Datuk Zaid Ibrahim
DESPITE flare-ups in PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Pakatan Rakyat (PR) is on track to becoming a formal coalition, says Datuk Zaid Ibrahim who was tasked with developing a common manifesto for the opposition coalition.
PR’s application to be registered with the Registrar of Societies was submitted last week, and the manifesto has been given to the heads of PAS, PKR and DAP. The document is to be adopted by all parties at a PR convention scheduled for 18 and 19 Dec 2009. It is also speculated that Zaid will head the pro-tem committee of the registered coalition.
In an interview at his home in Petaling Jaya on 4 Nov 2009, Zaid tells The Nut Graph about the new political culture he hopes the manifesto will create. He believes it is such a manifesto that will set PR apart from the Barisan Nasional (BN).
Zaid, currently on leave from PKR, however, was reluctant to discuss the party’s problems. Instead, he stressed that the common manifesto was more crucial than ever to ensure that the PR coalition was based on policies and principles, and not a single party or individual.
TNG: Do you aspire to have a more important leadership role in PKR?
Zaid Ibrahim: No. Absolutely not.
The word is that you hope to run for deputy president next year.
No. I’m not hoping to be number two or three or four or whatever. My role is to help Pakatan Rakyat. It’s beyond me to make anyone stronger. That’s for the party leaders to do. I don’t want to get involved in that. I’m only interested in putting together what all the parties want.
So your joining PKR is just a vehicle to strengthening Pakatan as a whole?
Yeah, if I don’t join one of them, they won’t trust me.
Even if you have no ambitions, are you facing pressure from groups within PKR who might want you to take a higher position?
No. There is no pressure. I don’t have supporters or groups in the party loyal to me. I’m happy enough if they support my ideas. I’m not interested in personal support.
Anwar’s position is uncertain
With Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim‘s position uncertain because of his sodomy trial, what kind of second tier leadership does PKR need to have in place?
That is for PKR to decide. I do not want to offer any suggestions because that will be misunderstood and misconstrued. PKR is a broad-based party; they have a lot of members. They must decide what’s best for them.
You’re saying you’ve been misunderstood in the party?
The Sabah issue. I was just an innocent bystander but people think I was trying to interfere.
Is the Sabah issue some sort of turning point in your awareness about PKR, that working in this party is more difficult that you initially thought?
No, there’s no new awareness of any kind. It’s just politics. I hope the things that have happened were not because of me (chuckles).
What does Anwar need to do for PKR to prepare for the possibility of [his being jailed]?
I think he knows. He’s a smarter politician than me.
Do you think he’s decisive enough? Party workers and members complain that he’s out of the country so often that he cannot attend to party issues in a detailed manner.
No, I wouldn’t want to comment on him.
What do you think the current problems in PKR indicate, for example the latest issue in Sabah?
Since the leadership says it’s not a problem, who am I to say that it’s a problem? But from the bloggers, and the news media, it would seem to be a problem.
You have nothing to lose in PKR since you’re not aspiring to any higher post.
Ya, but I don’t want to get into analysing PKR’s internal strength or weakness. My views on PKR at this point in time are really not that critical. It can be disruptive.
Have you heard from Anwar since you returned from Sabah? Did he tick you off for going against his wishes?
No, he didn’t. I’ve met him, it was cordial. I reported to him what happened. Every time I go somewhere, I come back and report to him.
PKR appears to be the most problematic party in Pakatan. There are a range of issues, from badly-chosen election candidates to slowness in taking disciplinary action. What does it lack compared to PAS or DAP?
Well, PKR is a new party and it will take time.
Is it the political culture, remnants of Umno politics?
I think that’s too simplistic. I don’t see remnants of Umno as necessarily destructive. It’s about why you left in the first place. Those who are disillusioned with Umno are potential assets to PKR. They are looking for something new. But if you don’t give them something new, then there might be problems.
But for those who left Umno and yet want more of the same stuff in a different setup, then that would be a problem. But I don’t know. I’m not expert enough about the party to analyse. I’m just saying that being ex-Umno doesn’t necessarily make it bad. In fact, it’s good that such people are aspiring for a higher level of politics.
Moving on to Pakatan’s common manifesto, can you share some of the points you’ve proposed in it?
I’ve submitted it to the leaders and they’ve yet to respond. It’s been two weeks but I accept they’ll take longer. I would not want to reveal the details until the leaders accept it and want to disclose it.
