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Still hoping for change

THE theme for Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)’s annual national congress, which begins today until 30 Nov 2008, is “Harapan Baru”.

The theme seems apt. The leading opposition party remains hopeful that the Pakatan Rakyat coalition, of which it is a member together with the DAP and PAS, can still take over the federal government despite the disappointment of missing the 16 Sept 2008 deadline.

Indeed, delegates at the congress are expected to focus on the trembling possibility — or some might say dissipating potential — for a Pakatan Rakyat-led federal government even before the next general election.

PKR, which has the most seats among the opposition parties in Parliament, has been promising Malaysians a new federal government since the 8 March 2008 general election handed the opposition parties a stunning victory.

However, the promise by PKR de-facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim of a 16 Sept takeover didn’t even sputter with signs of life, and hope turned to skepticism among some quarters.

Supreme council member Fuziah Salleh, however, asserts otherwise.

“Anwar never said there was a deadline” (File pic)

Despite media reports that prove the contrary, she claims that 16 Sept represented the date that Malaysia was formed and was not a deadline for Pakatan Rakyat to form the federal government. “Anwar never said there was a deadline, he just wanted to create a mood for people to look forward to, and to give people ambition.”

“When it happens, it will be a surprise. The rakyat must understand it is not about taking over government, it is about the substance,” Fuziah says.

Hope, it seems, still exists within the party’s ranks.

Keeping hope alive

PKR deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali says the party has not abandoned the takeover plan despite missing the 16 Sept deadline.

“But we don’t talk about it now and we don’t set any deadline this time,” he explains.

Dr Syed Husin Ali

Anwar, he says, will talk about the issue of forming a new federal government at Stadium Malawati in Shah Alam where the party’s congress is being held but he won’t speak about the plan’s failure.

“September 16 was only the beginning of a process,” Syed Husin adds. “New hope means comprehensive changes.”

He says these changes are not just about having a new government, but also encompasses changes in policies and the party’s organisation.

He adds cautiously that Pakatan Rakyat has to look at many factors, including the exploitation of racial sentiments and intimidation by certain quarters which may distress people.

Political analyst Ong Kian Ming says Anwar’s mistake was announcing the deadline and raising people’s hopes. “But as long as the BN hasn’t won back the support of the non-Malays, PKR will be relatively stronger than MCA and Gerakan,” he says in an interview.

New politics

For PKR’s youth wing Angkatan Muda, the hope lies in transforming people’s power into building a democratic Malaysia.

Angkatan Muda strategy bureau chairperson Mohd Yusmadi Yusoff sees “Harapan Baru” as an attempt to promote the idea of new politics.

“Our message to the people is that there is new hope through PKR, which means (there will be) changes. We understand that this is what the people want based on the results of the general election because they gave us their mandate,” he tells The Nut Graph.

Yusmadi adds: “The ball is now in PKR’s court to convince the people that we are the better option as a reformed government.”

Supporters of PKR during nomination day

He stresses that PKR’s “new hope” is not a ready-made product marketed by the party, but rather “it was initiated by the people themselves.”

Hence, he says, “Harapan Baru” is not just all about Anwar taking over the government or flaunting PKR’s strength. “But the hope is about reform, which I think, lies in the power of the people.”

Ong, however, disagrees saying that the cult of Anwar is the bedrock of PKR’s strength. “Anwar represents much of its ideology and vision, which is a different multi-racial vision for Malaysia. It is one that is Malay-led but liberal and progressive.”

Associate professor Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff shares Ong’s sentiment and says PKR unfortunately relies heavily on Anwar.

“If PKR is in power, Pakatan Rakyat will be in power,” says the political analyst from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, noting that it was Anwar who brought DAP and PAS together after the March elections.

Beyond PKR

Fuziah notes that expectations are higher now not just of PKR but also of Pakatan Rakyat, adding that the focus currently is to ensure good performance in the Pakatan Rakyat-led states of Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor and Kelantan.

As such, PKR’s congress will be a good time for the party to scrutinise its achievements and future plans, she says.

“In general, the rakyat support us as they can see that there is no corruption in the administration of Pakatan Rakyat state governments,” Fuziah says. She admits, however, that these governments still need to weed out some corrupt civil servants.

Angkatan Muda executive committee member Ginie Lim says she anticipates that most congress delegates will criticise the administration of the five state governments.

“It will be great. We don’t want to end up like the BN government which became complacent after 50 years,” she says in an interview.

Notwithstanding this ideal, most people still view Pakatan Rakyat as a marriage of convenience, especially since the loose coalition needs to do so much more to show that they have a common stand.

As it is, public squabbles among the different parties’ leadership demonstrate a lack of unity among the three parties. The most recent example of that was the proposed 50% housing quota for bumiputeras, mooted by the PAS-led Kedah government, which drew flak from the DAP.

Mohammad Agus says the biggest challenge for PKR now is to convince its allies, the DAP and PAS, that Pakatan Rakyat is sustainable. “PKR will need to keep convincing the other two parties that they must work together no matter what.”

The fact is, though, despite promises to take over the federal government and provide better governance, the Pakatan Rakyat has yet to even name a shadow cabinet. Doing so may at least convince skeptics that the Pakatan Rakyat is not just serious and ready about taking over government, but that it is also united.

Anwar’s key opening speech at PKR’s congress is on 29 Nov

For now, PKR’s direction forward will very much hinge on what transpires during its congress over the next two days. Anwar will be delivering his key opening speech on 29 Nov, and for the first time, the address will be public.

Delegates, and the public, will certainly hang on to every word he says. Whether his words generate false or fresh hopes is left to be seen. TNG favicon

See also: PKR’s politics

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