WHAT is the honourable thing for political leaders to do when they lead their party on the wrong path and land the party in trouble?
That was the demand made of MCA’s Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting and MIC’s Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu when their parties’ parliamentary seats were reduced by more than half post-March 2008. That was also the demand made of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi even after they won the 1999 and 2008 elections respectively.
Assuming responsibility and bowing out is the norm in party politics. So, why are Pakatan Rakyat leaders and well-wishers so worked up with DAP chairperson Karpal Singh’s call for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to resign as the coalition’s de facto leader after the Perak fiasco?
Karpal SinghIs it because the timing is wrong? I am afraid not — would anyone have been more appreciative of Karpal’s call if he made it months later? Perhaps after the Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau by-elections, in which the Pakatan Rakyat, in all likelihood, will triumph?
Anwaristas would probably ask: If Anwar can turn things around, why call for him to resign?
A week is too long in Malaysian politics — why should anyone think a time-lagged outcry would make Karpal a savvier politician?
Is the backlash against Karpal because he voiced dissent through the wrong channel? Maybe. He could have voiced it within the party but it would probably have been ridiculed and buried before even making the news.
Anwaristas would ask: If Karpal’s views are not shared even by his own party’s leaders, why should it enter the court of public opinion?
Anwar is the coalition
I think Karpal’s real problem is that he has spoken to the wrong coalition. There can be no Pakatan Rakyat without Anwar. Period.
Demonstration for Perón’s release, 17 Oct 1945
(public domain / wikipedia)How could anyone have asked President Juan Domingo Perón to resign from his Perónist party in Argentina? The man was the party. Similarly, how can anyone ask Sam Rainsy to resign from Cambodia’s Sam Rainsy Party? The man is the party.
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) is an Anwarist party. Perhaps then the Pakatan Rakyat is more an Anwarist coalition.
The two-winged, united opposition fronts in the 1990s, the all-Muslim Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (Apu) and the multiethnic, secular Gagasan Rakyat, were very much Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah (Ku Li) coalitions. The Semangat 46 party which served as the common member of the two wings was for all purposes a Ku Li party itself.
The problem is not Anwar. The problem is Malaysian opposition politics.
To marry the Islamist oppositionists in PAS and non-Malay, non-Muslim oppositionists in DAP, we simply need a moderate Malay-Muslim figure who is acceptable to both parties. More importantly, this moderate, Malay-Muslim figure needs to be mainstream enough to convince the country’s conservative middle ground that the government-in-waiting is experienced and viable.
That almost automatically means the alternative prime minister (PM) has to be someone from Umno. So, it had to be Ku Li in the 1990s. It could have been Tun Musa Hitam if he had chosen to join the opposition. In future, if Datuk Zaid Ibrahim can build real grassroots support, he may have much to offer.
Outside Umno, there has not been a viable alternative. The Malay leftists have not won even one parliamentary seat since 1969 for them to be reckoned with.
Datuk Husam MusaAmong PAS leaders, the late Datuk Fadzil Noor was generally well-liked but he did not command the charisma that electrified non-Malay Malaysians and non-Islamist Malay Malaysians. Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang are too controversial to even come close to Fadzil. After his hudud stunt, Datuk Husam Musa will now have a hard time convincing skeptics that he is not a closet fundamentalist.
Thanks to the manoeuvres of Umno and the Perak palace, PAS may now have PM material in Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin in five to 10 years’ time.
Pakatan’s Hang Jebat?
But for now, Anwar is the only one who can tie the various opposition forces together. Hence, the coalition cannot just allow him to be attacked. I would not be surprised if Karpal retires by the next general election.
While Karpal’s salvo may be damaging for Pakatan Rakyat in the short term, Malaysians may thank him for pointing out our over-dependence on and blind following of one man.
And if there is any lesson to learn from Perak, isn’t it that we should no longer live in a fairy tale where political leaders — elected or hereditary — can be unconditionally trusted?
