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Pakatan Rakyat beyond Anwar

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?

Resign.

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 Singh
Is 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 Musa
Among 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.

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17 Responses to “Pakatan Rakyat beyond Anwar”

  1. amir says:

    Excellent. I nak Chin Huat jadi PM!

  2. Andrew I says:

    Conspiracy theory part three:

    As they say, it takes one to know one. The problem with the arch Machiavellian is that he doesn’t have a six year imprisonment credential.

    Everybody loves a martyr.

  3. Pratamad says:

    As you have pointed out, without the two Anwars (the analogy of which I beg to differ), there would be no Pakatan that can withstand the onslaught of BN, which not only has the arch Machiavellian Najib, but also the huge financial resources (“dirty money”?) and government machinery (“abuse of power”?).

    By demanding to keep the “idealist Anwar” and eliminate the “Machiavellian Anwar”, you are simply being idealist. What Malaysia needs now is pragmatism: how do we rid of the evils from the making of 51 years in our nation? And no one can expect Malaysia and Malaysians to suddenly turn idealist with divine enlightenment.

    Be pragmatic. Judge a person as a whole. There is no nit-picking of what makes the right leader for Second Malaysia. Just as an adulterous spouse can be forgiven and the marriage continues to operate for years to come.

  4. Hwa Shi-Hsia says:

    My sister said, “American politics is driven by personality, Malaysian politics is driven by gimmicks.” Anwar is a big personality all right – but his career as an opposition leader has been one long string of gimmicks. Pakatan doesn’t need him as a figurehead.

  5. linlauhea says:

    An excellent piece … you are absolutely right. Let’s throw away all “BN-manufactured” legacies and have a pure Pakatan Rakyat!

  6. Hoyohoyo says:

    It would fare much much better if the DAP leaders could come out with this, instead of the we-support-Anwar-regardless-anything statement…

    DAP has unfortunately shown its subservience towards its ally’s leader, and thrashes its own party chairperson … in order to please the Anwaristas.

    Unity won’t come if one will not even respect what one’s own party leaders/members think.

  7. Kapal Sing says:

    I’m not a big fan of Anwar but at the moment he’s the only one who can bring PAS, DAP and PKR together and make them acceptable to all communities. You can say he’s indispensable for now as PR will go to pieces without him.

    If a general or commander makes a wrong decision by leading a troop into a battle that he’s losing, you shouldn’t and can’t turn around and shoot him in the midst of the battle no matter how much you hate him. Fight the battle through with him anyway and wait till the whole thing is over. It ain’t over yet!

  8. Angered Perakian says:

    As you’ve said, if it’s not the second Anwar, PR would have been long destroyed by BN. As the saying goes, “It takes a thief to catch a thief.”

    To defeat the arch Machiavellian, Anwar has to maintain his Machiavellian side until final victory is secured and his new government is stable.

    From what I’ve observed in great leaders in the past, they have to be idealist to win the people’s hearts, and Machiavellian to ensure that they stay in power so that they can continue to serve the nation positively.

    Unlike the arch Machiavellian who stay in power just for personal gains. That’s a very BIG difference!

  9. chinhuat says:

    My reply to Pratamad:

    Is pragmatism equivalent to Machiavellianism?

    I have never suggested that Pakatan Rakyat can survive with just idealism. Most of my analyses are based on empirical political science, not political theories (philosophy). Here, I call for “a clean, working replacement for Machiavellian Anwar’s means”. Insya Allah, I will try to explore this in future pieces.

    Denying the existence of that alternative is not being pragmatic. It is being intellectually lethargic and practically unimaginative.

    And let’s put this debate in context. Karpal’s outburst – arguably opportunist too – took place only after Anwar’s gimmicks backfired. Had his Machiavellian game won easily, there will be no room at all for Karpal’s concerns.

    Now that Anwar has been defeated in the devil’s game – including defection and courting the royals – by Najib, the choice before Pakatan Rakyat is really this: will more defections and royal courting, go further to outdo Najib? Or should they find an alternative to strengthen the coalition without resorting to these?

    Convince us that the first method can deliver without sacrificing our goal for a progressive Malaysia. Then, our choice will be a purely moral one – whether the ends justify the means.

  10. Victor says:

    Very intriguing and interesting analysis. Although I don’t completely agree with your analysis, it is still incredibly thought provoking.

    I particularly like the part on the two Anwars. I think you need one Anwar to have the other – without the Machivellian there will be no idealist, or more specifically, there will be no idealist opposition figure.

