By-Elections in Permatang Pauh and Rompin Mired in the Muck

May 4, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

By-Elections in Permatang Pauh and Rompin Mired in the Muck

by Dr. Bridget

The dominant theme of Permatang Pauh and Rompin has been one of negativity. On one level this is not a surprise, given that the circumstances surrounding both by-elections are grim. In one, a man in his prime lost his life in a helicopter crash, and in another a man was put behind bars in an attempt to crush the opposition. Rather than act as a catalyst to bring positive change, the campaigns have been mired in the muck.

We have witnessed base gutter politics in UMNO’s vulgar sexual innuendo campaigning. We have seen persistent attacks on politicians (including their wives) across the political divide in Malaysia’s ‘destruction’ mode of politics. The prominence of sabotage and division has overshadowed sensibility and dignity. Despite all of this, there are important markers at stake in these contests and in Malaysia’s electoral landscape.

Najib needs strong victory

The outcome of these by-elections will affect the country’s national leadership. In Permatang Pauh, a victory for PKR’s Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail will likely move her into the opposition leadership position, at least in the short-term. This is despite the obstacles she faces from those within the ranks of Pakatan Rakyat, and even within her own party.

The weak machinery, the open defiance tinged with sexism and limited momentum in the campaign itself are all products of problems within the opposition coalition as a whole.

Reduced Majority expected

While attention has centered on the differences over hudud, older issues are at play, including continued resentment over the Kajang Move of last year, the resurgence of the push toward an all-Malay unity government and the real ambitions of alternative leaders to take over leadership within the opposition.

Permatang Pauh: Pakatan Rakyat  is vulnerable

The results of Permatang Pauh will shape what form the opposition will take nationally, whether it will be a multi-ethnic national opposition with the potential to reconfigure itself as an alternative for national governance, with Wan Azizah and other moderate national-minded leaders at the helm, or other alternatives. With Permatang Pauh’s ethnic composition mirroring Peninsular Malaysian demographic trends, it will be telling to see what type of representation voters will choose.

Rompin: Najib needs a strong win

Rompin has not received the same level of attention as Permatang Pauh, at least in the English language media, but it is equally important. At issue is Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s political future. This contest emerged after his friend and ally died, and the slated candidate and campaign is closely connected to Najib. His cousin Hishammuddin Hussein is leading UMNO’s campaign in the party’s political base.

Najib needs a strong victory to assure that he has the support of his party and its core. This will be similarly challenging as the machinery is not as revved up as in the past, when an incumbent leader was running and a Pahang premier was seeking a national mandate.

Najib Vs MahathirToday’s reality is that there is open opposition to Najib’s leadership within UMNO led by former leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad and nationally, as the Premier has the lowest public support in his tenure. It is thus not surprising that the stakes are high in Rompin, for a reduction in support in Rompin will signal trouble to Najib’s political future. Unlike Permatang Pauh, where a reduction in the majority is expected, given Najib’s position and resources, even a small decline in support will be perceived negatively.

From goodies to grumbles

By-elections have traditionally been ‘buy-elections’, with goodies galore. The BN, with its hand on the national till and control over the mainstream media, has always had the advantage, especially in the more semi-rural and rural areas. Given the stakes in these contests, there are many items on offer, with even the Penang government making promises of new projects. It remains to be seen how impactful the use of financial incentives will be this time round.

One item that is marginally different than GE 2013, and reminiscent of conditions surrounding GE 2008, is a perceived decline in the economy. Ordinary Malaysians are feeling the economic pain, compared with the past, with a depreciated ringgit, the goods and services tax (GST), inflation and lower purchasing power.

Even in the FELDA areas of Rompin, where the drop in the prices of rubber and palm oil has hit hard, there is a sense ofnajib and his deputy relative economic deprivation. More than any issue – rights, religion or race – the main driver in voting in Malaysia is the economy, as surveys consistently show that the main issues that concern voters are the bread-and-butter realities.

As Finance Minister in charge of the economy and as a Premier who has prided himself on the country’s economic performance, negative views of the economy increase BN’s and Najib’s vulnerability.

As the campaigns come to a close, the promises of allocations have risen, with less open defence of the GST and more attention to where GST funds will go – be it towards civil servants, higher pensions and more.

