looking closely at PAS, there is an almost perpetual struggle going on between the ulama and the professionals, technocrats, Anwaristas and other progressives within the party. Occasionally, members of the ulama in PAS will make pronouncements, which lead to many voters developing a fear of the party because of its interpretation of Islam. This costs PAS votes as Malays tend to be moderate relative to many other Islamic societies.
This, however, has generally been kept in check by leaders like Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat and Mat Sabu over the last few years.
According to PAS Research Director Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, PAS needs to woo the Malay youth and women voters. The youth vote is growing massively and changing the dynamics of elections and PAS currently only holds around 40% of the Malay vote, being only 35% among women. UMNO’s powerhouse during elections is UMNO Wanita. If PAS is going to grow its electoral support, it must connect with women and the younger generation.
PAS losing grip in the Rural Heartland
At present, PAS is good at preaching to the converted. However, its electoral support in the Malay heartland is on the decline. This electoral decline lost Kedah and failed in enabling PR to retake Perak. Even in the stronghold of Kelantan, PAS lost six seats although it continues to govern the state. Ironically, PAS won in multi-ethnic areas as a beneficiary of the PR coalition. PAS needs to make up this deficit if PR is to have any chance of taking over the federal government.
PAS also needs to inspire the multiethnic electorate to maintain its support. Hudud is not going to help with any of these demographics.
Many mistake hudud for Islam because of PAS insistence on the issue. Sometimes, PAS mistakes being Arabic for being Islamic, which frightens many voters, particularly the urban Malay youth. People don’t vote for PAS because of Islam, but rather their dislike for BN. A vote for PAS is not necessarily a vote for the ideals of the party.
The PAS philosophy that has been so successful in Kelantan cannot be translated nationally. The long rule of Nik Aziz can be considered an extraordinary example of a leader who had special qualities and was able to appeal to the emotions and aspirations of the Kelantan people. PAS’s success in Kelantan has little national correlation.
With the Terengganu and Kedah losses, PAS still has to prove that it can govern.
The rumours of PAS-UMNO talks, fuelled by a recent meeting between Kelantan MB Datuk Ahmad Yakob and Najib, continue to undermine and bring insecurity to PR, especially when at the closing of the recent PAS general assembly, President Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang did not rule out the possibility of discussions.
As we have seen, policy has little to do with who governs. It’s about emotion and sentiment. It’s not about exposing corruption and incompetence, but rather making people in rural Malaysia understand the differences between political parties and government.
Otherwise, BN will always be the government and PR the opposition. It’s also about realising that those who will decide who will form the next government in Putrajaya are not the middle-class professionals in the cities but pakcik and makcik in the rural areas. PR lost rural votes in Perak, much of Johor, Pahang, Terengganu, Negri Sembilan, Perlis, Sabah, Sarawak and Kedah in the last election.
Many political analysts in Westminster systems would argue that governments lose elections rather than oppositions winning them. However, the Malaysian context may be different where the opposition needs to win the confidence and trust of the rural electorate.
The Rural Factor in Malaysian Politics
The major problem here is that most rural people don’t know any other type of government. Issues such as the separation of party and state are difficult for many to understand. One of the beliefs that many Malays hold is that opposing UMNO is opposing the government. Many rural people have been brought up with the belief that only UMNO can protect their religion, way of life and against Chinese economic domination.
The Hudud Issue–Advantage UMNO
As mentioned, PAS hasn’t sold Islam well in a multicultural society with the hudud issue. Part of the reason UMNO has returned to the ultra-Malay narrative and taken a strong “Islamic” stance is its feeling that it must compete with PAS to show it is the party with the best credentials to look after “Malay interests”.
Consequently, the current hudud law project has isolated Islam from the wider concept of Tawhid. Islamic proclamations and the strong stances we are witnessing are not benefitting the progression of Islam within Malaysia. If PAS presented a more balanced Islamic world view, Umno would have much greater room to move into the middle ground.
The PR agenda has a massive influence on the behaviour of the government. If PR was truly concerned about the consequences of its own political rhetoric, the leadership may consider changing approach, which no doubt would also benefit them electorally.
Anwar’s “September 16″ and Twitter message on election night that “PR has won the election” are not constructive. Many perceive Anwar to be driven by ambition, hate and a sense of revenge. His pledge to retire if PR didn’t win the election has lost him credibility.
There is a segment of the population who have become disillusioned with PR over a number of issues. Anwar’s antics, internal struggles, a potential political dynasty, lack of policy direction, and basic mistrust are keeping PR from winning the federal election. If PR wants to win, they must take a hard inward look, rather than blame their loss on phantom voters.
Blaming others is just too easy, rather than recognising one’s own shortcomings. If DAP state assemblyman Hee Yit Foong didn’t defect, the PR Perak government may have run its full term. If the former Kedah Chief Minister did things differently, the last election result may have been different. If PKR left Sabah politics to the Sabahans and admitted Sabah parties into the coalition, great inroads would have been made.
Within the current stance, victory for PR at the next election looks bleak. PR members need to go back to the drawing board and return to the electorate with consistent and united policies and most of all learn how to engage rural communities.
It is, therefore, not the alternative media that will be most important but the rural village committees, which is still the proven secret weapon of BN.
In politics, it doesn’t matter what foreigners think of the present Malaysian Government or Anwar for that matter. It doesn’t matter whether there is electoral fraud or not. Elections are not about the moral high grounds or even what the majority wants. What matters is knowing the land you are playing on and wining the competition by the existing rules. Otherwise, a tired and scandal-laden government would have long been tossed out of office.
No Shadow Cabinet
In Malaysia the winner takes all. Without any shadow cabinet, PR is not an opposition, but rather a bunch of non-government members of parliament. BN representatives in the Senate are asking better questions than PR are asking in the lower house.
Unlike the post-2008 election period, the Malaysian electorate appears to be “burnt out” and has given up expectation and yearning for change. It’s now suppressed. This is where BN is likely to make up lost ground next election as the wave of change has reached the peak and will gently subside.
PR urgently needs good strategists whose opinions are listened to. PR must advance from being a one-man crusade to becoming a true multidimensional coalition with a wide and varied intellectual input and consistent message. – November 30, 2013.