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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

[2730] The Kajang farce

I am not particularly warm to the Kajang move but it had its significance. I write in the past tense because Anwar Ibrahim is not in the equation anymore after the court overturned his 2012 acquittal. I disagree with the court’s decision but that is arguably a matter of opinion. What is a fact is that the many commentaries dedicated to Kajang in the past weeks were rendered irrelevant by it. The so-called Kajang move itself has been turned into pretty much nothing but a chance at practicing soaring rhetoric.

The political maneuvering was dubbed by pro-Kajang members of Pakatan Rakyat as the road to Putrajaya. It is now a road to nowhere. Kajang now solves none of the problem the Anwar Ibrahim candidacy was supposed to solve. The balance of power remains substantively unchanged, except maybe the Selangor water deal, which pro-Kajang PKR members have received quite uncomfortably. As an outsider, it appears to me that it is all status quo all over again after all the huff and puff.

Wan Azizah, the president of PKR and the wife of Anwar Ibrahim, is now the candidate for Kajang, versus MCA’s candidate Chew Mei Fun. For Chew, it is an exercise in futility. Chew, like her party, is a spent force, sent out to be slaughtered, except perhaps to assess how unpopular MCA is.

Maybe there will be some good to someone after all. Maybe Umno can look back at Kajang sometime in the future and then demand more seats for themselves at the expense of MCA. Poor MCA but they deserve it through and through.

Wan Azizah, PKR and Pakatan Rakyat as a whole will likely win. It is hard to imagine how they would lose the by-election. PKR won the state seat with a huge majority in 2013. I think the only credible third option was Zaid Ibrahim. Not that I think he would win but he is more tolerable than almost anybody from MCA.

I have a hard time imagining Pakatan Rakyat supporters — not necessarily members — who angered by the Kajang move would vote for Barisan Nasional. Just because they— and I— are angry at Anwar Ibrahim and possibly Rafizi Ramli as the identified mastermind of the whole maneuvering, does not make Barisan Nasional more attractive as a choice. I am angry at PKR specifically, but I have not forgotten the excesses, the corruption and the arrogance of Barisan Nasional. Should I add stupidity as well?

People like me are trapped between Pakatan Rakyat”¦ and Pakatan Rakyat. So I do feel a serious sense of disenfranchisement. The world is not about me, I know, but that does not mean I like being used and taken for granted. I think that is how PKR specifically has done while making its Kajang move.

At a dinner not too long ago, a Pakatan Rakyat Member of Parliament asked me how I would vote if I was a voter in Kajang. I said I would not go out and vote. I could say that without much regret because it was a hypothetical situation. I do not get to vote in Kajang.

With the appellate court’s curiously rushed decision, Pakatan Rakyat will turn the Kajang move into a referendum against the Barisan Nasional. Wan Azizah being the wife will also mean the sympathy card is in play.

When the court decision was made that Friday, it was impossible to claim the tears she shed were for dramatic purpose. What Anwar Ibrahim is facing is nothing short of injustice. When I learned the judgment, something inside me boiled into anger.

Let us not think those who sneer at the Kajang move would like injustice done to the former deputy prime minister. An injustice remains an injustice but it does not make one wrong any better. If two wrongs make a right, then I would question our moral standards.

So, it will be a successful referendum.

But then again, every by-election is a referendum. One too many — let us not forget that other by-election in Sarawak — and it trivializes the very word, degrading the democratic practice to the level of Akademi Fantasi-American Idol. We go to great lengths to vote for nothing substantive.

That indeed is how I see the whole episode. Look it up in an English dictionary. Under the F section, there is an entry for the word ”farce.”

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 March 22 2014.

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Politics & government

[2691] Soon, Reformasi will fade

The wisdom of our age has it that young adults are more likely than not to vote against Barisan Nasional. A survey carried out by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research backs this up. In a report it published on May 3, the poll agency found out that Malaysians in their twenties and thirties preferred Pakatan Rakyat to BN by a significant margin. In contrast, support for BN was the strongest among those aged 50 or older. In a country where the median age is younger than 30 years old, that offers some hints about the political future of the country.

While that is so, nothing guarantees that wisdom will last for too long.

The generational divergence Malaysia is witnessing now has a lot to do with the political turmoil of the late 1990s. The sacking of Anwar Ibrahim as the deputy prime minister and the subsequent events that followed made a lasting impression on the minds of these young Malaysians who then were still in school, in university or new to the labor market. Whether it was about Anwar or about a larger sense of justice — that something was extremely wrong — they were moved by the event.

These Malaysians are also the largest age cohorts that Malaysia has ever seen yet. It is not merely a coincident that BN comes under intense political pressure exactly when these generations are maturing and exercising their political muscles.

Each generation has an episode which defines their political belief and partly, their worldview. Those above 50 years old now remember the old Umno and hold dearly onto those nostalgias. Future young Malaysians, those in their teenage years and even younger, will no doubt have their very own episode.

Unlike the others however, these new young Malaysians have their book wide opened and its pages unwritten yet. There has not been any big wake-me-up moment for them so far.

One thing is certain though. Time has the power to make society forget the past. The old old generation will disappear into the background, hopefully bringing with them the ghost of May 13, among others. The old new generation — the young adults of today — will have their political views at the new bedrock of Malaysian society. The new new generations will challenge the prevailing views, as youth always do all around the world.

These new young Malaysians will not remember the events of 1998 because they will never experience it. It is much like how young adults today do not remember the events of 1988 when the old Umno was disbanded and the judiciary came under assault by the Mahathir administration. It is the exact reason why many young Malaysians today are not swayed by May 13 and scaremongering opportunists who fuel their sad career on racist politics.

History books alone are insufficient to influence a whole generation so comprehensively. No matter how moving words in the archives can be, reading them in a dark library room up in the stacks or deep in the basement is a passive, cold action. Words of history may work for a minority with true appreciation of history who read heavily but for the majority, they have to be in the dizzying mist of action before the essence of the era seeps into his or her being.

So the new new generation will forget. Society will forget. Slowly but surely, the what-we-call Reformasi era will take a bow, come down off the stage and be relegated to the pages of history.

That may be a comfort to BN. It is a second chance for them in what seems to be a contest between BN the rock and PR the water.

Nevertheless, BN will have to suffer the demographics and the momentum of time for now.

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 Malaysian Insider on May 31 2013.