YOU can hardly tell what’s really going on with Pakatan Rakyat these days. The leaders of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), DAP and PAS, who form the coalition, seem unable to stick to a common line, even when it comes to supporting opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s grab for power.
After several leaders issued conflicting statements about the coalition’s plan to form the government, Anwar was forced on 25 Sept to tell the PKR supreme council to keep mum or risk jeopardising their bid to wrest power from the Barisan Nasional (BN).
This admonishment came in the wake of the 24 Sept incident where Anwar was forced to admit he was unaware of talks between intermediaries of PKR and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, as announced by the party’s information chief Tian Chua a day earlier.
A red-faced Chua tells The Nut Graph that he had erred, saying he “should have checked with the party” before making such a comment to reporters.
The gaffe is the latest addition in a long list of contradictory statements by the Pakatan Rakyat. The Nut Graph scanned news reports published from March to September 2008 and found inconsistencies in the statements made by Pakatan Rakyat representatives, including those at the helm.
Furthermore, some of its leaders have even made statements that contradict their earlier stance.
Much like the fabled hydra, the Pakatan Rakyat has many talking heads (Public domain)
Significant or not?
The differences in opinion and the shifting positions may be a signal of division within the loose opposition coalition, and, perhaps, even a showcase of its unreadiness to form government.
If its leaders can’t demonstrate that they are united in terms of their agenda, how will they present themselves as the alternative to the BN? Or are these discrepancies insignificant, taking into account the change and the new model of politics that the Pakatan Rakyat is trying to bring to Putrajaya?
A check on news reports reveals such discrepancies to be the norm on the political front. The BN leadership has, on several counts, turned about-face on its stance on some issues.
Associate professor of political science at Universiti Sains Malaysia Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid admits that the BN is no stranger to open wrangling and differences of opinion.
“Aren’t other BN parties, especially non-Malay dominated ones, criticising the recent Internal Security Act (ISA) arrests instituted by a BN government? And what about the enormous pressure now exerted on Pak Lah to resign, coming from his own Umno backyard?” he tells The Nut Graph in an e-mail interview.
There are plenty of examples of BN leaders flip-flopping on issues. For example, Prime Minister Abdullah initially appeared to accept Bukit Bendera Umno division chief Datuk Ahmad Ismail’s explanations about his “squatters” remark, which the latter said was historically accurate. However, pressure from his BN coalition partners forced Abdullah to backtrack, and he later said Ahmad should apologise for his statements, which were made during a ceramah on 23 Aug during the Permatang Pauh by-election.
Abdullah also famously denied on 12 Feb 2008 that Parliament would be dissolved to make way for the 12th general election, before going on to do exactly that a day later.
(© Christina Richards / Dreamstime)Disagreements over defections
Is it any surprise that Anwar and his Pakatan Rakyat partners play fast and loose with the truth? Take, for instance, the now infamous 16 Sept 2008 deadline Anwar had earlier touted for toppling the federal government.
The de facto PKR leader has repeatedly said since March that BN Members of Parliament (MPs) from Sabah and Sarawak would cross over to the opposition and help the Pakatan Rakyat form the government by this date. But his coalition partners did not sound too enthusiastic about encouraging crossovers; neither did they seem convinced it would actually happen.
In line with DAP’s ethos, its chairperson Karpal Singh has said that he is dead set against defections. He was quoted in a 30 March 2008 New Straits Times report as saying: “Parties that form government through crossovers will be looked upon negatively. The party would be full of traitors.”
On 11 Sept, just days before Anwar’s self-declared deadline, Terengganu PAS Commissioner Datuk Mustafa Ali came right out in a Star news report to say that the defection of MPs was not going to happen.
In fact, the nearer it got to 16 Sept, the more it seemed that PKR and its partners were backpedalling on the crossover claims.
PKR information chief Tian ChuaPKR’s Chua told The Star on 12 Sept that “the issue of jumping party does not exist. The BN is collapsing; there will be no BN soon. We are opening a window for MPs and parties to think outside the box, about forming a new coalition.”
Yet, three days later, the AFP reported Chua as saying the defections were still in the offing.
PKR strategy director Saifuddin Nasution was another who seemed to contradict Anwar’s claims of convincing MPs to cross over. Although he insisted that the Pakatan Rakyat has the necessary numbers (as reported by Channel News Asia on 12 Sept), he went on to add that “we (the Pakatan Rakyat) never talked about defections, merely support [for Anwar].”
Mere political rhetoric
Political analyst and head of the political science programme at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff believes that all talk of forming government has disintegrated to mere political rhetoric, mainly because Anwar doesn’t have the number of MPs who will support him.
But Yang Razali Kassim, senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, tells The Nut Graph that within the context of the bigger picture, the “startup” problems of the Pakatan Rakyat are understandable.
“New partners that are trying to co-exist will always have initial teething problems, but they will learn. What is crucial is to assess their sincerity and earnestness in wanting to work together. If they can display this, they will win the trust of each other, and hence the trust of the people,” he says in an e-mail interview.
