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Politics & government

[2781] Pakatan without PAS will be weaker

I lament the end of Pakatan Rakyat. I truly believe the next most significant thing Malaysia needs to get to the next level is better institutions instead of more fluffy investment into malls, hotels and expensive condominiums on some reclaimed waterfront. At the top of the institution list is a sustainable two-party system to keep everybody as honest as possible. The logical end to that is a power change every so often to shake things up, especially since Malaysia has never experienced one at the federal level. At the very least, we need to test our institutions and make them robust.

Pakatan Rakyat was that key. The three-party coalition had functioned more or less perfectly in that regard. At one time or other, it was truly the government in waiting and if things had held, we would probably have a new government within five or 10 years’ time.

But that is not to be. The dream ended too early. The greed, hubris and stubbornness we saw during the so-called Kajang Move, along with soaring egos and the resulting ugly mudslinging between DAP and PAS broke up the coalition. PAS is still in denial about the existence of Pakatan but this is not Hotel California. PAS needs to wake up to reality.

Now there is talk about building a new pact comprising DAP and PKR, along with a splinter group from PAS made up of the progressives who fell out with the conservatives in the Islamist party.

A number of people think the new coalition without PAS will be stronger. I am unsure what they mean by stronger but if the word stronger refers to the ability to win the next general election, then I think they are sadly mistaken.

The reason Pakatan Rakyat was such a force at the ballot box was its ability to attract both urban and rural voters to sit under one roof. The now PKR youth leader Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad once responded to my criticism of the confusing ideological mix within PKR back in 2007 that the multiracial Malaysia needed ”big tent politics” to bring us together. Today, I believe so too and Pakatan was the embodiment of that thought.

PAS provided the rural voters ”• at least in the Peninsula ”• while DAP and PKR delivered the urban ones. Rural constituencies in Sabah and Sarawak are still hard to win over, making peninsular rural seats all the more important to keep.

These voters and the parties had their differences but the commonalities between both sides were strong enough that the pact held. Under the big tent was the desire to clean up the corrupt government by changing Putrajaya. The diapers were getting smelly and we needed to change it.

And so, I am disappointed to see Pakatan get undone before we got the chance to change the diapers.

The proposed new coalition would mostly be made up of urbanites and more importantly, urban seats. I stress urban seats because I have trouble imagining PAS giving way to a new party made up of its splinter in the Malay heartland. This means the anti-BN votes would be split and in our imperfect first past the post system, that would likely mean a win for BN.

And there is always a question of PAS not joining the coalition after the overly emotional spat it is having with DAP and with progressive Islamists. All that means there are lower chances for the new coalition to win Putrajaya.

As such, I have trouble seeing the new coalition winning rural seats. No rural seats, no Putrajaya.

The new coalition would be stable with consensus easier to build maybe, but a Pakatan without PAS will be weaker.

In a fairer world, winning the urbanites would likely be enough because of the rapid urbanization Malaysia is experiencing. But the map has been drawn too skewed by putting more weight on rural voters. The playing field tilts in favor the incumbent Barisan Nasional in Putrajaya.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved
First published in The Malay Mail on June 30 2015.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved
nb — some people take this as a defense of PAS, implying the party is coming out stronger from the episode. But that is neither my intention nor what I wrote. I wanted to add into this article the idea at that PAS being alone would also be weaker and worse, risks becoming provincial. Without the progressives on its side, the party will be doomed to debate petty cultural-religious issues that the world outside would laugh at, and incapable of handling big issues which can only be addressed with skills from its professional members. But I always like simple, clear-message piece. I know my one message here and I stuck with it. In any case, please do not take this article as me saying PAS is coming out stronger instead of Pakatan. The only winner from the break-up of Pakatan, ceteris paribus, is Barisan Nasional.

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Politics & government

[2746] Pakatan Rakyat comes first, Selangor second

I am angry at pro-Kajang people. I firmly identify the maneurve as the source of the current political crisis in Selangor. But with everything moving at lighting speed, I find myself being angry at everybody.

I am angry at Khalid Ibrahim for going against democratic ideal, ruling without the majority support in the state assembly. I had supported him, but after all that happened, that support becomes untenable. I am angry at PKR for forcing him into a corner, leading him to do what he has done. I am angry at PAS for delaying their decision when there is an urgent need to decide whether it wants to be part of Pakatan or not. I am angry at DAP and PKR for declaring that they have the majority support in the state assembly before PAS came to a decision, risking breaking up PAS and Pakatan Rakyat even.

It was hard to focus with all that anger around. So, I took a step back, breathed in and out, and thought about what I ultimately wanted out of this mess.

I remember what I care the most is the sustainability of Malaysia’s two-party system. I want Pakatan to stick together and everything else is secondary, including the control over Selangor. I feel if keeping Selangor means the breaking up of Pakatan, I rather Pakatan lose the state.

Without PAS, Pakatan is not a viable challenger to  Barisan Nasional at the federal level. Let us gets real. Both DAP and PKR have no real presence in the rural areas. In Peninsular Malaysia, they depend on PAS to bring in the rural votes. In Sabah and Sarawak, while PAS is an insignificant force, DAP and PKR need to do a lot of work cracking those so-called BN fixed deposits. I see DAP making small progress. I do not see PKR doing anything other than making outrageous promises that appeal to naive Sabah nationalists. PKR is the master of outrageous promises. Yea, sue me.

