Tuesday, 28 July 2009

View the bigger picture

Brave New World (The Star)
July 9, 2009

"The recent squabbles within Pakatan Rakyat show up its deficiencies, that it still has much to learn about governance."


The importance of the last general election and the creation of Pakatan Rakyat is that it gave the hope of a viable two-party system.

For a true democracy to exist, we need a two- or multi-party system, with governments actually changing every now and then.

Thus when March 8 occurred, the thrill for me was the possibility of Malaysia getting a real and vibrant democracy.

However, for this hope to be a long-term sustainable reality, the Pakatan has a lot to do; it has to consolidate its grip. This ought to be done on three levels with three different roles to play collectively.

The first level is with regard to the state governments. The governments of Penang, Kelantan, Kedah and Selangor just have to knuckle down and work hard as the administrators. They have to prove their ability to keep things running well, and to keep their promises, too. Theirs is an administrative role.

The second level is in the hands of the MPs in Parliament. They should keep the pressure on Barisan Nasional by being more vocal in and out of Parliament, questioning decisions and pointing out wrongdoings. With their larger numbers, they can be a more powerful presence in the legislature. Theirs is a political role.

The third level is with the Pakatan coalition itself. It has to prove cohesiveness in direction, ambition and philosophy. It is understood of course that there are some differences that are insurmountable, but politics in Malaysia is nothing if not a series of compromises. What is vital is that the compromises in the Pakatan be seen to not tear it apart. This is what can be described as the role of leadership.

The past few weeks have seen the Pakatan floundering in at least two of these levels: the administrative and leadership.

With regard to the administrative issue, I believe that by and large the Pakatan state governments have been working hard. There have been successes particularly in Penang, Selangor and, prior to the change, Perak. It needs, however, to concentrate on a few matters.

One of the most important in my view is to act like the government that they are, and to portray this effectively to the people.

Concentrate on keeping election promises as well as proving that corruption will not be tolerated, and efficiency will be improved and real paradigm shifts will occur.

Small political games like taking every opportunity to throw jabs at the Barisan should not be the job of the state governments, in particular the heads of government.

The Penang Chief Minister in particular seems to have forgotten that he is the boss man now, not the hired muscle. Political street fighting should be left to the MPs, and I think they are more than able to do it. Only by acting like statesmen can the state administrations convince the people that they have it in them to govern.

The recent Kedah fiasco is also another sign of poor governance, but I disagree with Infor­mation, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, who says it is an indication that the Pakatan cannot work and that there are inherent flaws in the coalition.

The problem in Kedah arose not because the PAS government acted like PAS; it arose because it acted like Umno. The allocation of 50% of a housing project to Malays is not what the Pakatan believes in.

Why is it so difficult for PAS to stop thinking along racial lines and start thinking along the lines of economic need?

This is not merely a Pakatan ideal; it is also a PAS ideal. It was, after all, PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat himself who insisted that in Islamic eyes, there is no such thing as race.

The destruction of the state’s only pig abattoir was insensitive and contrary to the tolerant approach taken by the Kelantan PAS government. If the Kedah PAS government had acted in a way that matched the coalition’s ideals and indeed, PAS’ ideals, then these problems would not have arisen.

The Pakatan also needs to have stronger leadership. Granted that what PKR strategic director Tian Chua says is true, the Pakatan is clearly more democratic than the Barisan as it does allow for quite open disagreements.

However, there is healthy disagreement and then there is outright subversion of purpose.

I am speaking of course about PAS youth wanting to play footsie with Umno youth. These “unity discussions” are an outright disgrace on several levels.

First, the entire premise of such talks is racially based. Malay unity seems to be the primary concern, no matter what language is used by the two groups in couching the terms of their courtship.

Again, we see the race card being played when it is fundamentally against the whole ethos of the Pakatan. One has to wonder then why this game is being played.

If it is done in the hope of PAS politicians securing their future with Umno, perhaps a cushy ministerial post, then the Pakatan leadership must show the necessary toughness to stop such behaviour in its tracks.

And this must be done not in some namby-pamby way but with determination and force. Anything less reveals a lack of backbone to stand by your own ideals and principles.

There has been some good recently coming from the opposition. I like the idea of the shadow Cabinet committees. It is a step in the right direction, although I have reservations about Kulim Bandar Baru MP Zulkifli Nordin being in the Higher Education Committee.

I can’t see how a man who can disrupt a peaceful discussion organised by the Bar Council – and thus disrespecting fundamental freedoms – can be of any use in a committee dealing with higher education.

Higher education, after all, is about the dissemination and exchange of ideas. Such a person is not suited to be on this committee and one wonders then if the Pakatan pool is so small that it has to choose this person.

Be that as it may, the committee idea shows a desire to have a more cohesive approach in parliamentary opposition, and it ought to be applauded. However, the Pakatan still has a lot to do to get its house in order. It is important for us, the people, to not forget the bigger picture, and that is the need for a sustainable two-party system.

But such lofty ideals are beyond most folk. They make decisions based on what they can see; and the Pakatan had better show them something solid as administrators, politicians and leaders. It’s only got, at the most, three more years to do so.

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