But generally, we have tried to cover as much ground as possible. It’s not a normal manifesto with motherhood statements like you want to be fair and just. No broad statements but very detailed statements on policy. What do we do with healthcare, the judiciary, oversight committees for parliament, education, what do we do with devolving more power to the states. The states need to be empowered because there’s too much concentration of power at federal level or in the prime minister. But giving the states more power involves the need to rise above politics because some states may not be under your control.
I’m trying to bring politics to another level, to talk about policy issues and to let the people have real choice. Let people debate Barisan policies vis-a-vis ours. Let people assess Barisan leaders vis-a-vis ours. That to me, is real choice. People can compare.
The public wants to see what our policies are. What do we do with privatisation, as opposed to the BN idea? What do we do with rural development, environment, people without birth certificates? Do we sell beer, do we not? What is our stand?
It comes down to that level, about moral policing and alcohol?
Sure, what are our social and moral policies? People want to know. I’ve proposed ideas and it’s up to the leaders to respond.
Does the manifesto address how the three parties will handle their differing ideologies, especially on an Islamic state?
No. I don’t want to tell each party what to do. But a common policy will bind them. If you cannot agree on a common policy, you’re not going to be strong.
At the moment, what we have is the willingness to work together based on an electoral pact. That is not enough to beat Barisan. You have to bring it to the next level. If they can agree on this common policy, that’s proof enough that they can overcome their ideological differences.
Will it be difficult for PAS to accept when it comes to social and moral policies?
To be fair to the party, PAS has already agreed on a very fundamental principle, that whatever they want to do, their partners must agree. Isn’t that a concession on the part of PAS? But people don’t appreciate PAS’s commitment. They have sacrificed a lot from their old position.
PAS, the party, is not the problem. It’s some of the leaders. One or two people. But you have these one or two problem people in all the other parties as well. From the short time I’ve been with Pakatan, I don’t see that PAS is genuinely interested in Umno. This is the party they’ve been fighting for the last 50 years, what has Umno become that they are so attracted to Umno?
What hurdles does Pakatan need to overcome for the manifesto to be accepted by all parties?
PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail,
DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng
The leaders of the three parties must want it. In our political culture, members generally follow. Leaders like to think that their members want this or don’t want this. If you want change, it must be the leaders who want it.
Must all the leaders accept the manifesto before Pakatan can be registered?
We have submitted the registration earlier this week. But that alone is not enough without a common manifesto. It would be like a house with no occupants, no life. Registration is the easy part. What is important is the policy.
Parties evolve. The opposition realises that it can’t beat Barisan on its own as individual parties. But willingness to work together is not enough. You still need policies, strategies and resources. The opportunity is now. If this doesn’t work, then it’ll be a long time before anything can happen.
The people have shown that they are prepared to consider the opposition. Barisan themselves realise this, that’s why they’re doing cosmetic changes here and there because they know they have to respond to the people’s demands. So this is the time to move.
Will it become more incumbent on the individual parties to act more swiftly with regards to problematic members and politicians?
I think the leaders know what to do. I have to be careful with what I say; I don’t want to be seen as telling them what to do. These are all established politicians, old hands at the game. It’s not my place to tell them what to do.
But I can tell you what I would do.
If I had my way, of course, I would respond swiftly. I would have paraded my best people in front of Barisan by now. I would have paraded my policies, I would have taken on Barisan on every issue. But that’s easy for me to say because I’m speaking as one person. Leaders of political parties have to worry about a hundred and one things, so I don’t want to be presumptuous and say it’s as simple as that. But that’s what I would do.
Anwar is seen as the glue that holds Pakatan together. If he goes to jail, how might that affect the coalition?
Pakatan is a lot bigger than one person. It is a movement for change. The glue is not in the person. The glue is in the message, in the political ideals.
Will the Pakatan structure be anything like Barisan’s, in that the head of the lead party becomes the coalition’s leader?
No, the basic difference is that in BN there is only one boss. But in Pakatan, everything will be through consensus. This is a big concession on the part of PAS, DAP and PKR.
It might be more difficult to reach decisions because everybody has to agree, but you’re also forced to talk which fosters a different political culture. It will require a lot more work. Democracy is more cumbersome, but it’s better in the long run because you act on the basis of the views of many.
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Malaysian politics according to Zaid