Wednesday, September 30, 2015

New opposition must reignite hope

Brave New World

Published: Wednesday September 30, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday September 30, 2015 MYT 7:04:24 AM

Azmi Sharom

PKR wings want Salleh to quit People want clarity about the aspirations and objectives of the Pakatan Harapan coalition.
THE Opposition has now officially regrouped. DAP, PKR and the PAS breakaway party, Amanah Harapan, have formed a new opposition coalition. Goodbye Pakatan Rakyat, hello Pakatan Harapan. Is this a good thing?
Well, it can’t be any worse than the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) which over the last couple of years has become more and more dysfunctional. Many, including myself, felt that PR’s days were numbered anyway. The very public split between DAP and PAS and the less well publicised disagreements between PKR and PAS meant that things were becoming untenable.
In 2008 and 2013, PAS managed to convince many voters that they had transformed into an inclusive, moderate and forward thinking party. What really happened was that their progressive faction became their public face and the traditionally non-PAS supporters were taken by their intelligence and their progressive message.
We did not see, or we chose not to see the fact that they were only part of PAS. The conservatives were always there and their stance and beliefs are simply not very palatable to those outside their traditional support group.
This schizophrenia was simply not sustainable. After PAS broke ranks by opposing PKR’s Kajang move and then insisted on trying to introduce Hudud in Kelantan (despite having agreed with their PR partners that matters like Hudud could not be decided unilaterally), it became clear that the gang was not all in the same boat.
Plus, with PAS there is always the spectre of Umno lurking in the shadows; that coy flirting between the two parties, with occasional sweet utterings of “Malay Unity” suggesting a coupling between the two.
Which is not to say PKR and DAP have been blameless. Whatever their reasons may be, the Kajang move was, to many voters, still little more than crass politicking.
And the DAP really could have behaved in a more statesman-like manner when disagreeing with PAS, instead of coming over all crude as if they were in a street fight. However, ultimately, PAS was heading off on their own path; a path that even a large number of their own leaders and members could not stomach, hence the creation of Amanah. The breakup of PR simply had to happen.
So, can the new Pakatan Harapan do better? They haven’t really started on a good foot, have they?
At their first official meeting and launch they have already alienated Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM). Sure, PSM was never a part of PR officially but they have always largely worked with and co-operated with the opposition coalition.
And they are, I believe, a very good partner to have. The PSM has made inroads without glamorous appeal or huge party machinery. Their success has been on the back of hard toil at the grassroots level; building trust and belief slowly by doing good works for those in need. Such dedication and principle is not to be scoffed at and in an era where it is more than easy to be cynical about politicians, such a party ought to be embraced.
And so this spat really is disappointing. Especially since it appears to be based on well, nothing really. At its core are the reasons why PSM was not invited to join Pakatan Harapan. It’s a case of he said, she said, followed by name-calling. It seems extremely childish and I, for one, cannot understand why they can’t simply put all their cards on the table, stop trying to cover their respective bottoms in an effort to look good, find out what really happened, put their respective egos in the closet, say sorry, shake hands and then move on.
And how should they move on? I think what the people want is clarity. Clarity as to the aspirations and objectives of this new coalition. We need to see firm policies and ideas of how to rescue this beleaguered nation of ours. We need intelligence and we need politics of principle.
Ah, and here’s another problem: principle. It sounds so good but does it have a place in realpolitik? When Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour Party leadership in England, there was a split in opinion.
Many were very happy that a person with very well defined left wing policies came into the fray. By doing so, he has given voters an actual choice between the Conservatives and Labour, based on principle. Unlike the Blair years when, due to his abandonment of core Labour principles, elections became a choice between the Tories or Tory Lite.
But there are those who say that Corbyn being so far to the left has effectively made Labour unelectable. They say that “middle England” can’t accept such a radical prime minister. And thus the conundrum is to either stand on principle or be pragmatic and fluid in order to be more viable.
The same issue seems to be raising its head here. It would be nice if Pakatan Harapan could lay down their manifesto and ideology and try to win the next election based on that.
But the fear lingers that without PAS, they cannot win Putrajaya. I have no idea if this is the case – the analysis of voting figures is so complicated it looks like it is written in Sumerian by the Ananaki to me.
But whatever the figures show, PKR seem keen to somehow keep on working with PAS. But how can this work?
The animosity between PAS on one side, and DAP and Amanah on the other, is thick enough to cut with a knife. It seems unlikely at this point that PAS will officially be part of the new opposition coalition (and I for one would not want them to be anyway).
What then is left? Co-operation during the next elections in order to avoid three-cornered fights?
But if this is to be, will PAS agree to co-operate not only with PKR but also with Amanah and DAP? Again, at this point that does not seem likely, as they’ve all been busy publicly hating one another.
This is a huge conundrum, in particular for PKR. Do they put 100% into the new coalition or do they keep on trying to work with PAS, who have publicly poured scorn and vitriol on PKR’s partners? Are we going to see politics of principle or pragmatism?
It is all far too early to tell. But one hopes that Pakatan Harapan will be able to sort themselves out. Many pundits have taken great pains to point out how previous opposition coalitions have failed.
They seem to suggest history will repeat itself. This may be true in the light of the PR split.
But we ought to remember that PR actually won four state governments in 2008, they won the majority vote in 2013, and they are currently running two of the more successful states in the nation.
But more than that, they really gave Malaysians hope for a genuine two party system. Sure PR has now crumbled, but they gave us hope. Pakatan Harapan’s job now is to reignite that hope.
Azmi Sharom ( is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.
~ The Star

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