Thursday, November 12, 2009

An Uneasy Road to Putrajaya for Pakatan

If Pakatan Rakyat leaders are already starting to count their eggs before they hatch, they might be disappointed to find a few rotten ones in the pile, which may just rupture their Putrajaya dream.

Earlier, a Pakatan MP said that his coalition just needed another 10 percent swing in votes to the coalition to give it a simple majority at the federal level. He said Pakatan must keep up its momentum in the peninsula, while making inroads in Sabah and Sarawak.

This article intends to analyse if the swing is easier said than done. Pakatan's road to Putrajaya is not expected to be easy if the coalition intends to coattail on public sentiment alone. Like all sentiments, the negative sentiment against the BN is a moving target.

The recently concluded Bagan Pinang by-election showed us that public sentiment was very difficult to predict. It proved that personality is still a main feature in our politics.

Both Indian and Chinese voters in Bagan Pinang overlooked the cow head incident in Selangor and the tragic death of Teoh Beng Hock to vote for a popular local Umno politician.

Scandals such as the VK Lingam case, the Altantuya murder, the Teoh Beng Hock custodial death, the PKFZ do have a saturation point. Those who would vote against the BN due to these scandals had done so in the 2008 General Election.

To sustain this momentum in the peninsula, Pakatan needs to register a huge number of new voters and to work on improving their worsening public perception due to several defections, internal squabbles and a perception of their inability to find a common ground for their conflicting ideologies.

The fact that the coalition needed 20 months to formalise the coalition did not help to fight the perception that their relationship is a "marriage of convenience'.

A factional dispute in PAS between a pro-unity talk with Umno and a pro-Pakatan faction had inflicted serious damage on PAS' credibility and sincerity to help usher in a new non-racial political era in Malaysia.

The extent of the damage can only be felt in the next general election especially in states such as Kedah, Perak, Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Selangor. Selangor is most vulnerable of the four states under the Pakatan leadership.

The delay in formalising a coalition has wasted ample time for the three parties to collectively present a new political model to the voters nationwide. The reluctance of SAPP to join the coalition is a good enough indication of a lack of a new political model which can help to sustain Pakatan's momentum and to make inroads into Sabah and Sarawak.

Hence, Pakatan strategists should focus their time on the creation of a new political agenda which addresses several thorny issues such as the introduction of a post-NEP socio-economic blueprint, the status of Malaysia as an Islamic state, the improvement of race relations, the promise of full religious freedom, the sanctity of the secular federal constitution, the improvement of the education system, the independence of public institutions, the fight against corruption and others.

Poor selection of candidates

Moreover, Pakatan is not completely faultless in the scandalous power grab in Perak. They should be reminded that it was made possible only when three of its elected assemblymen and top state leaders defected to the other side.

Pakatan leaders should be held partly responsible for their poor selection of candidates. This weakness was recently exposed and repeated in Kedah, Penang and Selangor.

The fracas in the Perak state assembly should not continue until the next general election.

Pakatan had sent a clear protest message to the electorates about the illegal power grab. The voters had responded positively to the protest by giving a strong mandate to PAS' Nizar at the Bukit Gantang by-election.

In politics, the court of public perception is more important than the legal court.

Perak Pakatan may have lost several lawsuits against the BN but the losses did not translate into a loss of popularity. However, the continuation of disruption in the state assembly may eventually put off the voters who wanted to take the matter to the ballot boxes.

It is a challenge for Perak Pakatan to prove to their voters that it has a strategy to address this issue wisely, taking into consideration the well-being of all Perakians. Another serious problem which may curtail the influence of Pakatan is a lack of new talents.

Before the 2008 general election, their top leaders had the luxury of time to move around the country to headhunt good talents and to organise their grassroots support. Today, most of them are burdened with state and parliamentary duties.

The second line leaders are not yet ready to do the job to strengthen their respective party nationally. Apart from a few former BN leaders, arguably past their prime, who had joined the coalition there are not many new credible new faces.

Pakatan's networking and relationship with the non-governmental organisations and socio-political activists are waning. The number of joint Pakatan and NGO activities has dropped drastically.

The fact is the strength of these NGOs is also on the decline since a number of their top leaders had contested and won in the 2008 general election. These NGOs did not have enough time to groom and identify new leaders to take over from them.

The saving grace for Pakatan

It is difficult to tell if a mammoth demonstration such as the Bersih and Hindraf protests can be repeated in the future. It is difficult for Hindraf to rediscover its pre-March 2008 influence and ability to mobilise a large crowd.

The Kampung Buah Pala incident was a prime example. In fact, several of Hindraf's top leaders who were successfully elected in the 2008 general election are now associated more with their political parties than the movement.

Zaid Ibrahim had rightly pointed out that Sabah and Sarawak are crucial to the Pakatan's aim to capture federal power. The ability of Pakatan to build new alliances in Sabah and Sarawak will alter the uneasy power relationship between the peninsula based federal government and the states.

However, there is no indication yet that the Pakatan political culture is anything different from the BN's. Can Pakatan respect Sabah and Sarawak special rights as enshrined in the federal constitution and allow these states more autonomy in handling state matters?

Another indication that the swing of 10 percent votes to Pakatan requires hard labour is a more solid Najib administration compared Abdullah's. A number of Pakatan leaders including DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng had conceded that Najib is perceived to be more efficient than Abdullah.

The only saving grace for Pakatan which enables them to buy more time to work on their internal issues is a severe leadership crisis faced by component parties in the BN. This is going to be a headache for Najib (left) as he tries to patch up the cracks in his coalition.

Despite his effort to promote 1Malaysia as a new tagline for BN to restore its non-Malay support base, the coalition's inability to transform itself to convince Malaysians that it can lead fairly and justly amidst several issues e.g. the NEP and Malay supremacy, acute corruption, abuse of state power and manipulation of public institutions to protect its political interest and crush its opponents is evident, and a major put-off for voters who are increasingly facing a lack of a real alternative.

Although the general election is not expected until at least 2011, both coalitions are not expected to create any surprises.

The worse thing for Pakatan is that it had hit a performance high during the 2008 general election and anything less than that is seen as a regression or a step backward, while any minor step forward for the BN is seen as a positive improvement.

1 comment:

Darryl Khoo said...

I agree with u on the poor selection of candidates.
However, it cannot be denied that PR had not expected to be so successful in the 2008 GE.
Moreover, they did not have enough potential/good candidates hence u see them nominating some of their candidates just to make up the numbers. Fortunately or unfortunately, they won!
My guess is the poor selection of candidates will be a thing of the past in the next GE as more professionals r joining PR, hopefully for the right purpose.