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Indiscipline within PKR

Image of figures hiding behind a PKR flag while another figure cracks a whip
(Silhouette image by deeisforda / 

ON 9 Aug 2008, the Malaysian Bar Council held a forum titled Conversion to Islam: Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution, Subashini and Shamala Revisited. Today, a year on, we remember the forum not for what was discussed. A 300-person demonstration gathered to protest the Bar Council’s apparent “anti-Islam attitude”, and some demonstrators even stormed into the forum, resulting in its premature ending.

This crowd comprised members of Muslim non-governmental organisations, as well as a bipartisan section of supporters from Umno, PAS, and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). One of the protest leaders, PKR Member of Parliament (MP) Zulkifli Noordin, was never disciplined by his party. This was even though Zulkifli’s actions starkly contradicted one of PKR’s basic tenets — pluralism. After all, the Bar Council forum was meant to look at ways in which Malaysians of all faiths could live in equitable compromise.

The MP is still unrepentant. He periodically speaks out on religious issues, taking positions less than ecumenical. On 17 July, Zulkifli released a statement criticising a recent Al Islam article, in which journalists attended a Catholic mass, received holy communion, and then spat out the communion to photograph.

“When you start encroaching [on] other religions, then you are inviting trouble,” Zulkifli wrote in his blog. “This is precisely what the two reporters have done. And I, for one, will not condone it, just like I do not condone the intrusion of the Bar Council into matters involving [the] Islamic religion,” he explained.

In the meantime, the party leadership remains silent about their elected representative.

Chong (Courtesy of Jonson
But some from PKR are uncomfortable with Zulkifli’s outbursts. PKR communications director Jonson Chong tells The Nut Graph that Zulkifli’s freedom to speak his mind is “precisely in line with our stand on freedom of expression”.

But Chong also admits that the Kulim-Bandar Baru MP’s statements show a “lack of initiative to discuss among ourselves, before going on a rant [about certain issues].” Chong recognises that this is an institutional issue, and one that needs to be dealt with in order for the party to consolidate its ideology and policies.

Young and democratic?

He points out that the 10-year-old PKR is “a young party”. Right after the watershed March 2008 general election, the party saw many new faces. “Our members come from many different backgrounds,” Chong explains, adding that differences in opinion are only natural.

Chong is confident that streamlining these different views can be done. The party, for example, is conducting internal conferences for its members to formulate policies on topics like religion and education.

Political analyst James Chin agrees that the freedom PKR affords to its members makes it a “much more democratic party”. He notes, however, that a line is crossed when such views become anti-democratic, as Zulkifli’s opinions on the discussions about Islam by non-Muslims were.

“Zulkifli should actually be in PAS, not PKR,” Chin quips, citing Zulkifli’s assertion that “I am a Muslim first, lawyer second; I am Muslim first, MP second”.

Political expediency

Chin speculates that PKR has done nothing to chastise Zulkifli out of political expediency. “They are more concerned with keeping [Zulkifli’s] parliamentary seat,” Chin notes.

Indeed, there were rumours in late 2008 that the MP was being courted by Umno. Should Zulkifli switch camps, the number of Pakatan Rakyat (PR) representatives in Parliament would decrease.

That PKR is reluctant to punish Zulkifli is clear. The party leadership has closed the Zulkifli versus Bar Council case. On 6 March, PKR deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali said the matter “was settled internally some time last year (2008)”. As such, Syed Husin, who is also party disciplinary committee chairperson, said the matter should be laid to rest.

However, political scientist Wong Chin Huat argues that it is difficult to justify such secrecy. “His conduct was in the public sphere,” Wong notes.

Wong says the public has a legitimate expectation to be informed of PKR’s response to Zulkifli’s actions. “At the least, the Bar Council should be able to know [what has happened].”

Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, who was Malaysian Bar president when the August 2008 forum was held, describes PKR’s response to Zulkifli’s actions as “very, very disappointing”.

“To say that the matter was ‘settled internally’ is not acceptable for a party that values accountability and transparency,” Ambiga argues.

Rewarding bad behaviour

Ambiga believes that the matter ought to have been dealt with openly and promptly. But not only has PKR failed to reprimand Zulkifli after a year, it appears to have rewarded him. When the PR coalition announced its 25 parliamentary ministerial committees on 2 July 2009, Zulkifli was named as shadow co-minister for higher education.

“What does that mean?” Ambiga asks, and then concludes: “There is no regard for the views of those at the receiving end [of Zulkifli’s conduct].”

Perhaps more troubling is that Zulkifli is just one example of PKR’s lack of discipline, and its inability to manage dissent while upholding its stated principles and negotiating within a coalition.

For example, take PKR vice-president Azmin Ali‘s call for the Selangor executive council to be reshuffled. It was effectively a public denouncement of fellow party member and Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim’s leadership.

Then there was the case of the Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) member Johari Kassim. Johari, a PKR-appointed councillor, was sacked — then suspended, after an apology — from the council after leading a boycott of the swearing-in of the new MPSP president on 4 June. The boycott caused a public altercation between PKR members and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who is also secretary-general of PKR’s ally, the DAP.

