With two of PR’s charismatic leaders no longer in the picture, who will step up to lead the coalition, wonders Zaharom Nain.
The internationally condemned incarceration of Anwar Ibrahim, followed swiftly by the death of the much-respected Pas spiritual leader, Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, have arguably left a void in Pakatan Rakyat.
Or, at least, that is what many, including PR detractors, believe.
Anwar, after all, is widely regarded as the chief architect of the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition.
Indeed, he is the one person who, for many, single-handedly brought together two seemingly incompatible oppositional political parties, the Islamist Pas and the heavily secular DAP, to form a formidable coalition, together with his multi-ethnic party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
Formidable it certainly was. Within a period of just nine years and three general elections (GE11-GE13), PR managed to overturn the ruling Barisan Nasional’s (BN) huge majority of 90 per cent of the seats in parliament and 64 per cent of the popular vote after GE11 in 2004, to a relatively paltry 60 per cent of the seats and, worse, just 47 per cent of the popular vote in the 2013 general election.
Indeed, capturing only 47 per cent of the popular vote – and seeing the virtual decimation of three of its component BN parties, Gerakan, the MCA and the MIC – was a psychological blow for the Najib regime and ample proof the people did believe that something was quite wrong with the BN government.
But it also indicated that something was quite appealing with what Pakatan had to offer. Indeed, from what was largely depicted early on by the mainstream media as a ragtag group of no-hopers, Pakatan now seemed to provide a viable alternative.
Granted, many put this down to the charisma and the mobilising abilities of just one man – Anwar Ibrahim. This, indeed, was how the BN-controlled media attempted to depict it.
And, evidently, when we see how this one man and his family have been virtually hounded for almost two decades, Anwar, to his haters and the BN, must have been – and still is – seen as the driving force behind Pakatan.
And now that he is behind bars, there appears to be this belief that without this ‘charismatic’ leader, compounded by current disputes within Pakatan, all is lost.
‘Lost’, largely because Pakatan has ‘lost’ its charismatic leader, and, with the passing of Nik Aziz, its spiritual leader as well.
This way of thinking perhaps begs the questions: What are charismatic leaders? And do we really need them?
If we take charismatic (political) leaders to be those who can really draw a crowd and captivate them the way that rock stars like Springsteen can, unfortunately there’s been a very short supply of those in the history of the world – and certainly in Malaysia.
Indeed, this Great Man/Charismatic Leader theory of world history faces one major problem – there has been a lot of history and very few Great/Charismatic leaders.
Charismatic leaders such as Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy are rare.
Try thinking beyond leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, John F Kennedy, Nelson Mandela and Sir Winston Churchill in the 20th century and it’s quite likely that you won’t go very far.
The days of the Messiah, it would seem, are far gone.
Just look at Malaysia’s ruling party over the years and you will probably get the picture. No, Mahathir was never a charismatic leader. He was an authoritarian one.
And, really, authoritarian leaders are a dime a dozen.
It would seem that what many Malaysians want these days are really sincere political leaders, even if that, for cynics, sounds like an oxymoron.
For many – certainly the 53 per cent who voted for Pakatan in GE13 – it wasn’t simply Anwar. For them, the Pakatan coalition promised something different from the divisive, exclusive ethnic politics increasingly practised by the BN.
And there were – indeed, there still are – genuine other leaders, young and old, in Pakatan. There’s Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin, Khalid Samad and Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, among others in Pas; Liew Ching Tong, Ong Kian Meng and Tony Pua in the DAP; and Rafizi Ramli, Nurul Izzah Anwar and Azmin Ali in PKR.
And there’re more climbing up the ranks, promising a future that is based on hard work, inclusivity and genuine concern for the rakyat.
No, they are probably not as charismatic as Anwar, Nik Aziz or even the late Karpal Singh.
But then again, if we turn around and look at the current regime, there are slim pickings there too. Extremely slim.
But, it would appear that the electorate, the rakyat, are not looking for charisma in these troubled days as much as they are hungering for change.
Change, that is, from a regime that preaches divisiveness, the politics of vengeance and seemingly upholds corruption and plain rude and uncivilised behaviour.
Change to a leadership that actually listens to the people – old and young, rich and poor, men and women – as Malaysians.
And a leadership, even one without charismatic individuals, that, more importantly, treats us with respect as Malaysians and not looks down on us as disparate, separate communities.