Najib is trying to hold onto his political base and strengthen his position in his ongoing fight with Mahathir to stay in office. The question at play will be whether the electorate will buy into the promises in these campaigns. Will Najib maintain his credibility? Will the entrenched pattern of patronage hold out? Or has greater realism and cynicism taken root?

While the economy tests Najib, it offers a solution for the opposition. Economic realities arguably now serve as the bedrock for any base for opposition unity.

Even as the President of PAS, Abdul Hadi Awang , talks about the need for a unity government with UMNO in his speech this week in Singapore, implicitly acknowledging how close he and his conservative ulama faction are to UMNO, he cannot take away the fact that most Malaysians, and members of his own party PAS, are unhappy with UMNO’s current economic performance.

The PAS delegates at the coming June muktamar cannot ignore the common bonds the new economic realities foster. On some levels, the by-elections will be a marker of how the economy and governance drives politics as opposed to religion. On others, it will test how much the opposition leaders are concerned with the welfare of citizens, rather than imposing their ideological agenda that is not in keeping with the priorities of most ordinary Malaysians.

The results – along with the decisions of PAS voters in both elections – will spill over into the PAS party elections in June and shape the opposition as a whole.

Hollow victories or hallowed outcomes?

The expectation for both contests is reduced majorities. The main reasons for this is the expected lower turnout, with voting coming after a long holiday weekend, the negative mode of the campaigns, active sabotage and weakened support for both sides.

The last few days of the electoral campaign will include efforts to ratchet up support, to oil the squeaky electoral machinery. Surprises cannot be ruled out. Whatever happens, however, these by-elections will matter and reverberate politically after the votes have been counted.

For Malaysians looking at these contests, Permatang Pauh and Rompin may appear hollow victories, killing hope for many amidst the negative sentiment. Yet, within these contests, there may be unforeseen dynamics in the electoral landscape that reveal ongoing changes taking place.

It is indeed hard to see these changes with the muck around these campaigns, but the shifts in coalitions and conditions have created new dynamics that will likely move Malaysia towards a different political future.

BRIDGET WELSH is a Senior Research associate of the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of the National Taiwan University, where she conducts research on democracy and politics.

Permatang Pauh By-Election: Not a PKR Lily Please

April 22, 2015

Permatang Pauh By-Election: Not a PKR Lily Please

by Terence

COMMENT: Tomorrow PKR announces its candidate for the Permatang Pauh by-election. Nominations are for Saturday and polling is on May 7.

wan azizah 1If, as many expect, the choice is Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the party will have indicated that they are like UMNO – dependent on a reflex rather than an original proposition anytime.

Wan Azizah ought to be what she is qualified to be: a figurehead President of the party, placed there by reason of the travesties visited upon her husband by the powers-that-be.That placement is expedient: her aura of suffering is emblematic of the long drawn out travails of Anwar Ibrahim who, being out of public sight, needs someone in a lofty enough position in the party to reflect his privations in the public gaze.

But to employ Wan Azizah in a role that mistakes her aura for something more substantive would be self-deception, the way UMNO is condemned to permanent experience of the malady.

Presently, the country’s dominant political party is in the throes of choosing between the advice of the person singularly responsible for its woes and the nation’s and the assurance that all’s well that seems well from a man who is himself an product of the system well laid for it by his fiercest critic.

That not enough people in the party care to reflect on this mordant irony shows the depth of the hypnosis exerted on UMNO by Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

After finding three Deputy Prime Ministers he essentially chose defective and two Prime Ministers that he actually selected dismally disappointing, his advice on prescriptive measures is being volunteered and may eventually be listened to.The fact that it is advice that must be taken to save the country from the Najib Abdul Razak-Rosmah Mansor imperium does not make it any less ironic.

After being a stand-in MP for three-terms for her disqualified-by-incarceration husband, and after having being supplanted in that role when Anwar was free of his legal trammels, Wan Azizah may yet again be deployed as a stand-in candidate for her spouse’s traditional seat.

Worse may well be in store. If she is successful in the by-election, the DAP may well consort with the rump of PKR that supports her to make her the stand-in Opposition Leader, in place of her gaoled husband, if only to keep PAS away from that role and also PKR Deputy President Azmin Ali from it.

If this article has reiterated the husband-and-wife relationship rather cloyingly, it is only to draw attention to the fact that PKR had set its face from birth in 1999 against not just the corruption and cronyism of UMNO-BN, but also its nepotism.