Wong says such instances suggest that PKR is not adequately institutionalised. “It shows that there are a lot of warlords in the party, and that there is very vague party-headquarters [authority],” Wong says.

“PKR hasn’t figured out how to institutionalise dissent within the party, and balance it with discipline. This needs serious attention. The party has to realise that people expect it to be in business in the long term.”

Larger problems

Additionally, PKR’s problems are emblematic of those within the wider PR coalition. According to Wong, the MPSP tiff shows up the lack of an intra-coalition code of conduct and norms. “[The PR] has not established arbitration mechanisms at state and local levels. They only have them at the very top level,” Wong says.

“The PR needs to work towards being a stable coalition,” Wong argues. “And the first responsibility for that rests with (Opposition Leader) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.”

Anwar is also PKR adviser. Unfortunately, from Zulkifli to Azmin to Johari, the de facto party leader has kept mum. It remains to be seen whether Anwar will set his own house in order or whether he is capable of doing so. But not doing so will only result in further indiscipline within the ranks.

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7 Responses to “Indiscipline within PKR”

  1. Azizi Khan says:

    This matter with Zulkifli Noordin is a personal concern of mine. He makes moderate Muslims like me look bad. We don’t need another “hero” to drag Islam into the mud. There are plenty of religious zealots doing a fantastic job as it is.

    To add insult to injury, Zulkifli Noordin is a lawyer. And he organised a bunch of thugs at the Bar Council forum. This man should be disbarred for his behaviour and conduct unbecoming of a professional lawyer in Malaysia.

    I commented on his blog (as well as my own) about where I stand on this matter.

    In addition to this, I also contacted Mr Lim Kit Siang via Facebook to address my concern. He acknowledged that it was a valid concern.

    To date, there has not been any action taken against this man. While I respect his freedom of speech, is this the kind of ministers we are going to see from PKR? […] What is PKR trying to promote by endorsing Zulkifli Noordin?

    I would go out on a limb to say that Muslims like Zulkifli […] do not understand [the] Islam that they preach at all. Moderate Musims definitely do not condone such abrasive behaviour.

    One thing, though. I acknowledge Zulkifli Noordin’s freedom to express himself, however vile it may be. But there are certain lines that should not be crossed and he does cross that line often. He must be shown that there are consequences to such actions.

  2. Nicholas Aw says:

    Just as the fingers of one hand are of different length, so are the views and opinions of members of political parties be it the BN or the PKR. However, Zulkifli Noordin should also think before making controversial statements. He should realise that he is a Member of Parliament and not any Ahmad, Ah Chong or Ramasamy. His actions to date have not gone down well not only with his party but also the public.

    Intruding into the Bar Council’s forum was unacceptable. Even if he had disagreed with the forum, he should have avoided barbaric methods in putting his message across.

    Then there was his fanfare supporting the government in the switch to using Bahasa Malaysia to teach Mathematics and Science. Ironically, he was educated in Britain. Despite Zulkifli championing Islam and the Malay [Malaysians], what he doesn’t realise is that the government is dividing the haves and have-nots. The rural Malay [Malaysians] are robbed of opportunities for worldwide education.

    Zulkifli’s ideology should be discussed at [the] party level and whatever dissatisfaction should be voiced there. Otherwise, he becomes a liability to the party.

  3. Lynn says:

    I second all that is articulated in this article. [For] ardent supporters of Pakatan Rakyat, Anwar Ibrahim cannot stay silent any longer.

  4. lizziewong says:

    I think you missed out wangsa maju… Who saw fit to PUBLICISE the underworld issue via his blog, and that the matter is of such trivial importance, that he only bothered to raise it via CASUAL CONVERSATION?

  5. SpeakUp says:

    Go and support DSAI more! Go and call him the nation’s savior … This is the person who will deliver Malaysia from the oppressive BN pharaoh. DSAI is the man!

  6. Farouq Omaro says:

    I bet Zulkifli does not know that in Sabah and Sarawak, non-Muslims are free to propagate their religion to Muslims, though it does not happen. See

  7. s.s.seelan says:

    Dear Azizi Khan,

    I am a Hindu. I respect all religions simply because religions acts as a beacon in this long and arduous journey through life. Having said that, I am also of the opinion that there are no moderate or extremist Muslims just as there are no moderate or extremists Hindus. Just good Muslims and bad Muslims. Just good Hindus and bad Hindus. If we follow the teachings of our religions, race would be a non-issue as all religions teach us to be one and at peace with one another. But many of us do not read about other religions; we form opinions about other religions from the way their followers behave. And for Zulkifli to behave in the way he did in the name of Islam is a great disservice to this great religion and to all good Muslims in this country who clearly abhor such militant acts in the name of Islam. To my Muslim brethren of Zulkifli’s ilk, let me just say this: conduct yourself in a manner that will enhance the image of Islam in the eyes of the non-Muslims and not demean it.

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