Do-or-die phase of Pakatan Rakyat experiment

Pakatan Rakyat is not just a coalition but an experiment for Malaysia’s next step in multiculturalism. It can either come out stronger or sink in totally irreparable mayhem, writes Nicholas Chan.

(From left) Lim Guan Eng (Penang), Nik Aziz Nik Mat (Kelantan), Khalid Ibrahim (Selangor) and Azizan Abdul Razak (Kedah)

Contrary to what most people think, and in spite of what hastranspired in Selangor lately, I still believe that Pakatan Rakyat is the answer to Malaysia’s future.

Critics of the coalition might see the tripartite as a partnership of convenience (sometimes it seems, rightly so). This coupled with the fact that there are irreconcilable philosophical differences between the secular DAP and the Islamist Pas serves as a premonition to some regarding the inevitability of a breakup of Pakatan Rakyat. Such quarters would probably be reeling in delight, saying “I told you so!” in the light of the farcical Selangor MB crisis.

But if we sit down and ponder about the membership, ideologies and personalities of Pakatan Rakyat, no matter how divergent they are, wouldn’t we find that they actually reflect very well Malaysian society in general? (That statement perhaps should come with the exception of Sabah and Sarawak.)

It is this diversity between the believers and non-believers, the secularists and the Islamists, the currents and counter-currents, the urban and the rural, the elite and the mases, as well as the pompous and the modest that continues to define us with the collective identity of being Malaysian.

Anyone who has gone to the Pakatan Rakyat Convention and witnessed the cornucopia of demeanours, languages, the fashion sense and mentalities will get what I mean. Malaysia might not be truly Asia, but Pakatan Rakyat is somehow very Malaysia, or Peninsular Malaysia at least.

Of course, under a bipolar political setting, these allegiances are also determined by the ever-changing temperament both towards and against the establishment. But the fact that these parties have remained together (at least at the time of the writing) with grassroots support from voting blocs that at times seem non-overlapping and antagonistic (with the DAP at one end, PKR loitering in the middle, while Pas on the other) is a success to be celebrated.

To me, their togetherness is not an abomination of paradoxes but a beacon of hope. If Malaysians from the whole spectrum of life, thinking, belief and classes are to learn to co-exist in a coherent and equally representative political order, then the three parties of Pakatan Rakyat must first learn to do so. The secularists cannot oppress, subdue and silence the Islamists because they are sizeable and have a right to advocacy, while the Islamists cannot pray that the secularists will be gone or converted overnight.

Like it or not, this is Malaysia and the political mandate given to Pakatan Rakyat was not just to rule but to find a way to make such rifts among Malaysians complementary and not hostile and retaliatory.

Divisive Barisan politics under Umno’s hegemony had cultivated cracks – both physically and metaphorically – through poor and corrupt governance, racial polemics and widening socio-economic inequality. As Umno seeks to revamp itself by going further down the path of ethno-centrism, even greater hope is placed on Pakatan’s consociational model of the “irreconcilables” to carve a new way forward towards non-zero-sum, multi-ethnic and mature representative democracy.

In this sense, recent occurrences have not been the most encouraging for the coalition. While the crisis is a Selangor one, its effects show up an existential crisis for Pakatan Rakyat. And it is not something that was unexpected, if one had followed closely the development of Pas in the post 2008 climate.

As the outlier to the coalition due to its grandeur vision of forming an Islamic state vis-à-vis the conformity to secular democracy shown by the PKR and the DAP, Pas has had to make substantial sacrifices to its ideological struggles to accommodate Pakatan’s aspiration. In propaganda, the Islamic state became the welfare state and its all-the-while puritanical dialectics were replaced by a renewed enthusiasm exemplified by its new motto, “Pas for All”.

It is unrealistic, even unfair, to argue that all of Pas should just endure such changes and gleefully hop the Pakatan Rakyat bandwagon. Resistance is to be expected, mediated and overcome. While its recent manifestations may have been ugly and some would argue opportunistic, it is nevertheless an issue to be dealt with, as it relates to the core of existence of Pakatan Rakyat.