Unable to come up with another candidate? After 16 years of its existence, the party, if it fields Wan Azizah again in Permatang Pauh, would indicate that it is unable to come up with another candidate more suitable to stand-in for Anwar.

The party has such candidates but if it reflexively goes looking for one from within the Anwar family, it will be like its compatriots in Pakatan Rakyat, the DAP, who are as keen in establishing dynastic legacies around the families of Lim Kit Siang and the late Karpal Singh Deo.

Anwar IbrahimIf the PKR fields Wan Azizah, the party would be tone deaf to precisely what their iconic leader (above) has often warned them against: underestimating the intelligence of the masses, a quotation from Spanish thinker Ortega Y Gasset that Anwar often cites in his speeches.

It is in underrating the intelligence of the Malay voters in Permatang Pauh the last time they were asked for their opinion – in May 2013 – that Anwar incurred a 4,000-plus vote drop in his plurality.

He had slipped from a 15,000-plus vote majority in the by-election of August 2008 to an 11,000-plus majority in the general election of May 2013, losing in nearly all the Malay precincts in the state ward of Penanti, within the parliamentary one of Permatang Pauh.

This drop was incurred in an election where the tide of public sentiment ran strongly in favor of Pakatan Rakyat. One cause of the decline in the majority was the fielding of Dr Norlela Ariffin, an apology for a candidate. No use in reiterating who was responsible for the choice of Norlela.

The party has had to endure much mortification in choosing Norlela. Earlier this month, she had to be compelled by the PKR state leadership to call off a seminar she planned to organise on hudud for Muslim converts and had to be cautioned against publicly iterating her support for the PAS measure.

This argument against fielding Wan Azizah in Permatang Pauh could go on, but one finds no pleasure in shredding a lily.

PKR shouldn’t take Permatang Pauh voters for granted

April 8, 2015

PKR shouldn’t take Pmtg Pauh voters for granted

by Terence

wan azizah 1COMMENT: It looks almost certain that PKR will field its President, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, as its candidate for the Permatang Pauh by-election. It would be a mistake because that would take the voters of Permatang Pauh for granted.

Many voters must have felt this way the last time they were asked their opinion – at the 13th general election on May 5, 2013. Anwar Ibrahim’s plurality was whittled down from the 15,000-plus he obtained in the by-election of August 2008, forced when incumbent Azizah resigned to pave the way for her husband to resume being the area’s MP, to a 11,000-plus majority in GE13.

It was a significant decrease in an election where popular sentiment ran in favour of a change of federal government. The reduced majority reflected voter disdain for Anwar’s airy presumption that he could, in emulation of DAP’s Lim Kit Siang, leave his bastion of Permatang Pauh to stand in other seats; constituencies in Perak and in the Federal Territory were bruited about.

In the immediate prelude to GE13, an already peripatetic Kit Siang caused a sensation by leaving his Ipoh Timor constituency to contest in Gelang Patah in Johor – to spearhead the DAP thrust into UMNO’s heartland. That decision was taken in the exuberant expectation that popular sentiment running in favour of Pakatan Rakyat would carry DAP to unprecedented electoral gains.

Anwar was infected by the exuberance which led him to hint that he, too, was considering a move to another seat.This was resented by the Malay voters, especially in  Penanti, the state seat in Permatang Pauh.

Both Anwar and the PKR candidate, Dr Norlela Ariffin lost in nearly all the Malay-majority precincts in Penanti, an extraordinary fact that went unremarked at that time.In the event, only sweeping Chinese-voter preference for PKR carried Norlela through.

Given the choice of Norlela as the PKR candidate, the Malay voters in Penanti must have been dismayed that Pakatan Rakyat’s Prime Minister-designate could not find someone less embarrassingly inept than the party’s Penanti nominee. But Norlela was not Anwar’s choice; it was Azizah’s.

After the election, Norlela was appointed as Penang PKR Wanita Chief. To the huge relief of the Penang wing of the party, she quit after a few months.

Chastening experience

The mistake of choosing Norlela ought to have been a chastening experience for Azizah. It provedPenang Deputy CM Low Choo Kiang not, judging from some of the choices made by Azizah in recent months. The Speaker of the Penang State Assembly, Low Choo Kiang, was made Deputy Chief of the Penang PKR Committee in the line-up announced three months ago.

Low, a party stalwart of proven fidelity, was assumed to be content with withdrawal to the fringes, following his failure to be reappointed as state executive councilor after the May 2013 general election.