I do not know whether PAS decision on Sunday will lead to it leaving Pakatan, but until it decides, I think both DAP and PKR leaders should not condemn PAS too much to the point poisonous accusations and curses are thrown. I maybe am naive in politics, but I somehow think if you want to appeal for somebody to join you, you do appeal to them, not curse them. Not by treating them in a way that creates a gulf between you and them.

This is not simply about Pakatan. This is about Malaysia. The country sorely needs a check-and-balance mechanism to work properly and achieve our potential. I have long believed that for us to grow further, we need to address the chink in our armor and that is our weak institutions. There is only so much physical infrastructure can do. To begin and further improve our institutions, we need the two-party system. We need Pakatan to stick together.

Just earlier this week, the Federal Court said the Penang state government could not run its own local election. We need federal powers for that. This is an example of a weak democratic institution that we have and the only way to address it to have the federal government reintroduce those local elections. We need to put strong pressure on the federal government to reinstate local elections into our lives. I want an elected mayor for Kuala Lumpur. I do not want Putrajaya to appoint a mandarin to run the city. Without pressure, there will be no local election. That pressure comes, realistically in the years to come, in the form of Pakatan Rakyat.

Do you think a third force is there out there? That what those Sabah activists thought in the last general election. They turned out to be more wrong than wrong, more hubris than actual knowledge on the ground, with independent candidates turned out losing to Pakatan candidates, even as Pakatan lost to BN.

Without the two-party system, with Pakatan breaking up, BN can do whatever it wants. I remember the Abdullah years. The abuse was so blatant. I remember a BN 4-by-4 vehicle with siren on top blaring, telling people to move aside. I always curse whenever police escort shoves us commuters aside for a VIP, be it ministers or some members of the royal house. To have a BN official with no position in the government at all to behave like they had the authority of the police, to behave like they were rajas?

I remember “Satu Lagi Projek Kerajaan Barisan Nasional.” Have you all forgotten? I have not. I remember the excesses very well.

I do not want to return to that time.

I want Pakatan to stick. I want the two-party system to stay.

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Politics & government

[2739] Karpal Singh, the Rock

I woke up to terrible news on Thursday. Lying on a bed and bracing myself for the work morning, I reached for my phone trying to stay in bed longer. I glanced through my phone to see if there was anything urgent. There was none and I felt relieved. My eyes then were focused on messages that popped while I was sound asleep.

There were several messages at round 3am or 4am. These went: ”Karpal Singh is dead.”

I was still unsure if I was awake then. It would not be the first time I thought I was awake but really, I was still dreaming. I took a few more minutes staring blankly into the ceiling, assessing my reality, before checking my Twitter account to verify the news.

True enough, condolences were everywhere and news agencies as far as Australia were already breaking the news. Karpal Singh died in a car crash in Perak, while he was on his way to Penang.

I have deep scepticism to politics revolving around personality. But in times when our institutions can disappoint us, failing to check the powers that be and worsening the excesses of power, personalities like Karpal Singh can do a lot of good.

He was almost always there to remind us of the limits of power and to put pressure on our institutions to do what was right, even at his expense. That happened in Perak in 2009 when he questioned the Sultan of Perak for the monarch’s intervention that led to an outrageous change of government. He was charged for sedition and was found guilty in March 2014.

It is hard to think how such a conviction is possible in this age. Maybe it is more than a possibility because the royal institution is ancient and it requires all the help it can get to survive in this modern world.

He was also steadfast in his beliefs. He has been a strong opponent to the implementation of hudud and he was the rock in the middle of the road. Even when things were relatively at peace and the component parties of Pakatan Rakyat rather not talk about the Islamic penal code so that they could focus on the commonalities between them, he continued to voice his opinion. I know some people in DAP cringed whenever he talked about hudud. They thought it was unnecessary to disturb the peace in the coalition with everybody working together, at times when hudud was put on the backburner.

Now, hudud, that monster that will not die, is back. PAS plans to table two private member bills in the Parliament to allow Kelantan to implement it.

I disagree with the current legal system in Malaysia. I am no legal expert but I see two laws for two different peoples in this country. It divides us all and makes fun of the idea of equality of rights. The implementation of hudud will exacerbate that.

The way hudud has been promoted highlights its distaste for equality: That it only affects the Muslim population. The advocates say so in the hopes of addressing the concern from the non-Muslim side, so that the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Christians, the atheists and others would step aside as if it is purely a Muslim issue.

”Everybody, stay out! It does not concern you,” the more argumentative pro-hudud men and women would say. They are sacrificing whatever equality we have to get what they want.

We know it is not true that it will affect the Muslims only. We know there will be overlaps of rights. We know there will be conflict. We know hudud will change the way Muslims and non-Muslims will interact which each other. We know it will change the characteristic of this country. There is no way on earth will a great change in the majority population not affect others.

