Game over for Pakatan Rakyat?

11 02 2010

By Wong Chin Huat

Game over for Pakatan Rakyat?

WHEN speculation is rife about the possible disintegration of the Pakatan Rakyat(PR), not least via media reports, I cannot help but ask two questions: What could Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak possibly gain by this? And what weapons do parliamentary Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the PR have in their arsenal to fight this?

Najib smiles as he displays the “BN-friendly” independents

It was one year ago at a packed press conference that Najib, who was then deputy prime minister, displayed three ex-PR lawmakers in Perak who had declared themselves “Barisan Nasional (BN)-friendly” independents. Najib must have believed that he had scored a powerful goal against his nemesis, Anwar. After all, just months before that Anwar was talking about his grand plan of federal regime change via defections. And Anwar succeeded in doing precisely that to the Sabah government in 1994.
If we could turn back time, I wonder if Anwar would still have boasted about his now infamous “16 September” plot, and if Najib would still have wanted to take Perak by force. Both are still paying dearly for their political misadventures. Their mistake? Getting stuck in old experiences and understandings of the world, when the world has clearly changed.
Anwar was trapped by his past success against Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) and probably believed that the defections game was inevitable. Instead of developing a defence against defection, like delegitimising crossovers, he chose an offensive strategy.

Press conference for 1BLACKMalaysia

And Najib was trapped by the BN’s past successes in toppling state governments, from Sarawak (1966), to Kelantan (1977), and Sabah (1994). He did not expect that citizens would not take a federal coup lying down. Instead, they tore his “1Malaysia” public relations campaign to pieces in a show of civil disobedience.
No value added
Thus, the gains from defections may be more imagined than real. At the federal level, how does restoring its two-thirds control of Parliament benefit the BN beyond psychological symbolism? The significance of a parliamentary two-thirds majority was established in the 1950s when the then MCA president wanted to protect the Chinese community from any unilateral move by Malay nationalists to amend the constitution.

Zulkifli Noordin would be of limited value
to BN if he defected
But what is left today in the constitution for the BN to amend? Even the PR, with its slightly more than one-thirds control of Parliament, cannot stopgerrymandering beyond preventing an increase of parliamentary seats. To put it crudely, parliamentarians like Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)’sZulkifli Noordin and Datuk Seri Zahrain Mohamed Hashim would add only limited value to the BN, should they defect.
At the state level, even if some executive councillors in Selangor are charged for corruption like what happened to the PKR duo in Perak, there could not possibly be a Perak-like coup in Selangor.
First of all, Selangor PR’s comfortable 14-seat lead against the BN and BN-friendly independents is way stronger than the wafer-thin three-seat margin the Perak PR government once held. Second, Selangor is politically more developed and organised than Perak, which means an unpopular coup may trigger widespread unrest and paralyse the rest of the nation. Third, on 9 Feb 2010 the Federal Courtwill deliver its decision on Perak, so there is not much point in the BN forcing a coup which could possibly be denounced by the court.
roadsign of frog, with 'animal crossing' descriptor underneath
Operasi Katak?
And what about Penang or other PR-led states states? Well, Zahrain’s attack on Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng may somewhat weaken PKR’s urban Malay Malaysian base. Yet it could potentially pull in stronger overall urban support for the state government.
So, the only real gain from the second round of Operasi Katak is an overall demoralisation of the PR, in the hopes that it causes an exodus of leaders and supporters from the coalition.
What about Sodomy, the Sequel?
But in addition to the onslaught against the PR via threats of defections, the coalition also has to contend with a second round of Operasi Liwat. Will Anwar’s sodomy trial decapitate the PR as many analysts once believed it could? Not after the “Allah” row.
Anwar’s instrumentality to the PR was really his ability to bridge the secular DAP and Islamist PAS, thus facilitating a middle-path positioning.
But in the “Allah” controversy, it was crystal clear that PAS was at the forefront of defending the non-Muslims’ right to use “Allah”, not PKR. The icon for the defence of non-Muslims’ rights was PAS’s Shah Alam Member of Parliament Khalid Samad, not Anwar. And speaking of building bridges, even the DAP is becoming more Islam-friendly — the DAP-led Penang government has set up Malaysa’s first governmental Syura Council.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah
So, the PR does not really need Anwar to maintain its inclusive front. But what about leadership in general? If Anwar were to go to jail, who could replace him as parliamentary Opposition Leader? It might be a stretch, but why not consider someone like Umno’s elder statesperson Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah?
Anwar and the PR do still wield a formidable weapon — public opinion. As long as the middle-ground voters can be convinced that Najib is a trouble-maker rather than a nation-builder, Umno’s exit by the next general election will be on the cards.
But even a week is a long time in politics. What if elections come only in 2013? Would Malaysians “forgive and forget” by then? Well, Anwar’s wife and party president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail will probably return to the limelight, as she did in 1999.
And, of course, with the current momentum, the PR will probably not allow Najib to take his own sweet time to dissolve Parliament. They will do all they can to dash the prime minister’s hopes that voters and foreign investors will talk about hisGovernment Transformation Programme. In fact, for many, what might be increasingly relevant is a “Government Transition Programme”.
Pakatan Rakyat’s weaknesses
Anwar needs to believe PR can survive
Have the PR and Anwar no weaknesses in the face of the BN’s onslaught? Of course they do. Anwar’s main weakness — which could be fatal — is his lack of confidence that his party and coalition can survive defections.
Besides, PKR’s decision to call the more liberal Datuk Zaid Ibrahim before its disciplinary committee alongside Zulkifli and Zahrain sends an important message — PKR is still making concessions to its ultra-right leaders. The same can be said of PAS, vis-à-vis the party’s harsher punishment for Khalid compared to Datuk Dr Hasan Ali.
If these problems persist, Anwar may increasingly look like former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in his handling of theDatuk Ahmad Ismail-“pendatang” saga, or even Najib in the “Allah” row. The public would probably not miss yet another indecisive leader, even if he were treated unjustly. 




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