The dark treacherous road to Putrajaya

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Rafizi Ramli is right; the Kajang by-election will be a game-changer – but not in the manner that he thinks, says Azmil Tayeb.

Anwar's gambit in Kajan
Why is Anwar contesting in Kajang?

Since when have Malaysians ever voted for the Prime Minister? The nature of the parliamentary system is such that the electorate chooses which political parties that best govern the country, which in turn choose who amongst their leaders should head up the executive branch i.e. to become the Prime Minister. There is no direct election for Prime Ministership, unlike in a Presidential system.

Thus, I am utterly puzzled at the examples proffered by the supporters of Anwar Ibrahim’s latest move to contest in the soon-to-be-held Kajang state seat by-election. The comparison to Jacques Chirac, Lee Myung-Bak, Reccep Erdogan, Joko Widodo, among others, is totally inapt and simply strains credulity.

It is established then that the political party is the lead actor in a parliamentary system, not the individual politician. So what is the point of having Anwar Ibrahim to take over the Chief Ministership of Selangor from Khalid Ibrahim (as much as Anwar is playing it down for now)? The electorate votes for the party, not the personality that embodies it. Anwar Ibrahim is not the be-all, end-all of the Opposition.

If it is about showcasing achievements of an Opposition-led state government to garner the people’s vote of confidence for the ultimate prize, Putrajaya, then replacing the Chief Minister of a well-performing state such as Selangor for no good reason is just folly. It is not clear what Anwar Ibrahim can do to promote the success of an Opposition-led state especially in the Umno/BN strongholds in the rural areas.

The questions remain: 1) how does showcasing the achievements of Selangor, Penang and Kelantan governments translate into possible victory of Pakatan in the next general election? 2) Since the successes of the Selangor and Penang governments have been evident since 2008 but somehow did not help Pakatan to win other states in the last general election, what else is new now? But these two questions are heavily premised on Pakatan’s eventual victory in a highly flawed and biased electoral system.

Instead of replacing the Chief Minister and creating unnecessary attention to its own ineptness maybe Pakatan should find better and more effective ways to publicise and market the achievements of Selangor and Penang to the wider audience against the stifling restrictions on the freedom of press and speech. It does not matter who is at the helm of the Selangor state government if the stories of its success only reverberate among its supporters and fail to make a dent among non-Pakatan voters.

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There is also the 800-pound gorilla that still sits uneasily in the room: why did Lee Chin Cheh abruptly resign from his state seat? So far no explanation has been offered by PKR. If Lee Chin Cheh had resigned with reasons that are less than dire, then it is a dereliction of his duty to serve the people who overwhelmingly voted for him in the last general election.

It is a sheer betrayal of the Kajang people’s trust of their representative and the political party he is a part of. It is simply impossible to claim a moral high ground when the party is engaging in the same manipulative politics as its nemesis. One is then left to choose between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

In the end the rakyat may just vote for the “evil that we know,” as opposed to the “angel we don’t know,” thus fulfilling Mahathir Mohamad’s crystal-gazing prognostication. Is this the Machiavellian “democracy” that PKR, and by extension Pakatan, envisions for Malaysia? A victory brought on by any means necessary rings hollow if the rakyat ends up as the collateral damage.

In regards to being an effective wakil rakyat, is it advisable or even possible to simultaneously service two constituencies that differ greatly in geography, culture, socio-economic background and ethnic makeup? Is it even democratic to begin with?

Being elected into office means carrying the heavy burden of the rakyat’s hopes, dreams and aspirations and trying to fulfil them to the best of one’s ability. It does not give the wakil rakyat the carte blanche to treat the constituents like some meaningless pawns on the grand political chessboard to be manipulated with whenever it is politically expedient.

How will Anwar Ibrahim explain this to both the constituencies of Permatang Pauh and Kajang? Simply setting up legislative service centres in the constituency while only visiting it right before the general election does not make for an effective and trustworthy people’s representative.

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Plus, the job scope and focus of an MP and that of a state assembly member differ in many ways: one deals with the burgeoning national deficit in the Dewan Rakyat and the other deals with potholes behind Pak Mat’s house in Taman Kajang Bestari – and how does Anwar Ibrahim plan to reconcile them?

The whole brouhaha started with the internal party bickering between Khalid Ibrahim and Azmin Ali, which somehow necessitated Anwar Ibrahim’s foray into state politics to purportedly defuse the tension. In what way does including Anwar Ibrahim in the state government – either as a state assembly member and/or Chief Minister – help quell the infighting within Selangor PKR?

More pointedly, what has Khalid Ibrahim done wrong in the past six years for him to be replaced before his term ends? Rafizi Ramli, PKR’s MP for Pandan, states that with Anwar at the helm nobody will be able to mess with him politically because he is the head honcho.

But what about using Anwar’s gravitas instead to prop up Khalid Ibrahim’s creaky position within and without the party and make it unassailable? If Anwar Ibrahim makes it perfectly clear to every PKR cadre, especially the ones in Azmin Ali’s camp, that he is solidly behind Khalid Ibrahim and all are required to put on a united front, then this fiasco would not have escalated and festered into what it is now.

Rafizi Ramli’s sincere but rather opaque written statement regarding this issue also mentions the need to fortify Selangor against an impending BN onslaught, hell-bent on wresting back the richest state in the federation even if it literally ends up in ashes and embers.