Without Pas, any glimmer of hope for Pakatan to galvanise Malay and especially rural Malay-Muslim support will be eradicated. Without the membership of Pas, any calls for inclusivity will be like a shout into the void because a significant portion of the populace is alienated.

The importance of Pas is so striking that an internal division within Pas has resulted in a division within Pakatan Rakyat. In contrast, divisions within the PKR had never dampened the cohesiveness of Pakatan Rakyat.
This may sound heretical to some, but the PKR and the DAP should not stand by and watch when Pas can’t seem to sort itself out. They may need to come up with solutions because as of now, there is no substitute for Pas, nor should there be, after nearly six years of fruitful partnership.

There should not be any attempts to pursue an alternative brand of exclusivist politics (in comparison to Umno) to form an alliance that has a support base devoid of the religious, the rural conservatives, and a significant portion of the northern peninsula populace.

The relationship among the three parties in Pakatan can be synergistic at times but it is fundamentally symbiotic.
It will be a fatal mistake for Pas to think that it can hold the coalition hostage with its recalcitrance and its back-channelling with the ever enticing Umno in the name of Malay-Muslim unity.

With an overlapping of more than 60 parliamentary seats and over 200 state seats, it is naive of Pas to think that it can be the perfect match with Umno to form a Malay-Muslim super-coalition. It won’t be easy to persuade the Umno warlords to give up their seats for Pas. Proposals for seats increase will meet with obstacles when their alliance still cannot achieve a two-thirds majority in parliament.

And if the thinking of Pas, especially that of the conservative faction, is that “all is necessary”, including the befriending of arch-nemesis Umno, to pursue the realisation of hudud and theocratic rule, then they cannot be more wrong. The realisation of hudud and the Islamic state, whatever the form it may be in, will be a threat to Umno’s existence as an ethno-centric but fundamentally secular political party.

Muslim voters would regard it as redundant for Umno to go down the same path as Pas, as the brand of Islamic puritanism has always been associated with the latter. And Umno will soon see its own demise due to the rejection of both the religious conservatives and the non-Muslims.

It is therefore ‘better’ for Umno to continue to wade in the muddled waters of ethno, religio-nationalism and pro-Bumiputera capitalism than to engross itself in the ‘beggar-thy-opponent’ pursuit of political Islam. It may seem to be extending its hand of friendship to Pas now, but nothing favours Umno more than the status quo with Pakatan Rakyat breaking up even in the absence of an external threat.

Burning bridges with Pakatan Rakyat in other words is equivalent to Pas burning all its bridges to a sustainable and successful political lifespan. No doubt it will drag Pakatan down in its plunge but nothing meaningful will come out of this for Pas. If voting trends are anything to go by, it might even lose its fortress in Kelantan in the next general elections.

Without the political war chest of money and security apparatus that Umno, Pas will not be able to go anywhere solo when it is ditched by both its partners in Pakatan and the convenient ‘friend’ that is Umno.

Pas must affirm its motivations and goals in the context of Pakatan’s while the DAP and the PKR must also make great strides in affirming the role of Pas. Intra-Pakatan Machiavellianism should cease immediately and unrelenting players so inclined should look for greener pastures for their political ambitions. Unity among the three parties should not exist only in the form of meetings but in hand-in-hand cooperation in the running of governments and campaigns as well.

Pakatan Rakyat is not just a coalition but an experiment for Malaysia’s next step in multiculturalism. It is currently at a stage where the coalition can either come out stronger or sink in totally irreparable mayhem.

Nicholas Chan

Nicholas Chan is a socio-political research analyst at Penang Institute. A forensic scientist by education, he believes there is a truth in everything and it all depends on whether we want to see it or not.

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1 Response

  1. charleskiwi says:

    It is on a marriage of convenience between all the parties in PKR and it will never last for long, especially all the parties therein are under the illusion that they are the favorite of the voters. Well the truth is most of the voters are only showing their disgust for the ruling party and not voting for this coalition. That must be the reason why they are all fighting amongst themselves so soon after the GE. The only party that will benefit from all these in fighting is Umno, they are sitting by the side and laugh.

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