PAS leaders celebrating the outcome of the Manik Urai by-election on 14 July 2009
THE outcome of the Manik Urai by-election couldn’t have been better. PAS, and by extension the Pakatan Rakyat (PR), won by a narrow margin of 65 votes. They won, but at the same time, PAS lost the huge majority it got on 8 March 2008. In all, PAS and the PR lost 1,287 votes to the opposition Barisan Nasional (BN). Such was the outcome in Manik Urai that the victors were mourning while the losers were celebrating.
Could there have been a better way and better time to send the PR a strong message? That enough is enough: if you don’t buck up, behave and perform, you will do worse than in Manik Urai come the next general election?
The pre-postmortem comments were predictable — that the BN focused its entire machinery in Manik Urai; that it was a dirty battle with money being passed around, and promises of development to entice voters. All these may not be untrue, but these are constants in every election and by-election. The PR needs to stop looking for scapegoats and start looking at themselves. They need to look at the five states they won on 8 March, and honestly ask themselves if they are performing according to the expectations of the people who put them in power.
It must certainly be very hard to rule a state. In one stroke, the political tsunami of 8 March altered the fate of the major opposition parties, from perpetual opposition to possible government of Malaysia. It gave the PR five states to boot.
All this caught the PR component parties completely unprepared. The PR itself was only formed after the elections, when it became obvious that they could rule if they all got together. PR politicians had to do a massive role change overnight, but it is questionable if many of them has succeded in achieving this. Even in the states they rule, PR politicians seem more comfortable playing the role of opposition, instead of confronting issues responsibly.
The unbridged gap
(Background image by Ariel da Silva Parreira / sxc.hu)
There is a gap between the people’s expectations and the PR’s performance. People who voted for change don’t want more of the BN, but that is what they seem to be getting.
People don’t care for the PR to hide behind the laws inherited from 50 years of a BN-majority Parliament. People don’t care for a continuation of or reference to the policies of a biased, anti-people bureaucracy inherited from the BN. People don’t care for more of the BN’s neo-liberal policies that saw privatisation of public services accompanied by escalating costs.
Remember, people voted out the BN, and that means its policies and bad laws as well. From the PR and its “hidup rakyat” slogan, people expect pro-rakyat measures.
But look at the Penang PR and its inability to resolve the problems of one traditional village of 65 families. Unkept election promises, reliance on the courts to settle people’s issues, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng‘s failure to tackle the issue early, and then his refusal to meet the people because of the presence of a certain lawyer all create the impression of executive arrogance and a lack of political will. Isn’t this a case of more of the BN?
Lim Guan Eng Look at PAS. Its pushing of the unity talks with Umno smacks of racism and religious chauvinism, and threatens to shake the PR’s foundation to its roots.
Other contentious issues such as the hardline call for a potential deregistration of Muslim women’s non-governmental organisation Sisters of Islam serve to erode the conviction of those who warmed up to PAS in 2008.
And despite having the moral high ground after losing Perak via the controversial BN takeover, the PR is not entirely blameless.
Individual political representatives, too, have not been particularly inspiring. There are still reps who forget that the people are the boss, and that their role is to serve. There are those who made election promises only hoping to win to relish the status and perks for themselves. There seems to be a lack of perspective and a failure to see that they are surrounded by a hostile BN-controlled media, whose job it is to campaign every day and everywhere for the BN and against the PR.
A timely reminder
Manik Urai signals that the Pakatan might be losing its rakyat. It is a reminder that the people can’t be taken for granted. This is a politically mature rakyat. They have dreams and demands. Their vote can make or unmake politicians and their parties. In March 2008, they kicked out the heretofore invincible BN and gave five states to the PR. If they are happy, they will give the PR the federal government at the next elections, giving Malaysia a two-party system that can further the practice of democracy.
PR politicians should be able to see that they have been privileged with a historical role in Malaysian politics. It is their duty to play that role well and make the two-party system a reality.
Manik Urai is a blessing in disguise, if only the PR chooses to heed its underlying message.
Mohanarani Rasiah is in the central committee of the Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM).