Despite chalking up an emphatic win over BN it still too early for PR to expect a smooth ride to Putrajaya. Hence, PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz was quick to urge his members to be gracious after victory. Nik Aziz is a veteran leader who fully understood the ups and downs in politics.
His advice is apt and timely. Ironically, this newly minted coalition was literally put together by the voters whom decided they have tolerated enough of power arrogance after handing over easy mandate to BN for decades. Before the 12th general election, these parties merely collaborated for their own expediency and to enable a straight contest with BN. Due to lack of time, seats negotiations in both Sabah and Sarawak went awry and resulted in the opposition dismal performance.
For a fact that the coalition was only recently established to share governing power in several states, its electoral performance in the last two by-elections is impressive. However, it is still work-in-progress on many fronts. With the decisive victory in KT, component parties in PR should fully appreciate their intertwined destiny. The coalition need not look far. The ongoing problems plaguing BN should serve as a good lesson on the need for sincere collaboration, mutual respect and inclusiveness.
Moving forward, it is pertinent for PR to transition from being an opposition front into a real alternative. It should position itself as a government in-waiting. It is easy for both Lim Kit Siang and Anwar Ibrahim to continue harping on UMNO weaknesses and arrogance. But is time for the two influential leaders to lead the formation of alternative policies and development strategy for Malaysia.
During this challenging economic situation, these alternative policies will be able to allow Malaysians to gauge their ability to govern if given a mandate at the federal level. Like the old Chinese belief, there are opportunities in any crisis. With unemployment numbers going up, PR state governments should work together on an immediate plan to avoid an economic hard landing.
The formation of a chief ministers’ council is a move in the right direction. Next, the council must immediately arrange to meet up with the federal cabinet members for a dialogue on how to mitigate the current economic slowdown and growing unemployment. The council is encouraged to report any unwillingness on the federal government part to spike any initiative to help the economy. Over time, BN should be made aware that it is only entrusted with public funds and resources to govern the country and not the owners of these resources.
PR is a Work-In-Progress coalition, unlike BN. The latter is facing an expiry date that it must be bold enough to embark on an internal change to buy more time. However, unlike BN, the former does not have a long experience and a goodwill reservoir to boast.Despite all the weaknesses shown by the ruling coalition, BN still captures the people's nostalgia about its past achievements. This includes its contribution in getting the nation’s independence from British and the 50 years of leadership which had contributed significantly to the country’s development.
Until Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the few former prime ministers were huge respected and remembered for their contributions and both public and private demeanour. These leaders, in their words and writings, had often reminded us that this country must continue to cherish its racial and cultural diversity to be successful. Many of us who have been around the region fully acknowledged that we could have been better but we are not really as bad as we have imagined.
It would be good for PR leaders to conduct a comprehensive analysis on the weaknesses and strengths of the BN. The Sun Tzu Chinese ancient art of war posits, “to know thyself and to know thy enemy, a hundred battles and a hundred victories...” Instead of mocking its opponent, if PR desires to wrest power at the national level it should turn this victory into an opportunity to learn more about its enemy and its victory. Again the PR cannot continue to depend on the wisdom of its leaders such as PAS’ Nik Aziz to remind its leaders to be gracious. It is pertinent to institutionalise this habit.
For the moment, PR still represents change and a new hope for the people. Malaysians, like other societies, need a solid, trustworthy and responsible leadership. While it is hard for BN to accept change, PR has to embrace change as its main competitive advantage. Embracing change is not an easy thing if it is done half-heartedly. Anything done half-heartedly cannot be sustained.
Any new partnership is easy to sustain when it is on a winning streak. It is easy to become a winner but can the coalition pass a test of being a loser? The memories of the 1999 general election still haunt many observers. When the DAP was routed in the elections, it reacted by pulling out of the coalition, Barisan Alternatif. In the KT by-election, many observers had suggested that a defeat may force PAS to reconsider its association with PR. If this happened, it will expose the lack of sincerity of PR partners. Come the next general election, PAS will find its progress curtailed and its political influence shored back to the Malay heartland. Both PKR and DAP will be back to square one.
Hence, it is important for the coalition to work on the rough edges of their partnership. Like the BN, some component parties in PR have been in existence for a long time. It time for these parties to look into their own leadership succession plans and to ensure the next batch of upcoming leaders are able to defend and uphold the same political aspirations.
Dr Mahathir said one of the main reasons of UMNO defeat in KT is due to its corrupt and arrogant leaders. PR component parties should be mindful of their own “little Napoleans” and ensure the adoption of a healthy political system within their parties.
Next, PR and especially Anwar must strike a delicate balance between power and governance. The whole of 2008 after the 8th March, it was all about power through the backdoor, frontdoor and whichever way imaginable. Many Malaysians eager for a change especially those who have long endured the irresponsible rule of BN, went out of the way trying to justify possible crossovers. Never mind the intention as long as BN goes down.
It is time for PR to snap out of its own delusion and be grateful of the gains it has made from the last general election. While many want it to be successful, it must show that the coalition is in for a long haul and will not abandon ship if it loses a general election. Malaysians want political commitment and sincerity. We have entered an era of communicative politics with an advent of Internet.
Both coalitions must be prepared for talk back and greater scrutiny from the public.