His appointment to the Speaker’s position was consolation for the drop from the state exco and the assumption was that that would be the end of the road for a lightweight like him. But he felt differently and when the composition of the state PKR committee was  mulled, he lobbied Azizah for a position.

It is the democratic norm that when someone is appointed State Speaker, he cannot hold a position in a political party and must relinquish it if he does.Supposed champions of democracy like PKR ought to know and uphold the democratic norm.

Likely, Azizah did not know this – how could she when she has no talent for politics! – and Low did not bother to let on. Low’s appointment as Deputy Chief of Penang PKR was not Azizah’s only gaffe when it came to the composition of the state committee.

Cheah Kah Peng, a lawyer who is PKR state assemblyperson for Kebun Bungah, was appointed Penang PKR’s Director of Strategy, quite a leap for a person of his track record. In the 2004 general election, Cheah was selected by PKR to be its parliamentary candidate for Bayan Baru. He had lobbied the party to field candidates in DAP seats on the grounds that this strategy would destroy the DAP.

Surprising for one of his stridency, Cheah did not show up on nomination day in Bayan Baru for GE11. PKR had to hastily co-opt a PKR nobody to file papers in Cheah’s place.

Today, Cheah is not only PKR’s rep for Kebun Bungah, he is close to Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who has let on that he considers Cheah a hardworking state assemblyperson.

Guan Eng is wary of any Chinese leader of PKR who is strong and hardworking; if there is one, he thinks the person should be in the DAP. The only PKR Chinese reps he likes are those he considers pliable. Thanks to Azizah, one is nice nicely positioned as PKR Director of strategy for Penang.

Narration of this litany of lamentable choices can go on but like her husband, Azizah enjoys teflon-like immunity within PKR from the mistakes she makes.By oppressing him, UMNO has helped confer a cult-like status on Anwar. Naturally, it rubs off on his suffering spouse – to the long-term detriment of PKR. Say what you like, these UMNO guys know how to play the game of beggaring your rival.

For Permatang Pauh by-election, PKR should break mould

February 22, 2015

For Permatang Pauh by-election, PKR should break mould

by Terence

COMMENT: A recall of the immediate prelude to the sixth general election in April 1982 should help bolster the point of what needs to be done by PKR for the upcoming Permatang Pauh by-election.

4th PM of MalaysiaThe then Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was shaping to dissolve Parliament, having been in office for nine months after succeeding retired Hussein Onn the previous July.

Requiring as a newly-installed PM a fresh mandate from the people, Mahathir caused a huge surprise by reaching across the political divide to induct Anwar Ibrahim, then ABIM President and nascent leader of the Malaysian opposition, into UMNO.

The sensation of that induction had barely time to recede when Anwar was announced as the party’s candidate to wrest the Permatang Pauh seat, held by PAS, in the polls scheduled for late April.

Until the announcement of his joining UMNO was made, Anwar had been more likely to become President of PAS upon incumbent Mohd Asri Muda’s retirement although he did not hold a position in the party and neither was he a member.

The year prior Anwar’s credentials as the fledgling leader of the opposition were highlighted by his leadership of an informal coalition of NGOs and political parties which protested the amendments to the Societies Act set for tabling in Parliament in its March sitting and viewed as detrimental to civil liberties.

No surprisingly, that effort did not succeed against the crushing majority commanded by the ruling BN though it garnered a lot of publicity against a backdrop of heightened public sensitivity to human rights issues.

What Anwar’s joining UMNO did was to remove a potential leader for the Malaysian opposition, it being axiomatic that no effort to supplant BN in the seat of government could succeed without it being led by a credible Malay leader.

With one surgical move, the astute Mahathir cut the ground from under the feet of an opposition which had begun to sense that BN’s lengthy incumbency was starting to erode its appeal among voters who had commenced, albeit belatedly, to appreciate the need for a denial of a two-third majority to the ruling coalition.

In sum, clever tactics and strategy, deployed in anticipation of looming trends, can obviate its detrimental effects to interests favored by the strategists. That move by Mahathir would delay by a good 16 years the rise of a credible Malay leader to steer the opposition and garner support for it.

Anwar IbrahimAnwar would yet become that leader, but only after he had supped for 16 years with the incumbents before being shunned by them in a most humiliating manner in 1998. Today that humiliation has not ceased and the methods of its stamping have not altered but it comes after a move akin to the one deployed by Mahathir in April 1982: subversion of the adversary through enticement.

