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Reaching common ground

PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul
Hadi Awang, and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng

PAKATAN Rakyat (PR)’s common policy to be unveiled this Saturday on 19 Dec 2009 appears to have reached some compromise on the divisive issue of PAS‘s goal for an Islamic state.

Clearly, PAS still upholds this goal, while DAP is against it and so, the matter will apparently not be addressed using those specific words, party sources said.

Rather, PR’s common stand on Malaysia’s status is to be interpreted in line with the Federal Constitution, while also rejecting discriminatory laws and policies based on race or religion.

“The fact that we stand by the constitution, yet are anti-discrimination, should point to a certain understanding of how PR views the Islamic state issue. We are not going to be caught in a labelling game,” says a Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leader who requested anonymity because tri-party talks on the policy are still ongoing.

The Nut Graph spoke to a few representatives from the three PR parties for details of the common policy, but they declined to be named.

 Logo of PR's first convention
Logo of PR’s first convention

Others like DAP Youth chief Anthony Loke explains that the three parties had made a pact not to divulge details on the common policy before it is presented to the 1,500 PR delegates at Saturday’s convention. Each party will send 500 delegates.

Addressing political Islam

Until the final wording is revealed at Saturday’s convention, the coalition’s deliberately vague stance on whether Malaysia is Islamic or secular does not sound much different from Barisan Nasional (BN)’s. An Islamic state is also not a common goal in the ruling coalition, and hence does not find a place in the BN policy.

But PAS central committee member Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad is confident that PR’s articulation of this issue will be the “best, most inclusive ever on the position of Islam while other religions are given their due”.

He tells The Nut Graph that this position on political Islam was achieved through “understanding about PAS’s situation” and the party’s need to retain its Islamist goal because of decreased support from Malay Malaysians. Results from by-elections held in 2009 have shown that PAS candidates won on the back of non-Malay Malaysian votes, while its share of the Malay vote fell behind Umno‘s.

“PAS, too, has come a long way in accepting that an Islamic state is not a goal shared by others. There are many other areas we can work together [on],” Dzulkefly adds.

Other PR leaders argue that it is more important for the follow-up mechanisms to prove that there is no supremacy of one race or religion, regardless the label used to describe Malaysia.

“The common policy will reject discrimination in whatever form and there are a lot of human rights elements in the draft.

“We realise that the public are concerned about issues like conversions and syariah whipping. We have resolved that those things need to be addressed, and we have resolved to look into mechanisms after the convention. The process will continue even after the convention,” says the PKR source.

Coalition vs individual

How will PKR justify Zulkifli
Noordin’s stance?
With a common policy soon to be in place, what then of controversial coalition members like PKR’s Kulim-Bandar Baru Member of Parliament Zulkifli Noordin? How will PKR, as a party to the common policy, justify this errant member’s stance?

Zulkifli has consistently submitted private motions in Parliament to Islamise the country and put syariah above civil law. His repeated attempts at each parliamentary sitting recently prompted Gerakan deputy president Datuk Chang Ko Youn to ask DAP and PKR leaders to state clearly whether they supported Zulkifli.

The PKR leadership has not displayed any intention of disciplining its members who don’t toe the policy line. Even de-facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim‘s statement that errant party members should quit was not apparently directed at Zulkifli, who had a spat with party vice-president R Sivarasa after Sivarasa interpreted it as such.

It may be that the leadership fears the threat of defection, or loss of support by voters who favour Zulkifli. Often, PKR leaders when faced with questions about Zulkifli, have defended the party’s inaction by saying that free speech and dissent are allowed in the name of democracy.

The common policy will help PR, however, by distinguishing the coalition’s common stand from Zulkifli’s individual position, some PKR leaders believe.

“If tomorrow he says something out of line, we have the common policy to show that the coalition’s stand is different from his,” the PKR source said.

Sticking point 

As things have turned out from the talks, the matter of bringing back local elections is instead the sticking point in the PR’s common policy. Concerns raised are primarily over ethnic representation according to population; mechanisms to ensure participation by women, disabled and civil society candidates; and whether some local council posts can be elected while others appointed.

Loke, who is a DAP representative in the inter-party talks on the common policy, said some points in the common policy drafted by Datuk Zaid Ibrahim have  been maintained, while others amended.

The lengthy document covers a wide scope of issues PR will declare a common stand on. Apart from religion, these include language, democratisation, parliamentary reform, gender equality education, repealing of draconian laws, privatisation and the economy.

The convention and the common policy are among PR’s efforts to formalise itself as a coalition.

PR parties will continue fine-tuning the draft of the common policy till just before Saturday. The final version will be the product of input and numerous rounds of discussion by each party’s grassroots and leaders at branch and division levels.

“In the 21 months that Pakatan has been together, we have come to forge a broad understanding and sharing of values that have helped in forming this common policy. This is essentially what we are offering to the rakyat as an alternative government,” says Dzulkefly.

Adds the PKR leader: “Once this commitment is endorsed and announced, then people can hold it against us and make sure we take it further.”

Much is already at stake for PR which has suffered a dip in public confidence after internal spats and governance issues in Penang and Selangor. Just how committed and how much in common the parties have will be in the details unveiled this Saturday.

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One Response to “Reaching common ground”

  1. PM says:

    I can only hope that with a common policy that is fair, reasonable and pragmatic to all parties in PR, the rakyat will indeed have a viable alternative to the corrupt, and at times racist, Umno-BN government come the next general election.

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