Even in the current shariah system, we are already seeing overlaps and conflicts. Our institutions, with all of their bias, offer no justice in that situation.

I foresee the implementation of hudud making that kind of conflict worse. So much worse that I contend hudud will be the end of Malaysia as we know it.

Karpal left us at an inopportune time. I am upset at him now because it is in this exact situation that we need him. He left abruptly too soon. We will need a new one if we want to prolong our shared story. We need a new rock blocking the road to the end of Malaysia.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved
First published in The Malay Mail on April 20 2014.

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Politics & government

[2551] Class is something DAP supporters can learn from Tunku

I am disappointed at the treatment which Tunku Aziz received with respect to his comment about the Bersih’s sit-in. It is quite clear the DAP-led Penang state government ended Tunku’s senatorship to punish him for criticizing the sit-in.

While I disagree with Tunku’s position and I do support the sit-in, the path taken by the state government is utterly disproportionate to the issue at hand. It reveals immaturity of those in power in handling disagreement over what I see as a minor issue. Worse, it suggests some kind of intolerance towards differences of opinion.

Some differences may require severe punishment. The case of Hasan Ali in PAS is a perfect example where there were severe differences that translated into actual actions that caused real unrest and consternation among the populace. Hasan Ali appeared determined to weaken the state government.

In the case of Tunku however, this is really the first real public disagreement. Furthermore, the disagreement is over something that cannot be turned into action. What could the Tunku do as a senator? To be sure, nothing as nearly as severe as what Hasan Ali did. And Tunku has no intention to bring down the state government or break the unity of Pakatan Rakyat coalition.

Another disappointment is the naivety on the part of the state government. It is pure foolishness to peg Tunku’s senatorship to his take on the sit-in. The result of the pegging has now raised questions about DAP’s commitment to free speech. That opens DAP to attack unnecessarily, especially when the general election is just around the corner. Now that Tunku has decided to quit the party, the DAP finds itself in a deeper hole dug by the party itself.

Among these disappointments, there is an insulting opinion floating around accusing Tunku as an UMNO mole.

What is this? Prior to this, the man was praised as the hallmark of integrity. Now, the man has none?

The DAP-led state government is a mistake. DAP supporters and sympathizers need to realize that. Step out for awhile and see the larger picture.

Instead of that they are leveling an outrageous accusation against a gentleman that is Tunku.

What is this? How is this filth any different from the slime UMNO is employing?

Have a bit of class. Now, class is something they can learn from Tunku.

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Politics & government

[2482] A big coup for DAP?

Mohd Ariff Sabri Abdul Aziz and Aspan Alias are joining the DAP. This is big because it is yet another big step in widening the party’s appeal to the larger Malaysian demographics.

Let us face it. The DAP is mainly seen as a Chinese party. The characterization may be unfair to some extent because there is significant number of Indians in the party and there are definitely Malays in it. But the party derives its support mainly from Chinese areas and I do not think that can be dismissed easily. Even if it was untrue, the typical Malays who can be counted on to vote for UMNO and Barisan Nasional see the DAP a Chinese party. As the cliché goes, in politics, perception matters.

This is a problem because if the DAP needs to survive in the long term, it cannot merely depend on Chinese voters and other non-Malays/non-Bumiputras. The Chinese demographics is not inspiring from the perspective of electoral politics. It is shrinking due to both the relative prosperity of the community vis-à-vis the general population (number of child per couple/per person drops as prosperity increases; happens almost everywhere) and emigration. To secure its future, the DAP needs to be more Malaysian and that means more diversified support base. That also means non-urban voters.

There are efforts to do that. In the several months after I returned to Malaysia, I managed to observe the DAP machinery during the Sarawak election, thanks to Tony Pua. As I have written previously, despite the seats in Kuching having a heavy Chinese characteristic, the banners were written in multiple languages for the first time. Those multilingual messages at times can be dizzying and but is the cost of inclusiveness. And of course, this has been the norms in the Peninsula.

And of course, there are Zairil Khir Johari and Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim. While their presence and effort are valuable to the DAP, there are just not enough Malays to translate those presence and effort into heavy political influence. Furthermore for Tunku Aziz, I do not think the increasingly competitively vicious political atmosphere will do good for the gentleman that is him. I am taking risk in saying this because I know both of them personally and I do appreciate their opinion of me but both of them are urban Malays whom a majority of Malays are unable to relate immediately.

Ariff Sabri Aziz and Aspan Alias are the different kind of Malays. Both are, or were, UMNO members and relatively influential at that. Their participation in the DAP immediately eats into UMNO’s base by virtue of their value as insiders. Secondly, they do communicate in Malay and that is a big plus point. They are widely read and that makes their entry into DAP all the more important. I do not know much about Aspan Alias but Ariff Sabri Aziz’s former connection to no less than UMNO President Najib Razak says a lot about how big a coup this is.

Yet another point to share. Zairil and Tunku Aziz have been accused as DAP or Chinese stooges, being token Malays and all that. With the presence of more influential Malays who are unlikely satisfied to become merely passive members, together with those already in the party, one has to wonder, is that accusation valid in the first place? One has to ask, why exactly are the Malays joining the DAP?