If the royals now have to be brought down from their pedestal to be examined critically for their political manoeuvres, shouldn’t the “great leader” be deprived of his “immunity” too?
By “immunity”, I refer specifically to the phenomenon of deference some Pakatan Rakyat leaders and well-wishers reserve for Anwar. In no way am I denying that Anwar is constantly attacked and demonised by Barisan Nasional (BN) politicians and the traditional media.
However, precisely because Anwar is not treated fairly by the government and the media, we find knee-jerk defences among many of his followers.
They have a reason for every decision he makes or does not make, every action he takes or does not take. In the eyes of some, he can do no wrong, not unlike the king in monarchist discourses.
While Karpal is widely seen as the loose cannon of Pakatan Rakyat, his unprecedented call for the dethroning of Anwar actually has a Hang Jebat feel to it. The only difference is that Karpal will not “menyembah mohon derhaka”.
In no way am I suggesting that Anwar is a tyrant. On the contrary, I still believe he has the potential to be Malaysia’s greatest leader in a generation’s time. He has the potential to found the Second Malaysia which will be completely different from the First Malaysia which was born in 1952 when Umno and MCA formed their historic electoral pact. Anwar is the only one who can sell the nation a new dream.
For this reason, Karpal’s demand for Anwar to quit is political suicide. But do not read merely what Karpal said or how he said it. Pay attention to why he said it. Karpal’s political incorrectness shows us the most important tasks in Malaysian opposition politics post-Perak: constructive critiquing of Anwar and reinventing of the Pakatan Rakyat.
The two Anwars
The Pakatan Rakyat is actually the embodiment of two Anwars.
The first Anwar is the man who says “anak Melayu, anak Cina, anak India, anak Dayak, anak Kadazan, anak saya”. He vows to end poverty and ethnic divisions. His idealism may be traced back to his university years and is widely believed to have been rediscovered and reinvigorated after his six years in jail. This is Anwar the idealist.
The second Anwar is the man who was Mahathir’s loyal lieutenant in the dark years of 1987 and 1988. Using money and the media, this Anwar ousted the late Tun Ghafar Baba in Umno. This Anwar orchestrated the downfall of Sabah’s democratically-elected state government in 1994. This is also the man who hypnotised half the nation — including leading opinion leaders — with his 16 Sept 2008 scheme and who proposed the restoration of royal immunities. This is the man who has mastered and still plays the devil’s game. If you like, this is the Machiavellian Anwar.
Anwar is the combination of two Anwars
Pakatan Rakyat’s success has been built on the combination of these two Anwars. Without the first’s idealistic vision, Pakatan Rakyat would not have won the hearts and minds of many. Without the second’s devilish cunning, many would argue, Pakatan Rakyat would have already vanished by Umno’s hand.
Perak is the battle between the Machiavellian Anwar and the BN’s one-party state machine. The victory of Datuk Seri Najib Razak — the other arch Machiavellian, if you will — rightly angered and frightened many. At the time of writing, dominoes from Perak threaten to fall on Kedah and perhaps Selangor soon.
If Najib consolidates his gains, will Malaysia’s third wave of democratisation — after near misses in 1990 and 1999 — be reversed back to pre-1999 levels? Even if the Machiavellian Anwar succeeds in playing the same game in Negeri Sembilan and later Putrajaya, will Malaysia really be free from Umno’s dirty state craft? After all, this is the craft that Machiavellian Anwar learnt well from his long career in Umno.
Karpal is asking us to throw both Anwars out. I think we need to keep the appeal of Anwar the idealist. But we need to look for a clean, working replacement for the Machiavellian Anwar’s means.
Wong Chin Huat is wearing black until 7 March to see if the illegitimate regime in Perak can last longer than 30 days. A political scientist by training and a journalism lecturer by trade, he believes some deep soul searching among the democrats is now imperative. He is based in Monash University’s Sunway Campus.