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Testing time for Pakatan Rakyat

DIFFERENT ideologies notwithstanding, Pakatan Rakyat partners PAS, DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) will once again test their brand name as a coalition in the Kuala Terengganu by-election on 17 Jan.

Having proven their ability to work together in the Permatang Pauh by-election in August 2008, the alliance now faces a slightly different test of their mettle.

For one, the Kuala Terengganu by-election is PAS’s battle. And lately, cracks within the Pakatan Rakyat over issues such as the implementation of hudud law have become more apparent. Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s silence has not helped clarify PKR’s stand on the matter to non-Malay, non-Muslim Malaysian voters, who form about 11% of the seat’s electorate.

Secondly, it has been 10 months since the Pakatan Rakyat took over the state governments in four states — Penang, Selangor, Perak and Kedah, with PAS retaining Kelantan — and their performance has come under increasing scrutiny. There have been some hiccups, including the 50% housing quota for bumiputera in Kedah, the arrests of two Perak exco members for alleged corruption, and dissatisfaction with Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim’s handling of a pig farm project.

Thirdly, the Pakatan Rakyat has had to deal with public scepticism over its much ballyhooed but failed attempt to take over the federal government on 16 Sept 2008.

Though the coalition will undoubtedly put on a united front in Kuala Terengganu, it will be interesting to see whether these underlying issues make any difference to its campaign.

PKR vice-president Azmin Ali
Everything can be explained

PKR vice-president Azmin Ali believes that voters will understand and support the Pakatan Rakyat if the answers to these problems are well articulated.

He also plays down the hudud gaffe and says that PAS’s stand is neither new nor alarming.

“PAS has made it clear that hudud is their party ideology, but when it comes to our collective politics, we fight together on common goals like democracy, fighting corruption and human rights. If we can articulate this well to the Malay electorate, they will understand,” Azmin tells The Nut Graph.

He also believes PKR can explain why the Pakatan Rakyat is still not in federal power. “We’ll say that we have tried our best, that there was harassment and intimidation of the MPs who were to cross over; that our attempts to move a motion in Parliament and to meet the prime minister were rejected.”

PKR strategist Saifuddin Nasution says while the Pakatan Rakyat state governments are still on a learning curve, they have not suffered any major scandal that could be used against them.

“There’s nothing major that can shake the stability of our five state governments, whereas the Barisan Nasional (BN) has scandals like the Eurocopter purchase, the high-speed broadband project and others.”

He adds that the Pakatan Rakyat has taken steps to form a clear structure for achieving consensus between the three parties, including weekly meetings between the heads of each party.

PKR strategist Saifuddin Nasution
“We’re actually more united now,” Saifuddin says.

It appears that PKR’s role in the campaign may mainly involve explanations for their perceived failures. If PAS is not convinced with Azmin’s arguments, it might limit PKR’s one-to-one contact with voters in Kuala Terengganu and utilise the party’s orators to draw crowds at the ceramah instead.

PAS deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa says operation meetings between the three parties are under way to plan their campaign strategy. “KT is the most urban seat in Terengganu, so PKR, which has the image of being more appealing to urban Malays, will be helping us in this aspect.”

Nasharuddin also expects hudud law to be a non-issue. “We’ll explain to non-Muslim voters what PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang has said, that it will only be applicable for Muslims.”

DAP permanent election committee secretary Liew Chin Tong believes PAS will want to maximise its chances by utilising PKR and the DAP fully, because the stakes in this by-election are high.

“This by-election comes right before Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak takes over the Umno presidency and the prime minister’s post [after March 2009]. Imagine the psychological consequences to the BN if they lost.”

Coming together

The three Pakatan Rakyat parties have only really campaigned together in recent elections, starting with Ijok, Selangor (28 April 2007), the March 2008 general election, and the Permatang Pauh by-election (26 Aug 2008).

Prior, by-elections were fought largely alone by the contesting party or with one other opposition partner. Anwar, who was released from prison on 2 Sept 2004 after serving six years for corruption, only made brief appearances in several by-elections until Ijok.

He spoke at ceramahs for the PAS candidate in the Pengkalan Pasir, Kelantan by-election on 6 Dec 2005. It was a closely fought race narrowly won by Umno by a 134-vote margin, leaving PAS with a single-seat majority in the Kelantan legislative assembly.

PAS and PKR paired up to campaign in the Batu Talam, Pahang by-election (28 Jan 2007), but ended up boycotting it to protest against alleged bias by the Election Commission. The Umno candidate won by a 5,857-majority against an independent candidate.

The DAP and PKR, meanwhile, campaigned together for the first time in the Chinese-majority state seat of Machap, Malacca (12 April 2007). For this seat, the DAP focused on Chinese Malaysian voters while relying on PKR to reach the Malay Malaysian electorate.

Though the seat went to the MCA by a 4,081 majority, the Machap by-election was seen as the first step in future PKR-DAP cooperation. It highlighted the two parties’ similar ideologies — DAP’s Malaysian Malaysia, and the PKR’s non-racial, needs-based approach to economic and welfare policies.

All for one

Ijok marked the strongest cooperation between PAS, PKR and DAP, and showed the coalition’s appeal in racially-mixed areas. Malay Malaysians comprised about 50% of the electorate in Ijok, while Indian Malaysians were around 28% and Chinese Malaysians 20%.

Although the BN candidate from MIC won Ijok in the by-election, Chinese Malaysian support for the BN was said to have dipped by 10%, thanks to keris-waving at the previous year’s Umno Youth general assembly, among other national issues played up by the opposition. In the 2008 general election 11 months later, Ijok went to PKR.

Anwar ran the show in the Permatang Pauh by-election on 26 Aug 2008, and bettered his wife, PKR president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s performance in the general election five months earlier. It was a stunning political comeback for the former deputy prime minister, no less because he was facing fresh sodomy allegations brought against him by a former aide.

“Permatang Pauh saw the best cooperation ever between the PKR, PAS and DAP,” Azmin says. “PAS focused its machinery in the Malay state seats of Permatang Pasir and Penanti, while the DAP took Seberang Jaya and the Chinese areas. Now in Kuala Terengganu, PAS will take the lead and PKR will play a complementary role.”

Whether this formula will work in Kuala Terengganu remains to be seen. With the BN expected to pull out all the stops to retain the seat, the Pakatan Rakyat will hope that voters will overlook the differences within their coalition.

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9 Responses to “Testing time for Pakatan Rakyat”

  1. singam says:

    Deborah wrote, “Cracks within the Pakatan Rakyat over issues such as the implementation of hudud law have become more apparent. Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s silence has not helped clarify PKR’s stand on the matter.”

    I wish the other Pakatan leaders would emulate Anwar’s silence!

    Much is being made over Husam Musa’s thoughtless response to Khairy’s bait on hudud. The reality is that hudud is not really an issue. But the mainstream media have played it up to promote Umno’s agenda. Any comment made by any Pakatan Rakyat leader will be spun to the disadvantage of the coalition.

    This is how it is being made to appear that there are serious cracks in the people’s coalition. If The Nut Graph wishes to serve the interests of the people, then it is time to stop serving up these media spins and do some careful and balanced investigative journalism.

  2. Zedeck says:

    Hello Singam:

    I admit to ignorance surrounding the recent, renewed interest in hudud.

    Would you be able to elaborate on why you think the issue of hudud implementation – which would likely have far-reaching implications for society, Muslim and non-Muslim both – is “not really an issue”?

  3. Andrew I says:

    Much better reporting than the usual one sided stuff the traditional media pedals. I agree with Singam about hudud being a non issue. When is Malaysian politics going to move beyond race and religion? Like eradicating poverty and raising the standard of education by employing better brains and not building more mausoleums?

  4. starlight says:

    I also read the comments on MT but I don’t agree on the attacks on Deborah Loh suggesting she is trying to “spin” the issue. Her comments and views seem fair and neutral. But it seems to me that she mustn’t make any unfavourable comment about the alternative coalition Pakatan Rakyat, [‘cos otherwise] some would say she is not representing the people, but taking the BN’s side. I wish we were not so quick to jump and criticise but instead, look at the write-up as a whole.

  5. Singam says:

    Response to Zedeck: RPK has explained this at length. PAS may have a desire to implement hudud but will not be able to do it without 2/3 support in parliament. However Umno (Editor’s note: it was the Barisan Nasional, not just Umno) used to enjoy 2/3 parliamentary support to implement Ketuanan Melayu which implicitly incorporated Islamisation. Which do you think is the issue?

    Response to Starlight: You don’t think the “hudud issue” was played up by the MSM (mainstream media) in support of the BN strategy to demonise the Pakatan Rakyat? If The Nut Graph writers choose to play the same tune, how are they any different? If you want neutral writing, read the Straits Times of Singapore. Do you see me taking issue with what they write?

  6. Zedeck says:

    Hello Singam:

    Point taken: practicality is key.

    But am I correct in assuming that, if and when PAS is in a position to push hudud (2/3 parliamentary majority, etc etc), you would then (and only then) treat it as a valid concern, worthy of scrutiny and debate?

    Personally, I find it interesting that, at least in the case of Umno versus PAS in Kuala Terengganu, whatever the outcome, we would have a rep from a political party that espouses conservative Islamisation (since by your own argument you appear to consider hudud and Ketuanan Melayu as equivalents).

    The only difference, then, is that one side hasn’t yet amassed the political clout they need to push worrying agendas. If so, this appears to be a mere case of mask-swapping: the same-old, same-old underneath. That worries me.

    Wouldn’t you agree that, in the same way Ketuanan Melayu deserves a hard look and strident criticism, so should hudud?

  7. Andrew I says:

    As Singam correctly points out, a 2/3 majority is required to change the constitution. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

    At the very least, everyone will have a say, unlike the countless times the BN has amended the constitution when NO one had a say.

  8. Singam says:

    Hi Zedeck,

    I am not equating hudud with ketuanan Melayu. I’m suggesting that they are equally abhorrent to non-Muslims. The question is, who is in a position to push their agenda through?

    You are correct that if PAS becomes the key player in the Pakatan Rakyat and appears to be gaining ground on the Islamisation agenda, we have cause for concern. It is not that I am anti-Islam. I merely echo notable Muslim thinkers in seeking separation of religion and state.

    However I don’t expect DAP to be as lame as MCA. PKR may yet reveal another side in the future but for now, we need to put the Pakatan Rakyat into power to undo the damage the BN has done.

    I am not calling for the elimination of Umno. We need them to remain a strong opposition to keep the Pakatan Rakyat on their toes. We the rakyat will then have two coalitions to choose from, maybe not perfect … but at least we have a choice.

    My estimate is that it will take at least 30 years of somewhat balanced governance to undo the damage done by BN/Umno. Until that time, we have to make do with the calibre of politicians we have today.

    Note to editor: I was not saying that Umno had 2/3 majority. I said they enjoyed 2/3 support in parliament. Let us not pretend that they were not calling the shots and the other members of the coalition had to go along with their dictates.

  9. Harry says:

    Pakatan Rakyat has a 60% chance of winning and BN has 40%.

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