At a point in the not so distant past, I used to hold a favorable view of Keadilan. Lately however, that opinion has slowly gone from supportive to almost ambivalence. The more I learn about the party, the more I find the party confusing. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that Keadilan is a party of undecided ideological standing. It is a patchwork of this and that, neither here nor there. Its members are too ideologically diverse and they possibly band together with one purpose: protesting. Yes. Keadilan from my point of view, is a protest party and nothing more.

At the beginning, during the upheaval of the late 1990s, the party was established as a response to the sacking and the imprisonment of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. To many in the party, the black and white were clear cut; the good guys were with Anwar Ibrahim, fighting perceived injustice while those standing behind Mahathir Mohamed were villains. Day in, day out, the party’s fixation on Anwar Ibrahim became so intense that it seemed the party’s main purpose was to free Anwar Ibrahim and nothing else.

Some within the party and some outside sympathizers started to realize the centrality of free-Anwar, anti-Mahathir sentiment within Keadilan. These people criticized the party for that and suggested that Keadilan needed to go beyond a personality. In the early days however, Anwar Ibrahim was so popular among the masses that tactical change was not necessary. The 1999 general election later proved that.

If the 1999 election proved that critics were wrong, 2004 proved that the critics were right after all. By that year, Anwar Ibrahim become so irrelevant that Keadilan initially lost all of its seats. It only regained one seat after a recount. And then, the final blow came. Mahathir Mohamed resigned and soon afterward, the former prime minister was released. With that, just like how a special purpose vehicle is useless after achieving its goal, Keadilan lost its cause and risked irrelevancy.

To be fair, the party is reinventing itself. Through my limited interaction with those in the party, it, or rather its members have found a new cause, Unfortunately, that new cause is similar to that of the Democrats’ during the 2004 election. If the Democrats chanted for anything but Bush, the people in Keadilan are saying anything but BN. Just like how the Democratic Party garnered dissatisfied voters against the Republicans, Keadilan is garnering dissatisfied voters against BN. The Democratic Party was a protest party then; Keadilan is currently a protest party.

What else could explain the fact that there are so many diverse fractions within Keadilan working together in spite of incredible difference?

Surely the liberals and the lefties would argue against each other to kingdom’s come. Add the Islamists into the equation, boy, it is a recipe for Krakatoa. The ideological difference between each fraction is too great to go unnoticed or ignored. I would imagine that if BN is wiped out of the equation, those fractions within Keadilan would turn onto itself.

So, what holds Keadilan together? What attracts there fractions so greatly that the difference could be set aside?

I could think of two factors. One factor has been mentioned and it is the shared disatisfication against BN. Another is the initial raison d’être of Keadilan, Anwar Ibrahim; personality cult.

A friend told me that Anwar Ibrahim is one of the few persons that could talk to both the liberals and the Islamists comfortably. The question is why is that possible? Has he managed to connect the liberals (along possibly with the socialists) with the Islamists? From the look of it, surely he has but what exactly is that connection?

Is it pragmatism?

In the face of vast ideological difference between groups, I tend to favor pragmatism as an explanation. A deeper inquiry would venture, what is the cause of that pragmatism?

I could think of only one way to rationalize this: the cause is the various fractions’ shared discontent against BN. In other words, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Anwar Ibrahim seems to realize this; he builds his base on top of that discontent, catering everybody across the board.

Further, it seems to me that like John Kerry, Anwar Ibrahim is trying to please everybody. Because of the way he derives his political clout, he has to please every fraction within Keadilan. Everybody, meaning liberals, socialists, Islamists, the populists. Exactly because of this, he cannot afford to offend anybody. Exactly because of this, he needs to stay above the ideological jostling between the fractions of Keadilan. For if he starts to join the fray, he would lose support from some fractions. Exactly because of this, since he takes no real ideological stance, he is able to talk to both liberals and Islamists, etc. In the end, a populist.

Hence, the answer to why I think Keadilan is a mere protest party.

If Keadilan plans to be more than a mere protest party, it must find its ideological home.

