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.

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.

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.

Politics & government

[2357] A little less conversation, a little more action please

It is easy to dismiss any grand statement made by PKR nowadays. This is not at all unreasonble, unfortunately. PKR has a reputation of boasting to either boost its members’ morale or to attain higher ground while negotiating with other parties, allies or foes alike. Its claim that there would be a change of federal government on September 16 a few year ago is the epitome of they are capable . What happened in Sarawak solidifies PKR’s dented reputation. Now, PKR Selangor is stating that it is it is confident of winning two thirds majority in the state.

Whether that confidence is grounded in reality or in the clouds, I think it is wise for them to not make any claim colored by exuberant confidence any more. Talk is cheap and a person’s reputation can only suffer so much.

For the party to be taken more seriously, it needs to repair its reputation by proving its capability, rather than talking it up only to have the balloon pricked by a pin. By doing more and talking less, perhaps the party can build up its fast depleting reservoir of credibility. PKR needs to do this quickly because the gap in its reputation is substantial.

Although PKR is becoming a laughing stock each time its leaders open up their mouth — observe their justification for their selfishness in Sarawak; while the breakthrough is encouraging, the overall result is disappointing and the denial is astonishing — this is no laughing matter for those who believe in competitive democracy.

PKR is an important component of Pakatan Rakyat. For better or for worse, it is the leader of Pakatan Rakyat. As a leader, its reputation reflects the whole pact. PKR should not abuse its reputation as it is abusing right now. That is most unfair to other members of the pact.

Furthermore, in a country with history rich of opposition coalition breakup, the solidarity of Pakatan Rakyat should not be taken for granted by PKR. An asset can become a liability. There will be a point where PKR stops becoming an asset to other members of Pakatan Rakyat.

Politics & government Society

[2288] Of ridiculously supernatural by too much

As long as there are those who believe in supernatural explanations to rationalize the completely natural world and as long as there are public choices that require collective decisions, religion will be relevant in our society. The relevance of religion, however, is not a ticket to be used with impunity in the public arena.

In The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World, author Matthew Stewart described how the religious of 17th-century Europe were anxious about the advancement of science. As the explanatory power of science grew, the room for supernatural explanation shrank. Four hundred years on, the room for the supernatural continues to shrink as we continue to understand more about the world around us. We have become more rational than ever.

Unlike in the days of old, this is an era when many assertions relating to the secular world require rational reasoning as its thrust. Many individuals no longer accept an assertion as true simply because someone invokes the name of god, or any being of similar status.

While the relevance of religion in society is not denied, it is easy to see how its relevance has been overestimated by some. That overestimation invites ridicule, especially so when the invocation of god’s name is based on self-interest.

When Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan swore on the Quran that Anwar Ibrahim violated him, it was quite clear that his purpose was to strengthen his case, regardless of the truth behind his allegation. While the truth in his case was at best uncertain, he tried to use religion to pre-empt the civil justice system. One can take comfort that the supernatural bows to rationality in the justice system for else, truth would be so cheap that it would be worthless.

A starker example involves former Selangor state assemblyman Lee Hwa Beng of the MCA. When he wrote that the Christian god commands Christians to oppose the concept of an Islamic state, he was using religion for his own political purpose. He linked the DAP with an Islamic state as promoted by PAS to cultivate the fear of Christians towards PAS so that they would vote for BN instead.

Of interest here is the use of supernatural-based rationale against another supernatural-based position. Even in the realm of the supernatural, supernatural rationale is problematic. It was so problematic that criticisms came in fast and harsh. What was supposed to be an insignificant statement on Twitter became a considerable embarrassment for Lee and he was forced to retract his statement and apologize.

Lee’s was a case where a person spoke on behalf of a god. He is, of course, not unique. Many members of PAS have taken the tone where the Islamic god wants this and that. Still, they are more or less Islamists and it is only expected of them to use religion to justify their political ambition. Nevertheless, they do struggle to justify the goal of an Islamic state while trying to widen their appeal and achieve their national ambition of wrestling Putrajaya from Barisan Nasional. Rather than appealing to supernatural reasoning, PAS has in the past tried to promote some of its ideal by stressing universal concepts like justice instead. If the 2008 general election is any indication, then secular methods are more successful than ones inspired by divine diktat.

And recently, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, president of PKR, said that her husband Anwar Ibrahim is a person granted by god to Malaysians to become our leader. As if the obvious needs pointing out, it is not hard to see how the fortune of Anwar is closely related to PKR. Maybe after criticism regarding PKR’s recent direct election, she thought that the outdated concept of divine right might justify Anwar’s position. Well, it did not work. She burnt her fingers. The wolves of Barisan Nasional pounced on her and she deserved it.

In each case, if they had resorted to the more rational path, they would have been less susceptible to ridicule. Saiful’s legal counsel could have presented convincing evidence in court. Lee could argue that an Islamic state may discriminate individuals based on creed. Wan Azizah could instead say that Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership is indispensible, for instance.

But no. They had to tickle the pink unicorn. Whether the unicorn has been entertained, we will never know. What we do know is that if they had chosen the more rational path, they would have been less susceptible to ridicule.

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 December 13 2010.