It was Kelantan UMNO who told PAS after GE13 in May 2013 that it would support its plan to implement hudud. Almost two years later, the Islamist party is bent on the measure and is now ready to enact the preliminary legislative moves for the implementation of the Islamic penal code in Kelantan, to the acute dismay of its Pakatan Rakyat partner, DAP, and the quiet remonstrance of a third member of the coalition, PKR.

Trying to stop PAS, especially after a national meeting of ulama in Serdang this weekend, a body adamant for hudud in Kelantan, is like arguing with the deaf.

What then about the future of Pakatan, the opposition coalition on the cusp of something that was not imaginable in 1982 – the supplanting of UMNO-BN in the seat of power – hope for which glimmered in 1998 and now, a wearying 17 years later, is an imminent prospect, especially after Anwar’s renewed incarceration?

Frankly, it’s bleak if Pakatan, especially PKR and DAP, do not submit to the logic of one’s necessity which is to do something that will shore up the Pakatan ground and scythe it from under the feet of those within the coalition who are determined to row it into turbulent waters.

Right now, Pakatan is like a boat with oarsmen rowing in opposite directions – it will capsize. To prevent that calls for a move resembling Mahathir’s clever strategy in 1982 in turning Anwar from oppositionist to collaborator. The move was mould breaking, its panache stemming from the surprise of the gesture and its hint at promising possibilities.

Breaking new ground

PKR, with DAP support, can break new ground by loaning Permatang Pauh to PAS and fielding its Vice-President Husam Musa in the upcoming by-election for the seat vacated by a convicted Anwar.

Husam is under interdiction by the assertive ulamak wing of his party which seems determined to weed out progressives like him. This is a retrograde move by the ulamak, a move reflective of a mind-set that prefers ideology over reality, essence over existence.

If the blood-thirsty 20th century taught humankind anything it is that the irruption of ideology into political realities is the recipe for much political woe.

But the religious inebriates of PAS contend they are only going about God’s business which incidentally is what the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq say they are doing. Only a PKR move of panache and sensation akin to Mahathir’s 1982 move with respect to Anwar can waylay a PAS ulamak-driven gallop of Pakatan’s to the precipice.

PAS ulamak will doubtless not allow the move but what does that matter now that they are set to drive Pakatan apart while maintaining their fidelity to the coalition.

PKR can argue with more conviction that the move is not to drive a wedge between progressives and conservatives in PAS but to keep the party within the opposition coalition. One paradoxical argument begets another.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. A sobering discovery has been that those who protest the loudest tend to replicate the faults they revile in others.

Nurul Nuha Anwar sets the stage for Family Politics in PKR

February 15, 2015

Nurul Nuha Anwar sets the stage for Family Politics in PKR

by Jocelyn

Nurul NuhaIT was a rather teary debut for Nurul Nuha Anwar, the second-born of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s six children.

The slender and attractive 31-year-old broke down barely minutes into the press conference, her voice shaking with emotion and her cheeks wet with tears as she read from a prepared script. Her big sister Nurul Izzah was clearly in charge as she draped a protective arm over her sister while the rest of the siblings looked on silently.

The children have stepped up to the plate to take charge of the March to Freedom campaign that is aimed at garnering national and international support for their imprisoned father. It is not unlike the “Free Anwar Campaign” during the first sodomy case.

Their mother, PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, was not present and the children said they wanted to share her burden and responsibility.

Despite struggling with her composure, Nurul Nuha is said to be the most spunky and politically-astute among the Anwar brood.

Nurul Nuha is the daughter who most resembles her mother in terms of looks. Many would remember her as the skinny adolescent who, shortly after Anwar’s black-eye incident in 1998, thrust her body from the window of a moving car and shouted out “reformasi!” to the crowds. It was one of those riveting moments in politics.

The young gawky girl with cropped hair and spectacles has grown up and is now a mother of two.

The Anwar clan is very tight-knit but Nurul Nuha has often stood out for her fierce belief in her father. At the start of the second sodomy trial, she had leapt to her feet when she saw Saiful Bukhary Azlan in court and shouted at him. Family members had to quickly calm her down.

Some PKR politicians insisted that having the family take charge of the March to Freedom campaign was to give it a less partisan dimension. They said a “family affair” would encourage participation from NGOs and individuals who might otherwise be put off if it was done by a political party.