    Way to go!

  11. Mr Smith says:

    Najib, the other arch Machiavellian?

    You must be joking. He is a school dropout with no vision for the country. Name me one book he has written with the mark of a statesman? Without his father he would be nobody then. Without the police he would be a nobody today.

  12. lizzie says:

    My initial reaction is that, to galvanise DAP and PAS whose ideologies are at two extreme poles, the Pakatan needs Anwar. I think anyone from DAP or PAS will not do. Fearing the hudud, would non-Muslims throw their support behind Pakatan knowing that the next PM will be from PAS, whose very vision is to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state?

    However, we can take Karpal’s call in a positive light. Objectively look at what needs to be corrected. We cannot throw the baby along with the bath water, right? Is it wrong for Karpal to make such a public statement? He is entitled to do that, Pakatan is a new coalition, all components need to learn to communicate and build mutual trust.

    As to the new coalition head… well, Ku Li has been making some sound comments that are music to the ears of Pakatan supporters, leading to many who call on him to leave Umno to join Pakatan. Well, should he come on board, he could be a leader in a short while

    Still, Pakatan needs to have succession planning and build up the next echelon of leaders.

    My support is still behind Anwar and the Pakatan … it’s part of the growing pains, give them time to make adjustments.

  13. Unlike most Malaysians, I basically took a look at candidates instead of parties, which I now consider one of the biggest mistakes in my lifetime since one candidate cannot change a party.

    The thing that irks me about Anwar is the fact that he has left a trail of broken promises and hypocrisy in his wake.

    He supports party-hopping by asking people to walk over to his side to form a government, but then demands an election when it happens in Perak.

    He continually stated a date for the change of government, yet continually failed to keep that promise, and now he basically doesn’t mention it at all.

    He says he will take over Sarawak and he cares for it, yet I have not noticed him make a single address on our Eastern brethren who are suffering from landslides and floods.

    He says he’s not a nepotist, yet look at the lineup of PKR.

    And when he isn’t being hypocritical, he just shuts up and lets PR self destruct with infighting, as he did with the hudud issue, the PKNS temporary boss, the “Bar Council open forum storming session” by Zulkifli Nordin, the two PKR, now independent, reps (one of whom said that female prostitutes given to him as a bribe was “sedekah”), Nizar coming out stating that AIDS patients needed to be isolated, PAS banning Muslims from breakdancing in Penang, PAS’s blanket ban on rock concerts in Kedah, etc.

    Need I go on?

    PR is a mess, and I honestly think DAP should step out from it because as of right now, they’re the only ones standing for their principles, and not merely being hypocrites and shutting up.

    And they should honestly thank Karpal Singh for that.

  14. Salak says:

    If we’re gonna have any change in this country, we’ll need lots of Anwars and Karpals – in the right proportions.

    The rest is up to us – how to tame the shrew! ;)

  15. fslam says:

    Whatever we may say, there is no doubt that Anwar Ibrahim had contributed largely for the renaissance of the opposition groups in Malaysia.

    Anwar’s vision and leadership had brought together PAS which is basically a fundamentalist religious group working together with DAP, a largely Chinese-based party and PKR into a formidable opposition at the federal level and ruling party in 5 states which has now reduced to 4 due to a illegal power grab by BN.

    The PR government had demonstrated during the short period that they can provide good governance, fair, clean and efficient, a government which cares for the rakyat which is what the rakyat wants.

  16. Jeremiah says:

    Notwithstanding your double-personality analogy, the jury is still out on how effective Anwar will be as the potential PM of M’sia. Now with the latest Perak crisis, doubts are emerging about Anwar’s effectiveness as the opposition leader.

    However, the mystery of who is the real Anwar should be analysed from the fox and the hedgehog context. Isaiah Berlin said that foxes know many cunning tricks to survive while hedgehogs know only one single thing.

    My guess is that Anwar pretends to be a fox who can fix many of M’sia’s social and economic challenges. However, he may actually be a hedgehog with only one real talent: Is it his oratory skills? His ability to hold the PAS-DAP dichotomy together or his anti-NEP and anti-corruption principles (which very few Malays have the intellectual bravery to champion)?

    For most M’sians, all they want to see is a shadow cabinet, sound economic policies and a new set of values that will unite the secular and the non-secular sentiments of the citizens.

  17. kjjohn says:

    Good, accurate and perceptive analysis!


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