But the reasoning begs the question: what is the BN, or particularly Selangor Umno, doing now or planning to do later that is different than from what they had done in the past? Lest we forget, the Selangor Umno launched the Selamatkan Selangor campaign right after the 2008 general election to spread misinformation, lies and slander and concoct many nefarious plans to sabotage the Pakatan state government, including stoking racial and religious flames.

But instead, the Selangor voters returned Pakatan to the state government in the last general election with an even bigger majority. If anything, setting up Anwar Ibrahim at the top of the state government will only serve as a lightning rod for Pakatan’s detractors, as opposed to the more low-profile Khalid Ibrahim.

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If proof is what Pakatan needs in order to show the public that it can effectively govern at the national level, then one of the better ways is to form a shadow cabinet. This idea has been mooted many times over the years but somehow perplexedly has never been taken up by the Pakatan leadership.

A shadow cabinet would demonstrate first, the Pakatan component parties’s ability to work together and agree on specific policies in response to the official ones issued by the BN government; and second, the Pakatan’s readiness to govern and hit the ground running when the time finally comes.

The current uproar concerning the Allah use in Malay-language bibles is a good case in point highlighting the need for a shadow cabinet. If there had been a shadow Home Minister or a shadow Minister in-charge of Islamic affairs in the Prime Minister’s Office issuing unified statements to counter the cynical ploys of Umno to politically exploit this issue, the crisis might not have ratcheted up to the level we are seeing now.

Instead, we have contradicting and convoluting pronouncements coming out of the Pakatan camp regarding this matter. Maybe Pakatan should tackle this issue first and successfully so, as a way to show the general public it is able to govern and solve problems cohesively as a coalition, which would be no mean feat since it is comprised of partners of equal standing; unlike BN, which is overwhelmingly dominated by Umno, hence the enactment of Umno-centric policies.

Rafizi Ramli is right. The Kajang by-election will be a game-changer but not in the manner that he thinks. It is indeed a dark chapter in Malaysian democracy, and more importantly, the country’s transition to a genuine two-party system. One commentator in Malaysiakini wrote that this will be Anwar Ibrahim’s Waterloo. Maybe that is what it takes for a more people-centric democratic practice and a generation of young leaders unencumbered by old political culture to blossom in Malaysia. In the meantime, it is going to be a long dark journey to Putrajaya for Pakatan with democracy taking a back seat.

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Dr Azmil Tayeb, the honorary secretary of Aliran, is a political science lecturer at Universiti Sains Malaysia. He is the winner of the 2019 Colleagues' Choice book prize (social science category) awarded by the International Convention of Asia Scholars for his book Islamic Education in Indonesia and Malaysia: Shaping Minds, Saving Souls.
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Cheng Poh Heng
2 Feb 2014 10.51am

First, why does PKR need to win a seat, which PKR had won in GE13. In sports, usually the loser asks for a re-match, if he or she feels that his or her loss was less than honour-able or fair! In Kajang, we have the victor asking for a re-match! Secondly, Rafizi pontificates on the so-called onerous political risks and sacrifices that AI is being put up to in contesting the Kajang by-election! Well, if AI had chosen to, then AI has to step to the such purported political risks and sacrifices! Thirdly, despite his earlier denial, AI is now named to contest the Kajang by-election, with the support of PKR’s allies in Pakatan Rakyat. Fourthly, even though AI had remained coy about being the new MB, what could AI possibly do on the national stage that TSKI could not have done in his tenure as MB thus far? Lastly, I hope that Kajang voters will vote wisely and reject PKR’s shenanigan, which was ostensibly to placate the ambition of AA. It behoves on AI to put AA in the latter’s place, once and for all.… Read more »

Ed G
Ed G
1 Feb 2014 1.26pm

The by-election is not necessarily bad for the Kajang voters as they will be enjoying much of the benefits that usually come with by-elections. The constituency will become the national focus of attention which invariably translate to funds being channeled and infrastructure being repaired or upgraded. The next few weeks leading to the by-election would see businesses picking up as many people from every nook and corners of this country will be stopping over for obvious reasons. Contrary to the negative reporting by the BN supporters and the MSM, the few million of the tax-payers’ monies spent on this by-election is beneficial to the Kajang folks. At the very least, the returns are more tangible (to the common people) than the Scorpene commissions, the PM personal jet planes or many other wasteful spending by the government (with the tax-payers’ monies).

Ashraf Ali
Ashraf Ali
1 Feb 2014 5.45am

Azmil Tayeb, I too was aghast over this reckless political adventure which has risks of its own. Very recently, someone on the internet tossed-up a theory in the making. But I’m not prepared to disclose it as yet. If that plan is successful, you will hear about it in the news. In your article, you asked why Selangor & Penang (runaway success stories) are not used as the yardstick to impress upon the voters of other states to switch to PR? The electoral system has broken-down to be perverted, adulterated, tainted, depraved & corrupt. It had a point decades ago that the EC as its duty to take on the role of accessory, abettor, collaborator … The electoral system is such that BN can rule forever and this is made all the more easier, when the EC which is supposed to be an independent body appears to off-shoot of the Executive. No matter how hard the Opposition try it is impossible as the playing field is very uneven. Most arms & instruments of governance had been disabled to ensure Umno Baru is UNSTOPPABLE and gets away… Read more »