Aminah at the Penang Election Commission
REPORTERS have shared many an exasperated laugh over the clucking and cackling of chickens in independent candidate Aminah Abdullah’s 13 May 2009 audio recording of an alleged attempt to bribe her. In the 47th minute of the recording, even Lim Eng Nam — the special assistant to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)’s Bukit Tambun assemblyperson Law Choo Kiang — is distracted by the chickens.
“You don’t rear them for eating, right?” he can be heard asking. Aminah’s husband, Mohd Rofi Osman, says, “They’re pets — they have no meat on them anyway.”
Barely into the one-hour mark, the first of many offers is made by Lim and Cheah, “You could withdraw from the (Penanti) by-election and say it’s a gesture of goodwill to (Penang PKR chief) Datuk Zahrain (Mohamed Hashim).”
They then say that PKR candidate Dr Mansor Othman could counter offer Aminah with an invitation to rejoin the party.
Aminah retorts, “Do you think this will get past Zahrain? You know (PKR adviser Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim is partial to him?”
And over the remaining couple of hours, Lim and Cheah suggest a combination of “packages” that could be offered to Aminah in accordance with varying scenarios. They discuss at length her options:
If she withdraws before nomination day on 23 May;
If she withdraws within three days after 23 May; or
If she contests and defeats Mansor.
In this sense, Aminah is truthful in saying she was offered the posts of Penang deputy chief minister 1, president of a local council, and reimbursement of her RM80,000 campaign expenses. Lim can be heard explicitly offering these options to Aminah and Rofi.
But at the same time, Cheah and Lim are also truthful in saying that they were talking as personal friends who have known each other for nearly a decade. In between plotting about politics, they joke, talk about Aminah’s daughter’s upcoming wedding, and as Cheah emphatically says to the press, “everything under the sun”.
PKR’s internal bickering
Nevertheless, after listening to the entire recording, what is also noteworthy is that the “bribing” is but one of many complex issues that have brought this, yet another PKR spat, to public attention.
For example, immediately after enjoying a home-cooked fish head curry lunch, Lim launches into some serious ribbing of Zahrain.
In minute 54 of the recording, Lim says, “I asked Zahrain jokingly — I heard you want Mansor to lose in Penanti. Zahrain was seriously shocked, and said (PKR’s Penang government exco) Abdul Malik (Abul Kasim) is the one sabotaging Mansor!” Everyone has a good chuckle over this.
And hence, what has not been reported is that the more than three-hour conversation is also a lament by four grassroots party veterans about what has happened to the party. They talk about Zahrain’s dictatorial tendencies and alleged corruption; about Zahrain’s strong connections to Anwar; about Mansor’s incompetence; about Malik’s disgruntlement within the party; about party activities having gone quiet ever since Anwar was released from detention.
It is clear from the recording that the four are united by a common enemy — Zahrain. But as Cheah and Lim try to explain to Aminah, her quitting the party in 2007 has not helped dislodge Zahrain.
Several times during the party, Lim can be heard telling Aminah, “Lebih baik Kak Nah masuk balik parti, lawan dari dalam. (It’s better for you to rejoin the party and change it from the inside.)”
But why should such internal politicking be more damning to PKR than any other party? This is, after all, not only politics, but politics at a time when the Malaysian political landscape is shifting very rapidly. PKR has gone from a party with merely one seat in Parliament in 2004, to the biggest parliamentary opposition, and the leading Pakatan Rakyat partner in the Selangor government.
Perhaps this is also what Cheah, Lim, Rofi and Aminah are trying to grapple with. Time and again, Aminah says, both in the recording and to the press, “PKR is not the same anymore. Gone are the days when we used to shout ‘Reformasi’ slogans and served the party selflessly.”
The insinuation seems to be that the party has grown too quickly — old friends have become political rivals, and young upstarts have joined the party and displaced party elders, all under Anwar’s gaze. And perhaps the four are also yearning for a return to Parti Keadilan Nasional (KeAdilan), not the new party that was borne out of a merger between KeAdilan and a faction of Parti Rakyat Malaysia.
The mystery of Aminah’s motives
The question now is, why did Aminah need to betray the trust of her friends and expose them to the country the way she did? She tells The Nut Graph, “I know Cheah and Lim are my friends, but there are just too many rotten people in PKR and I am sick of the party.”
So although the spat between Aminah and PKR is now degenerating into he-said-she-said kindergarten-speak, perhaps this episode is a blessing in disguise for PKR. As the party contemplates how it is going to grow and be a democratic alternative to the Barisan Nasional (BN), it would be useful for the party to take stock of how it has evolved so far. As Lim says in the recording, “I don’t want the party to be another Umno.”
And whether or not Aminah is “sponsored” by the BN or ex- or even current PKR elements, the party still needs to reflect on why she was driven to do what she did. She was there when the party was born, and it is clear she gave her heart and soul to it. It is also clear that Cheah and Lim have the party’s best interests at heart. And yet it has come to this.
RofiAminah, Rofi, Cheah and Lim sound genuinely fond of each other in the recording. In fact, during Aminah’s 26 May press conference at the Penang Election Commission in Komtar, her eyes became wet when reporters pressed her on questions about Cheah and Lim.
“I’ll need to call Kah Peng after all this is over to clear things up with him — I really do care for him and Lim,” she said.
Similarly, when asked if he would still be friends with Aminah, a consistently defensive Cheah seemed suddenly vulnerable when he confessed, “I have mixed feelings.” Lim, who earlier confessed to feeling “sad and hurt”, was downcast and silent.
It would be too convenient for PKR to deflect all responsibility and blame towards the BN. It would be more constructive, though, for PKR to genuinely reflect on whether its internal democratic processes and mechanisms are strong and functioning.