“They are not used to working together, and that is why you get the occasional contradictory statements among the partners.”
Pua: It will take time for the newly wedded partners of the
Pakatan Rakyat to come up with a common platform DAP publicity chief Tony Pua says it is unlikely that the cause of the confusion is the result of inter-party miscommunication within the Pakatan Rakyat.
“Only the top leaders are allowed to make statements with respect to forming government as they are the most informed; and they are Anwar Ibrahim, (PAS president) Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, (Penang Chief Minister) Lim Guan Eng and (DAP adviser) Lim Kit Siang,” he tells The Nut Graph in an e-mail interview.
That has, unfortunately, not been the case.
Perpaduan Pakatan Rakyat
A further look through news reports shows that even when the Pakatan Rakyat’s top leadership speaks, their views are not always in tandem with one another. But if these reports are any indicator, it appears that not everyone in the coalition was confident that Anwar would meet the 16 Sept deadline, much less claim the premiership.
Notwithstanding spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat’s support for Anwar’s plans, PAS is the most consistent when it comes to questioning the viability of the Pakatan Rakyat’s efforts to form government.
In a 16 Aug 2008 issue of Harakah, Hadi Awang said Anwar’s ambition could be deduced as “angan-angan Mat Jenin” (aspirations of a daydreamer). He added that the Pakatan Rakyat never elected Anwar to be the prime minister-in-waiting.
Hadi Awang, in fact, has repeatedly made statements that threaten to scuttle the Pakatan Rakyat’s self-created image of being a coalition that puts Malaysians — regardless of race or religion — first.
For instance, during the establishment of the coalition on 1 April 2008, Malaysiakini reported Hadi Awang as saying PAS would play down its Islamic state policy. But on 12 Aug 2008, in another Malaysiakini report, he backtracked and said PAS would continue to uphold its Islamic struggles and would leave the Pakatan Rakyat if it did not benefit Islam. He repeated the assertion in an Utusan Malaysia report on 15 Sept 2008.
The Pakatan Rakyat never elected Anwar to
vie for the premiership, says Hadi Awang“Jika kerajaan baru tidak berteraskan Islam, PAS tidak akan berkompromi,” he said, putting him in conflict with the DAP, which has repeatedly said it would not support an Islamic state.
Healthy and open discussion
The discrepancies also show that the parties within the Pakatan Rakyat are still very rooted in their own agendas. But it doesn’t mean that the Pakatan Rakyat’s stakeholders are unable to come to a consensus, Chua says.
“What we have in the Pakatan Rakyat is different; we’re all entitled to our own opinions. We have strong-minded individuals…and we respect that. What we’re bringing is a new culture of open discussion, unlike in the BN, where certain people can say things and no one is allowed to question.
“For example, [the BN's] power transition plan seems to be mapped out by two persons. Umno has less than 1/3 of the total number of MPs, but they are making decisions on who should be the next prime minister, as if the other parties in the BN do not exist,” Chua says.
Pua adds that there are bound to be differences in opinion between the respective parties, and it will take time for the partners to iron them out. PKR, DAP and PAS operated in silos for a long time, including in the recent elections, where they ran on separate tickets.
“It won’t be smooth throughout, but it is something all parties are working towards. Parties don’t come together and form an agenda overnight. What is important is for the leaders to have a committed position to stick together to forge a common platform, and know that our common political enemies are on the other side of the fence,” he says.
“After we get a platform, we will sell it back to our members,” Pua notes.
Ahmad Fauzi said the contradictions above are not insignificant. However, the urgency to replace a BN government that is perceived as inept is quickly rendering these contradictions as insignificant in the eyes of the younger generation.
Nevertheless, he says if and when the Pakatan Rakyat gets into power, it will be forced to find common ground to reduce such contradictions.
Many of Anwar’s sharpest critics are from within the
Pakatan Rakyat Hope for change prevails
Many of Anwar’s sharpest critics are from his own herd; hence accomplishing his unprecedented political feat is an uphill battle that is made even steeper. The Pakatan Rakyat’s struggle is further exacerbated by the skepticism presented by its key stakeholders. It begs the question of whether the Pakatan’s goal to wrest power is Anwar’s fancy alone — though some, like Yang Razali, do not think there is anything wrong with that.
“Anwar may have ambitions to be PM…All serious politicians worth their salt must inevitably aspire for power,” he says.
“Should a politician not aspire for power, especially if there is an alternative vision that, without power, cannot be realised?
“If the opposition fails to take this crucial opportunity to work together and accept each other, they will not succeed for a long, long time.”
Yang Razali believes the Pakatan Rakyat would not work without the pulling power of a charismatic leader like Anwar. “What Anwar has done is to give the three Pakatan Rakyat partners a crucial window to learn to live with each other, within the ambit of a changing Malaysian political landscape,” he says.
So, sweeping aside the contradictory statements and Anwar’s own penchant for making dramatic claims, the Pakatan Rakyat is slowly finding its footing. True, there may be more missteps along the way, but what’s important is they keep moving forward with one purpose.