14 Responses to “[1150] Of Keadilan, the special purpose vehicle of discontent”

  1. on 26 Mar 2007 at 02:06 freelunch2020

    GOOD ARTICLE…very very good…
    “Its members are too ideologically diverse and they possibly band together with one purpose: protesting. Yes. Keadilan from my point of view, is a protest party and nothing more.”

    agree but they are slowly finding its purpose. i found that beyond anti-mahathirism, idolising Anwar, and protesting, its core ideology is still superfluous.

    it’s a good party for the young to get active in politics as it is very vocal in being anti-establishment but for the longer term, DAP or even BN may be better as political parties.

    anwar is a populist but he has strong convictions, which he is hiding i guess.

    a person moulded by islam and building abim will find it hard to change its core beliefs, i believe.

    but he is a politician, a good one, whose ideological stand remains an enigma. 😀

    but a fun personality la….:D

  2. on 27 Mar 2007 at 07:51 Nik Nazmi

    Hafiz,

    My response:
    http://www.niknazmi.com/wordpress/index.php/archives/490

    ;P

  3. on 27 Mar 2007 at 12:01 nat

    I think a step back might be useful.

    How important is ‘political ideology’ – as intellectuals might define it – to Malaysia and Malaysians?

    Is the heart of Malaysia’s woes due to tensions between capitalism and socialism? Liberalism and conservatism? (or whatever the opposite of liberalism is..)

    I humbly don’t consider myself particularly stupid, but I barely know the real meaning of some of these words.

    I do know what too many people close to me experience in their lives as Malaysians:

    – the trauma of being robbed, hurt in a snatch theft, frightened into being unable to walk the streets at night.

    – the feeling of being second class citizens, denied of opportunities made available to select others.

    – the burning frustration that so much money, resources and opportunities are cheated from us, almost in broad daylight, through corruption that runs in the veins of every level of government.

    I agree with Nik – the opposition is not as rudderless or blur as people think when it comes to having alternative policies and an ideology.

    But really, how much does ideology have to do with the problems above? Parliamentarians, bloggers and the rakyat can shout till they’re blue in the face, but is change possible without a change in government?

    If being serious about anti-corruption, abolishing the NEP, and making our streets safer doesn’t count as an ideology, then how important is an ‘ideology?’

    *

    Yes, PKR rides quite a bit on Anwar in many ways, but does PKR begin and end with Anwar?

    I think to suggest so is to not do justice to the other PKR leaders and members on the ground trying to do every little thing they can to make life a bit more bearable for people; leaders and members who have built reputations for integrity and leadership qualities worthy of states(wo)men.

    *

    I’m interested in change, I’m interested in running the country some day, and I’m interested in doing a better job of it.

    As I surveyed the political spectrum, I found PKR – and PKR alone right now – to have the ingredients necessary: the makeup of its membership, the profile and (importantly, vis a vis FL2020 🙂 the long-term vision of its leadership, AND it’s ‘ideological’ beliefs with regard to ethnicity, religion, etc.

    To me, these are the Special Purposes of the Keadilan Vehicle. To me, this is the best path available towards actually changing the government and making lives better.

  4. on 28 Mar 2007 at 19:35 Hafiz

    Dear Nat,

    I think a step back might be useful.

    How important is ‘political ideology’ – as intellectuals might define it – to Malaysia and Malaysians?

    Is the heart of Malaysia’s woes due to tensions between capitalism and socialism? Liberalism and conservatism? (or whatever the opposite of liberalism is..)

    I humbly don’t consider myself particularly stupid, but I barely know the real meaning of some of these words.

    It’s important to have consistent general set of basic opinions. A populist does not have that general consistency (or maybe, the only consistency is inconsistency) while a clear ideology represents a much appreciated consistency.

    Further, one does not have to know the terms; one needs only to be generally consistent; that consistency form an ideology, no matter what the ideology is.

    I do know what too many people close to me experience in their lives as Malaysians:

    – the trauma of being robbed, hurt in a snatch theft, frightened into being unable to walk the streets at night.

    – the feeling of being second class citizens, denied of opportunities made available to select others.

    – the burning frustration that so much money, resources and opportunities are cheated from us, almost in broad daylight, through corruption that runs in the veins of every level of government.

    Yes, people are concerned with that. Many others also claim to fight for that. So, what makes Keadilan so special?

    To me, that are just echoes of previous promises.

    I agree with Nik – the opposition is not as rudderless or blur as people think when it comes to having alternative policies and an ideology.

    I respectfully disagree, unless if you consider populist economics as a sound policy.

    But really, how much does ideology have to do with the problems above? Parliamentarians, bloggers and the rakyat can shout till they’re blue in the face, but is change possible without a change in government?

    If being serious about anti-corruption, abolishing the NEP, and making our streets safer doesn’t count as an ideology, then how important is an ‘ideology?’

    Consistency in political thinking coupled with the appropriate set of policies create stability, creates confidence in ordinary citizens and foreigners.

    If a party keeps changing opinion just because it wants to be popular, I doubt Keadilan could do a good job at solving economic problems.

