Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders should not be too eager to mock Prime Minister Najib Razak’s recent announcements on his 100th day ‘goodies’ to the people. The announcements made by the prime minister may appear insignificant and insufficient to address the core issues faced by the country. However, the incoherent and quarrelsome PR coalition may actually make the prime minister sound good and efficient.
At best, PR’s own performance in the last fifteen months was mediocre. Apart from making some pledges to reform e.g. the introduction of a Freedom of Information Act in Selangor, the intention to hold local elections and the declaration of assets by the state executive members, a number of PR state governments’ initiatives were equally populist. Initiatives such as giving free water to households and a token allowance to the elderly will not help to eradicate poverty permanently.
None of the state governments have indicated how they are going to run their respective government differently from the previous administration. Ask any of the people who live in any of the PR run state; none of them can clearly explain the mid-term and long-term vision and direction of their new state government.
There is an apparent lack of effort from some of the PR state governments to reach out to the people. As a result, the Kedah state government had announced a revision of 30 percent Bumiputera quota for all housing projects to 50 percent. Instead of trying to help homeless Malay families to own a home, the state government’s insistence to implement the new quota would have been detrimental to the housing sector in the state. The state government obviously did not consider improving the income of these families as an option to help them to be able to afford their own house.
Some of the PR controlled state governments must be careful with their own announcements. It would be a mistake to take it for granted that the voters will continue to support the lesser of two evils. Cynically, a number of people would seriously consider selling their soul to the devil if all possible options and hope have run out.
Until and unless these new state governments can spend more time to work out a new socio-economic agenda and not keep looking to (or blaming) the federal government for (or the lack of) solutions , the initial public sense of déjà vu may soon turn into scorn and disappointment.
Unfortunately, the hostile political environment has created a barrier for both coalitions to openly discuss the options for them to cooperate and co-exist. The need to cooperate is not an option but a political responsibility to the nation and a respect for the people’s mandate.
Moreover, the current central planning economic model adopted by the BN government is outdated and sloppy. This model has created uneven regional development and unequal and unjust distribution of wealth in the country. The physical evidence is obvious that developments were concentrated around the federal capital and areas nearer to the power centre. Those living in the resource rich states such as Trengganu, Kelantan, Pahang, Sabah and Sarawak have remained poor and neglected from mainstream development.
Instead of working collectively to push for more resources and autonomy from the federal government to plan, execute and manage their own economic agenda, the PR controlled states have evolved into a mirror image of the coalition – fractious, mutually exclusive and lacking a decision making process and a dispute management system.
Most of the controversies and issues faced by the coalition were self-inflicted. Supporters of PR may argue that the open arguments between its leaders prove that the coalition is democratic enough to accommodate a divergence of views and characters. However, too many frictions may indicate that the coalition members lack self-discipline and mutual respect for one another. The recent conflicts in Kedah, Penang and Selangor exposed a lack of mutual understanding, a weak coalition partnership and a mutual distrust between the DAP, PKR and PAS.
The coalition has done poorly in measuring and managing the appropriateness, behaviour, efficiency and effectiveness of its own policy makers. When criticized, its leadership was quick to defend and protect some of their recalcitrant and non-performing leaders.
PR had demanded their rival BN to take action against their leaders for making racist and socially inappropriate remarks but failed to act on its own kind. Hence, the likes of Zulkifli Nordin will continue to make insensitive remarks. The resignations of two top leaders in Penang and Kedah and the defections of two state exco members and a deputy speaker in Perak to the BN should not be taken lightly. These are the symptoms of a more chronic disease morphing in the coalition if left untreated.
I was told that some leaders, after a short spell at the top, have become inaccessible and arrogant. The taste of power can turn a person into either a responsible leader or an egoistic elite. What PR should not emulate is the BN’s ability to alienate the civil society and the middle ground. PR’s stunning victories in the last general elections do not belong to them solely. The battle was not won on the collective strengths of PAS, PKR or DAP alone but also the collective resolve of the people to push for a real change.
Tengku Razaleigh was right to point out that we should focus on policy and not personality. This is a valuable advice for the PR coalition to take heed. It should prepare itself for an eventual leadership transition which will take place in the DAP, PKR and PAS in the next few years. These parties will suffer a great setback if they were to continue to focus on personality politics. Iconic leaders such as Anwar Ibrahim, Tok Guru Nik Aziz and stalwart Lim Kit Siang are not easily replaceable.
A complacent PR may end up seeing Najib and his coalition enjoying the last laugh.