But many saw Wednesday’s press conference also as a move to project Nurul Nuha as a possible candidate for the impending by-election in Permatang Pauh.

“She is a quick thinker and has good people skills. I saw how well she got along with people, old and young, when she used to accompany her mother to Permatang Pauh,” said Faekah Husin, the former political secretary to Dr Wan Azizah.

Another Anwar family name is about to enter the fray. The political dynasty is about to become more entrenched, and not everyone in PKR is too comfortable about that.

Nurul Nuha’s name was proposed as a candidate in Penang in the general election but Anwar had shot it down. But her turn may have come.

It is going to be quite awkward for the party, especially for those whoPelukan terakhir Anwar feel that PKR must wean itself from the dominance of Istana Segambut, as the powerful Anwar family is known among party members.

The party is still smarting over the starring role of the husband-and-wife pair in the party election last year. This carried into the Kajang by-election and the Selangor Mentri Besar crisis. It was way too much family politics, and it had turned the party into some sort of laughing stock.

But few would dare to object to another family member in Permatang Pauh even if they think it smacks of nepotism. The seat is synonymous to Anwar and it would seem callous for anyone to insist that it goes to a non-family member, even in the name of democratic politics.

Those arguing for a non-family candidate said the seat is symbolic of Pakatan Rakyat’s strength and that someone who is measurable to public expectations would be more suitable.

“Anwar claims that his cause is that of justice and democracy for Malaysia. If that is the case, it should not preclude others. There is no need to go down the family line,” said a Pakatan politician from Penang. Actually, a number of other people are eyeing the sure-win seat.

A day after the Anwar verdict, a well-meaning PKR politician had called Dr Wan Azizah to offer words of comfort and also to suggest that she consider PAS Deputy President Mohamad Sabu for Permatang Pauh.

The caller said it would allow Mat Sabu a platform to go for the Presidency and if he wins, he can ensure that PAS stays with Pakatan. Giving the seat to a PAS man is out of the question but there was no harm trying.

There are equally eager candidates within PKR, and one of them isDato Saifuddin Nasution former Secretary-General Datuk Saifuddin Nasution whose career is now in limbo after losing badly in the PKR election.

Saifuddin had complained during a party meeting that he felt like he had been abandoned. He indicated that he was struggling to cope with a lawsuit brought against him by Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim. Saifuddin had made corruption allegations against the former Selangor Mentri Besar at the height of the Mentri Besar crisis and he has been sued for that.

Yusmadi YusoffBeing an MP would help him return from the cold and restore his political career.Another name that has cropped up is that of Yusmadi Yusoff, a lawyer and former Balik Pulau MP.

Like Saifuddin, Yusmadi is also looking to make a comeback and what better opportunity than via a high-profile by-election.

But this is no ordinary by-election and some of the above names are rather too garden variety to excite the electorate. Moreover, there are already suggestions of a watikah or authorisation from Anwar about the seat and, like it or not, he will have a big say from prison.

Some in the party have even suggested Dr Wan Azizah for the seat.Kak Wan, as she is known, stepped in and won the seat in 1999 after Anwar’s sacking. In 2009, she resigned to pave a by-election for Anwar to return to politics. Then she made her own return to politics in the Kajang by-election last year.

It was starting to look like a revolving door, the way the family went in and out as they liked but they do seem to get away with it. As such, Kak Wan’s candidature should not be discounted.

PKR’s first lady may become even more powerful now that she is the chief conduit between the party and her imprisoned husband.

The focus on PKR was interrupted by the death of PAS leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat on Thursday night. It was the passing of a legend and the by-election in Chempaka is likely to happen sooner than in Permatang Pauh.

The Permatang Pauh seat will only be declared vacant 14 days from the date of conviction if Anwar fails to get a royal pardon. To date, there is no sign that he is seeking a royal pardon.

Pakatan leaders welcome the breathing space because they need to get their act together, patch up some of the cracks and agree on a suitable candidate.

Anwar was an important figure in Penang because he was the Malay face to the otherwise Chinese-centric government. But there will never be another Anwar and they may have to settle for his daughter.

Pakatan leaders want nothing less than a landslide victory in the by-election. This is crucial to show that the people are still with Anwar and to validate Pakatan’s standing as a coalition.

The last seven by-elections have not been encouraging for Pakatan. The coalition lost Teluk Intan and it retained the seats where it was the incumbent by smaller majorities. In contrast, Barisan won with bigger majorities in the seats where it was the incumbent.