    Yes, PKR rides quite a bit on Anwar in many ways, but does PKR begin and end with Anwar?

    I think to suggest so is to not do justice to the other PKR leaders and members on the ground trying to do every little thing they can to make life a bit more bearable for people; leaders and members who have built reputations for integrity and leadership qualities worthy of states(wo)men.

    Yes. PKR certainly begins with Anwar Ibrahim – that’s history. At the moment, it would end with Anwar Ibrahim.

    Injustice to other Keadilan’s leaders? Be right or false, if Keadilan does not change, that “injustice” is justice to keadilan. You ripe what you sow; that is justice; justice is blind.

  5. on 29 Mar 2007 at 09:13 sigma

    Hafiz, maybe the reason for the lack of ideological prominence among Malaysian parties is because there was never much support for those common ‘Western’ ideologies here?

    I mean, after the communist insurgency in Malaysia, socialism, or the political ‘left’ is a poison chalice, and no party wants to be associated with socialism per se. There is almost universal agreement among parties here that neo-liberal economic perscriptions are the way to go. The only aspect that contain any socalist thoughts are the NEP welfare system perhaps. Even the concept of corporate regulation that many social democratic parties like to champion is almost non-existant here.

    Instead, due to Malaysia’s history, political ethno-religious faultlines are Malaysia’s political norms.

  6. on 30 Mar 2007 at 16:46 nat

    sigh, my whole essay got wiped out because of the confirmation code 😛 let’s see what i can remember.

    *

    the last bit confused me a little, and i got a teeny headache from seeing ‘consistency’ and ‘ideology’ in every sentence 🙂

    sigma: thanks, that’s a good angle i hadn’t thought of before. perhaps easily identifiable ‘ideologies’ are a bit more the preoccupation of those raised in a more Western political tradition.

    our economy isn’t underperforming because we’re overly capitalist or overly socialist. our economy is underperforming because thieves are raping the country.

    why can’t a commitment to integrity and ethnic unity be an ideology?

    yes, political parties everywhere spout this sort of nonsense, but if were to look only at ideals without looking at practise or content, politics would be pretty monotonous.

    i believe that pkr’s ideals and mine are congruent enough to merit my participation. i believe that where it is lacking, i’m happy to try and help make improvements. if you think our economic thinking is insufficient, you’re always welcome to do the same.

    *

    assuming you’re not a BN fanatic (which is another can of worms entirely), let me ask this:

    what is a young conscientious objector to do? if BN isn’t the biggest root of our problems, what is? if pkr and the pembangkang are lousy, where should we channel our efforts to have maximum impact in affecting change in malaysia?

    **

    that’s all i remember. i hope you don’t eat my comments this time! haha 🙂

  7. on 31 Mar 2007 at 01:39 johnleemk

    As much as I sympathise with PKR, I agree more with __earth/Hafiz on this. PKR doesn’t necessarily need to take a hardcore ideological stand like, say, the socialist party, but it needs to stand for something beyond “what the people want” – which is dangerous populism.

    The question is, how does PKR want to go about implementing what the people want? Does it believe a market system is more appropriate for this, or does it prefer a more state-centric approach? Does it want an Islamic state, a secular state, or something in between?

    There’s nothing wrong with having a big tent – but too large a tent will collapse in on itself. If you have secularists and Islamists, hardcore free marketeers and hardcore socialists, all in the same party, it’s a sign something’s wrong. This might work for a coalition of parties where each party hews to one ideology, but not for one single party.

  8. on 23 May 2007 at 14:54 kukuman

    you should not be talking about the Democrat ed Party….

    They lost because they did not want to follow what the majority wanted..

    Follow the Anti-war Agenda of the common people…

    Rather they were constantly flip-flopping in choosing between being a better Bush or a lesser Bush!

    *Ain’t a dime of a difference between the Democrat and Republican!*

  9. on 23 May 2007 at 17:44 Hafiz Noor Shams

    Dear kukuman,

    respectfully, you are missing the point.

  10. […] his ground, despite me myself do not quite buy into the PKR’s NEA. I do not quite buy it for an entire different reason […]

  11. […] In response to my criticism that PKR is too populist in its stature with no clear direction ahead, Nik Nazmi emphasizes on the need to adopt big tent politics.[4] While I am unconvinced how that answers my criticism, as […]

  12. […] then again, this demonstrates what is wrong with PKR. So engrossed with big tent politics, PKR is all happy to invite anybody into their tent, […]

  13. […] A concrete fact to support my earlier post. […]

  14. […] Much like Keadilan. […]

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

*