Of the Opposition, obstacles, opportunity and oblivion!

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The public has increasingly perceived the fledging PR to be a “fragile”, “feuding”, “fraying” and “faltering” coalition – one that was “not on a firm footing”, observes Martin Jalleh.

2009 saw the end of the euphoria that enveloped the whole country after the political tsunami of March 2008. It was a year during which the Opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR), was brought down to earth and forced to face the enormity of the challenge to deliver what it had promised during the elections.

It was also a year when the public increasingly perceived the fledging PR to be a “fragile”, “feuding”, “fraying” and “faltering” coalition – one that was “not on a firm footing”.  In light of this scenario, the PR was hard pressed to convince the public that they could form the next federal government.

One would have thought that the PR, after having lost Perak to the BN in February 2009, would come to its senses about the need to be united. But it continued with its petty and puerile public inter and intra-party squabbles, spats and skirmishes, much to the surprise and scorn of the public and the satisfaction of Umno!

Meanwhile, the great hope which the apolitical Hindraf gave to the Indians and in fact to Bolehland came to a halt. Its high-browed leaders haggled over its future, hurled accusations at one another and accused PR of hypocrisy. By year’s end, Hindraf appeared headless, helpless, hopeless and headed for oblivion!

Coming back to the PR, in contrast to those disappointed, disillusioned and even disgusted over what they felt was the coalition’s failure to deliver and to stop its disunity, there were the PR die-hards who felt that it was too early to dismiss PR altogether or to write its death sentence. It deserved more time and trust to prove itself.

The opposition coalition was only less than two years old as compared to the BN of more than 50 years. The PR was made up of many first-timers with divergent ideologies and inclinations and like any coalition, has varying kinds of leaders/members such as the enlightened, the erratic, the eccentric and the egocentric!

Further, the PR in fact had ruled well in their states. The Auditor-General (AG) gave the highest rating to Selangor and Penang in terms of good governance since March 2008, which compared very favourably against BN-ruled states. The AG also gave a commendable rating to the PR’s performance during its 11-month rule in Perak.

In 2009, PR also contributed significantly to Parliament in the form of better participation and stronger arguments during Question Time and debates. In July, the PR formed parliamentary committees in tandem with 25 government ministries to help its MPs deliberate important bills and issues including the Budget.

Even in terms of by-elections, the PR fared well. There was a time when it was a foregone conclusion that the BN would be the winner in any by-election. But in 2009 (a year of by-elections), the PR and the  BN faced off seven times, with the opposition pact winning five times to BN’s two.

The PR successes in 2009, however, were overshadowed by its many shortcomings. In August 2009, Anwar conceded that his party PKR was the “weakest link” in PR and that “there is a flaw in our vetting system. We rushed to choose candidates to contest in the last general elections but I promise that this will be improved.”

In October 2009, the PR was humbled in the Bagan Pinang by-election. There were a host of lessons to be learned. Anwar did not hesitate to admit that the defeat was due to the “weaknesses and shortcomings” in PR. Some PR supporters even heaved a sigh of relief that the PR had lost! It was a heaven-sent harsh wake-up call.

In the same month, an exasperated Lim Kit Siang warned: “Pakatan Rakyat had been suffering a prolonged and unceasing bout of loss of public confidence… to convince the Malaysian electorate in its credibility, cohesion, integrity and common sense of purpose.” PR may be only a “one-term miracle”, he prodded them.

Lethargy set in as the year went by. If not for the political lassitude of 20 missing PR MPs in Parliament, the BN’s Budget Bill (in mid-December 2009) could have been voted out and the PR could have won a vote of no-confidence against the BN government. PR appeared to be resting on its laurels. How long would it last?

In 2009, Karpal Singh slammed Anwar for “creating enough trouble” and asked him to quit. Raja Petra said Anwar was in a “self-destruct mode”. Umno shamelessly labelled the PR chief a “chameleon” (which Umno politician is not?) and a High Court ordered him to stand trial for sodomy charges! But Anwar soldiered on.

Umno spent the year systematically sabotaging the PR-ruled states by abusing varous institutions of democracy. The PR was portrayed as weak, wavering and wobbling and Umno as having bounced back stronger to stamp its “supremacy”. Najib was back in the saddle (taking the country for a ride) with his slogans!

The PR’s successes were downplayed. Umno’s scandals were diverted. Federal funds were denied or delayed or distributed discriminately. PR leaders were demonised and Umno portrayed as the champion of Islam and the Malay race, and the defender of the royalty. Umno was bent on destabilising and destroying PR!   

The PR was undaunted by the task ahead. In December 2009, Pas MP Dzulkefly Ahmad introduced the PR’s Common Policy Framework as a “Dawn of a New Awakening” – a daring framework of common goals and grounds derived out of debate and dissent among the three parties, determined to deliver the “revolution of a political culture”.

The road to Putrajaya requires stomach, stamina, solidarity and the sacrifice of personal agendas and parochial party issues for the the larger national agenda. Sloganeering will not do.  The 1,500 delegates at PR’s first national convention were reminded of the dictum “Perform or Perish”.

Martin Jalleh is a well known political commentator and writer. 

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