The signs of voter disenchantment are there. Pakatan needs to restore its image with a big win in Permatang Pauh.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.


Pakatan Rakyat and the Future of Malaysia’s Two Party Democracy

February 12, 2015

COMMENT: With Anwar Ibrahim back in Sungei BulohDin MericanY2 prison can Pakatan Rakyat coalition hold, given the strong and uncompromising stands taken by the secularist DAP and the theocratic PAS? That is the question. Without the glue that was responsible for making the Pakatan Rakyat coalition of PKR, PAS and DAP a reality, it is difficult to envisage an alternative force that can take over from the present regime that had held power since Independence. The spirit of 2008  that galvanized Malaysian voters has been extinguished. That is the sad truth.

I am personally not optimistic that a two-party system as presently constituted if PAS is obsessed with the hudud and DAP is uncompromisingly secular can be viable. So in the run up to the next General Elections, Pakatan Rakyat must get its act together and settle their ideological differences that can cause it to implode. A house that is deeply divided cannot stand.

UMNO-BN strategists knew the secret to weaken and eventually break up Pakatan Rakyat. They persecuted and put Anwar Ibrahim out of action, and continue to play the religion and race card to entice PAS to join their ranks in common cause. It is, therefore, naive to think that a two-party system as presently constituted can be a viable one.–Din Merican

Pakatan Rakyat and the Future of Malaysia’s 2-Party Democracy

by R B Bhattacharjee–The EDGE MALAYSIA

Malaysia's opposition leaders hold hands at the end of their People's Alliance conference in Shah AlamDAP’s Lim Guan Eng, Anwar Ibrahim and PAS’s  Hadi Awang

Although it has become common to acknowledge that a two party system has emerged in Malaysia following the unprecedented setbacks faced by the Barisan Nasional coalition in the 12th. and 13th. General Elections, recent events show that there is a long way to go before that concept can be said to have taken root in the country’s democratic system.

No doubt, the opposition parties had set aside their visceral differences to form an electoral pact in the run-up to the 12th general election in 2008. And following the surprise gains that they made in that election, Democratic Action Party (DAP), Pan Islamic Party  of Malaysia (PAS) and the People’s Justice Party (PKR) showed much promise as a new political force when they came together to form the Pakatan Rakyat coalition in order to establish the state governments in Selangor, Penang, Perak (at that time) and Kedah, besides Kelantan which  was already being administered by PAS.

Anwar-UbahThe Slogan for 2008 General Election

With five states under their control, it did seem for a while that Pakatan Rakyat was on its way to become an alternative  to the entrenched  political infrastructure created by Barisan Nasional.

Certainly, the groundswell of support for the opposition parties was an unmistakable sign that the people had become impatient to change the patronage of the ruling government for a new brand of politics that does not take voters for granted. At the same time, no politician worth his salt would be blind to the fact that voters would be looking for signs that the opposition coalition was intrinsically cohesive before they would be convinced about backing its bid to take power at the federal level.

Subsequently, it seemed that Pakatan Rakyat only needed to build on a common policy platform, grow its grassroots machinery, attract enough talent and avoid pitfalls that Barisan Nasional had fallen into to ultimately inherit the mantle of power from a political establishment that was showing serious of dysfunction.

Since the sea of change in voter sentiment in 2008, however, the Pakatan Rakyat grouping has come under severe strain on a number of fronts that collectively pose questions about its viability as an alternative federal government.

The well-aired conflict between DAP and PAS over the notion of Malaysia as an Islamic nation versus the supremacy of the secular Constitution is perhaps the most divisive of the issues that foreshadow the unmaking of Pakatan Rakyat. Not that the cluster of issues around this theme does not impact the Barisan Nasional too, but the dominant role of of UMNO in the coalition means that dissonance in the ruling coalition is very much muted by comparison.

The Islamic nation controversy illuminates the difficulties  confronting Pakatan Rakyat in its efforts to establish an inclusive political institution that can govern Malaysia’s diverse population without falling back on the self-defeating divide-and-rule paradigm that has become the default political culture particularly in recent years.

Hadi AwangPAS  is committed to Hudud

Far from clearing the way to build a race-blind, religious-blind society, DAP and PAS, which have been at loggerheads for decades over the establishment of a shariah-oriented administration, could only disagree to disagree on the matter in 2008 when it was expedient to announce the formation of Pakatan Rakyat as an emergent coalition bedecked with a string of states under its control.

