Ambiga Sreenevasan in NY Times

August 23, 2015

Ambiga Sreenevasan in NY Times

Malaysia’s Many Scandals

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia’s ruling party is facing its greatest crisis of legitimacy yet. Long seen as a modern and moderate Muslim democracy, Malaysia has been riding on its economic growth and good diplomacy for years, and the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has led coalition governments for nearly six decades, has been claiming the credit.

But rampant corruption, curbs on freedom of expression, a slowing economy and a currency in free fall have eroded public trust in the government’s stewardship. It hasn’t helped that Prime Minister Najib Razak recently reshuffled the cabinet, and sacked the deputy prime minister and the attorney general for asking uncomfortable questions. Or that once again the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN), is using its influence over government agencies to bypass or manipulate electoral rules to its advantage, most recently through gerrymandering in the eastern state of Sarawak.

The last general election, in 2013, was criticized for many irregularities: flawed voter lists, gags on the media, the malapportionment of seats in Parliament and state legislatures. Although the Constitution highlights the importance of having a national Election Commission that “enjoys public confidence,” the commission has been doing the government’s bidding for many years. BN won just over 47 percent of the popular vote in 2013, compared with nearly 51 percent for the opposition. But it gained control of about 60 percent of the seats in Parliament.

Sapuman2Najib–The Sapuman

The latest financial scandal to rock Mr. Najib also bears on electoral improprieties. The state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), whose advisory board is chaired by the Prime Minister, is fending off allegations of mismanagement; critics say it cannot account for some 27 billion ringgit in debt (about $6.6 billion). In early July, the U.K.-based Sarawak Report website and The Wall Street Journal reported that nearly $700 million had been transferred into personal accounts of Mr. Najib just before the 2013 election, suggesting a connection to entities linked to 1MDB. The anti-corruption agency claims instead that the money was a donation from the Middle East.

Last week, Tourism and Culture Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz explained that “a brotherly nation” had made the contribution “to see certain parties win in the general election because we’re friendly to them,” adding, “There’s nothing wrong.” But the opposition People’s Justice Party has filed a suit against Mr. Najib, 1MDB and the Election Commission alleging that these donations were illegal, and as a result the 2013 election should be “declared null and void.”

The Election Commission has a long history of manipulating the electoral system to the benefit of the powers that be. After the 1999 general election, it came under attack for enabling and covering up a vast vote-buying scheme in the eastern state of Sabah, in which local authorities distributed identity cards to tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who then used them to vote — usually, anecdotal evidence suggests, for BN.

The Election Commission also oversaw the delineation of voting districts in much of the country in 2002-2003. A study by the Center for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity at Oxford University found that the process revealed a political bias in favor of the ruling coalition. “If the BN itself had redrawn the constituency boundaries to its own benefit,” the report found, “it couldn’t have done a much better job than the Election Commission.”

One of the Election Commission’s tactics was to break up constituencies that were BN strongholds so as to increase the number of seats allotted to them in Parliament, and thus bolster the BN’s potential gains. At the same time, it clumped together constituencies dominated by the opposition, reducing those constituencies’ total number of representatives and the opposition’s chances.

In a survey of elections in 127 countries between 2012 and 2014, the Electoral Integrity Project, an independent academic study, ranked Malaysia’s 2013 election 114 on its scale of perceived integrity. Yet today, nearly the same Election Commission that oversaw the voting in 2013 — all but two of its seven members remain — is in charge of redelineating voting districts again. And instead of correcting the system’s existing flaws, it appears to be exacerbating them.

The boundaries of Malaysia’s voting constituencies are to be redrawn ahead of the next general election, planned for late 2017 or early 2018, ostensibly in order to increase the representativeness of both Parliament and state legislatures. The effort started in Sarawak because the state is due to hold local elections by August 2016. So far, the Electoral Commission’s recommendations would increase the representation of less populated rural areas relative to that of more populated urban areas, which favors BN because it tends to fare better than the opposition in Sarawak’s rural parts.

A member of the state assembly from the People’s Justice Party and an individual representing a group of voters have challenged the Sarawak redistricting in court, claiming, among other things, that its lack of transparency violates their constitutional rights. The High Court of Sabah and Sarawak in Kuching agreed, but its decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal. That decision is now being appealed before the Federal Court, Malaysia’s court of last resort. (I have been involved with both appeals, helping represent the parties questioning the redelineation.)

Despite this challenge and civil society’s longstanding complaints that the Election Commission is not independent, Shahidan Kassim, a minister in the prime minister’s office, recently declared being “satisfied” with its performance. This stands to reason: Mr. Najib, who is under growing pressure to resign over financial improprieties, could use a big win in the Sarawak election, to steady himself before the national election.

Maria Chin Abdullah

Once again, the people of Malaysia risk being cheated out of an election. To prevent this, a citizens’ movement known as Bersih (which I once co-chaired and is now led by Maria Chin Abdullah) is calling for a peaceful mass rally on August 29-30 to demand free and fair elections and a clean government — starting with Mr. Najib’s resignation.

In addition to BERSIH’s demands, redistricting should be suspended, and the Election Commission should be dismantled. A new commission should be appointed in consultation with civil society.

Malaysia is a country adrift. The government is failing us. The Election Commission is compromised. The rule of law is eroding. The people of Malaysia must take to the streets to reclaim our democracy and the soul of our nation.

Ambiga Sreenevasan is the president of Malaysia’s National Human Rights Society (Hakam) and former co-chair of Bersih, a movement for free and fair elections.

Chicken Najib postpones UMNO party election for 18 months

June 27, 2015

Chicken Najib: UMNO polls delayed 18 months

Chicken Najib 2He is afraid to face his Moment of Truth

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
It will come when it will come.”
–William Shakespeare

COMMENT: Naijb Razak cites the examples of his predecessors in announcing that party polls would not be held as scheduled in 2016. Will UMNO leaders and members take this lying down? What will the Deputy President and Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin be a coward too by being party to this decision? UMNO-BN deserves to be voted out in the next General Election (14th GE) because in 18 months under Najib the country  will be in an absolute mess.–Din Merican

UMNO President and Prime Minister Najib Razak announced on Friday that the Supreme Council has decided to postpone the party elections scheduled for 2016 to a date 18 months later from the scheduled date.

Speaking at a media briefing after concluding the bi-monthly UMNO Supreme Council Meeting at the Putra World Trade Centre, Najib said, “Based on Article 10.16 of the party’s constitution, it gives the supreme council the power to postpone the election, at the supreme council, division and branch level. The postponement cannot be more than 18 months from the originally planned date.”

“The Supreme Council feels that the public should be given the utmost priority, and thus, the focus should be on serving the public and their needs, on policy as well as the grassroots.”

Najib added that the move was not something out of the ordinary, as similar postponements had been made during the leadership of Mahathir Mohamad and his predecessor Abdullah Badawi, citing the same reasons. The decision also, does not make UMNO un-democratic, according to Najib, as the election will be done at the right time, when the new constitutional amendments were ready. “This will make the UMNO election more open with a better election mechanism.”

The UMNO Chief said the announcement on the postponement was being done well in advance so that persons involved would not plan for something that shifts their focus. “Any shift in focus may have adverse effects on their responsibilities to the party.”

“If it’s not announced now, a lot will be left to assumptions,” he added. Najib confirmed that the party was studying the weaknesses from previous party elections and looking at available proposed options, before deciding on the new election method.

Deputy UMNO President Muhyiddin Yassin had warned during the last UMNO General Assembly that the party elections should not be postponed no matter what and must be held as scheduled. “The members expect it.”

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.