Allah Issue SupportersThe Allah Issue

This is just not good enough, as demonstrated by their endless bickering over a slew of inter-ethnic and inter-religious issues that have bubbled up of late. Since the 12th general election in particular, the many difficulties between shariah and secular institutions show that the overlapping of theocratic and secular jurisdictions is an inherently problematic proposition.

So, it is almost inevitable that a political coalition that juxtaposes secularist and theocratic  parties will become undone when it comes to a crunch. This is clearly the story of Pakatan Rakyat’s journey until now.

To conceptualise a political system that can survive the competing pressures of secular and theological worldviews, there is effectively no alternative to the separation of religious and state powers. The lessons of history, from church-state relations of Medieval Europe to the record of contemporary Islamic states, are quite clear on this score.

This means that the Pakatan Rakyat parties have to embark on a voyage of discovery to chart new territory that circumvents potential whirlpools of conflict in a multicultural society. Only when it has mapped the extent of this new sphere can it present to voters a workable alternative model to the current one that puts one group against another in a perpetual cycle of acrimony.

It is necessarily a work in progress. explored one area at a time, with each emerging issue between individuals, institutions and society in a variety of combinations pointing to gaps that need fixing, rights that need acknowledgment and duties that must be performed.

To expect an overnight alliance forged  in the heat of an electoral triumph to withstand the assault  of a political establishment that has been in control over five decades is in itself wishful thinking. Perhaps, it may even entail a deconstruction of current political parties and coalitions to allow new thinking about contentious issues to emerge. This is a work to be undertaken for the long term, with the interests of the coming generations in mind.

The Pakatan Rakyat leadership council cannot be expected overnight to resolve such a fundamental issue  that goes to the heart of power relations, socio-cultural  pluralism and concepts such justice and equity, among other things. Rather, Pakatan Rakyat leaders may give themselves some breathing room if they merely acknowledge that their mixed marriage is on the rocks.

Learn from Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa

January 11, 2015

Learn from Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa

Commentary by The Malaysian Insider

Pres Mahinda RajapaksaSri Lankan strongman Mahinda Rajapakse surprisingly lost the country’s presidential elections two days ago while pursuing a third term in office – much to the joy of the South Asian island nation.

He lost with 47.6% of the vote, while his opponent, former Health Minister and ally Maithripala Sirisena took 51.3% of the vote.

If those numbers are familiar, it is because those are nearly the same numbers as the split between the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) and opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in the 2013 general election in Malaysia.

More importantly, the fall of Rajapakse in Sri Lanka offers a lesson for Malaysia: that the very powerful and those who intimidate their opponents and the press, apart from advocating censorship – ultimately lose.

Rajapaksa was Sri Lanka’s hero who ended the 26-year civil war with the minority Tamil population in 2009 and after two terms in office with three brothers also holding key posts in the government – decided to change the law allowing unlimited terms as president.

Using the economy as a key driver in the Indian Ocean island, his government imposed censorship and hounded both opposition politicians and journalists to prevent dissent to his rule.

Rajapaksa, who first came to power in 2005, was last elected in 2010 when he defeated his former Army Chief Sarath Fonseka, who was later jailed on charges of implicating the government in war crimes.

Maithripala SirisenaPresident-Elect

According to the BBC, his critics said he became increasingly authoritarian and failed to tackle the legacy of Sri Lanka’s civil war, which left the Tamil areas in the north impoverished and embittered. While the circumstance with Malaysia is different, his brand of politics is all too similar to Malaysians.

The licensed mass media in Malaysia paint a picture of a popular government but in cyberspace, dissent and criticism hog online media and social media sites that has now led Putrajaya to bring back a retired civil servant to head its communications regulatory agency.

In public universities, academics and students are routinely reminded not to get involved in political activities while the colonial-era Sedition Act is now the preferred law to silence dissent.

This from a government that has lost further ground in the 2013 elections from the 2008 elections where PR first denied BN its traditional two-thirds parliamentary super-majority.

The BN government had also used the economy as a bait, planning economic and government transformation programmes together with direct cash aid but only gained 47% of the popular vote in 2013.

Perhaps BN can learn from what contributed to Rajapakse’s defeat and if it does not, it might just share the former Sri Lankan President’s fate in the next general election.