Does the world really need politicians?

Raja Petra Kamarudin

This was what I wrote on 26 November 2001 in the Free Anwar Campaign website.

KeADILan’s true colours revealed – which is a shade of UMNO

The media had predicted fireworks in Kemaman. Many had hoped that keADILan would fall apart due to the intense infighting. Most people had expected nothing less than the worst when Parti Keadilan Nasional held its first party election last weekend in Kemaman, Terengganu. However, what came out of it instead was a delightful surprise. The members, in a demonstration of their maturity, elected a whole new team of leaders whom they felt would strengthen the party.

The media had played up the ABIM versus ex-UMNO issue to the hilt. They made it seem like there was a power struggle between two major groups in keADILan to wrest control of the party. If this were so, then how come Irene Fernandez got in as the Women’s Deputy Leader and Tian Chua as one of the three Vice Presidents when both are neither ABIM nor ex-UMNO members?

The keADILan contest was just a normal contest for party posts. All political parties in Malaysia go through it. But when the other parties see a contest it is not a big deal. For keADILan, however, it is front-page news with doomsday predictions thrown in. Maybe, as this was the party’s first internal contest, all eyes were on it to see how it manages its elections with the backdrop of a fierce fight.

It was quite apparent that the contest was between groups and not individuals as nearly every delegate was armed with a complete list (chai) of who to vote for. There may have been about three or four variations of this list but the main players would be what were perceived as the ex-UMNO group of Abdul Rahman Othman, Saifuddin Nasution, and Azmin Ali and the ABIM group of Dr Mohd Nur Manuty, Mustaffa Kamil, Anuar Tahir and Ruslan Kassim.

As in any block voting, an entire team would be voted in and the other sidelined. In this case, the perceived ex-UMNO group came in as the winner. How unhappy the ‘other side’ was at losing was demonstrated when most who lost did not attend the closing session of the AGM. It was estimated that only about 300 of the 1,004 delegates turned up, which puts to question whether there was any quorum for the closing session.

Party President Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail tried to justify the high absentee rate by explaining that many had to return to their hometowns or had to go back to work. But no amount of explaining could dispel the impression that these were sore losers who would rather boycott the remaining session of the AGM because they did not get voted in.

If this is the attitude of the losers then maybe, in the first place, it was best that they did not win. Everybody knows how to manage victory. Only the matured know how to manage defeat. And if this is a demonstration of how they manage defeat, then they are certainly not matured enough yet to lead the party.

The campaigning was another source of anxiety. Some of the campaign tactics were rather dirty and centred on character assassination. In the euphoria to win seats and defeat their rivals, some candidates would resort to anything just as long as they win in the end. It was good that these people did not win as this is certainly an unhealthy culture that should be rejected.

KeADILan preaches justice and fair-play and urges the populace to reject the corrupt Barisan Nasional and its lead partner UMNO. However, some of the keADILan leaders showed that they are no better than the BN or UMNO leaders. Why, therefore, would Malaysians need to kick out the ruling party just to replace it with a party that has the same practices and culture?

The next contest will be in March 2002 when more than 120 divisions will be up for grabs. If the recent AGM was anything to go by, expect an equally intense and filthy contest during the division elections. If this happens, this would be the beginning of the end for the party.

Many supporters are disgusted with what they saw the last month or so with reported dirty tactics a la UMNO and fistfights at MPT (supreme council) meetings. Some of the die-hards are now becoming cold towards the party and no longer want to support it. They feel keADILan has deviated from the right path and has become just another political party. Worse than that, it has become another UMNO-like party.

If keADILan wants to continue getting the support of the people, it needs to demonstrate that it is a matured and responsible party. The test would be in March next year when the campaigning for the divisional elections heats up. If the Kemaman affair is repeated, then expect many to turn their backs on the party for good.

Well, that was what I wrote on 26 November 2001 soon after keADILan’s first AGM in Kemaman. In 2002, keADILan held its second AGM at Sungai Petani in Kedah. Again, there was turmoil when more than 100 delegates who opposed the party’s merger with PRM stormed out of the meeting and held an ‘independent’ press conference condemning the party. One of the party leaders, Omar Jaafar from Melaka, a man known to be close to Anwar Ibrahim and who claims to have supported Anwar through thick and thin, stood outside the hall screaming munafik (hypocrite) like a man possessed.

Omar Jaafar is a man with a short fuse who once overturned the table during a meeting and almost punched Marina Yusoff, one of keADILan’s vice-presidents. Anyway, after ‘breaking up’ just a year earlier in Kemaman, keADILan broke up yet again during the Sungai Petani AGM.

Many of those dissidents from the Kemaman AGM in 2001 and Sungai Petani in 2002 have since faded away and have washed their hands of the party. These were the founders and movers of the party from the days of April 1999 and who have since turned their backs on the party.

Everything goes through a transformation. Nothing is static. Umno, today, is not the Umno of 1946. In fact, the Umno of 1946 literally died in 1987. MIC, when it was born, was a party more concerned with the Indian independence movement and its leaders were communists. MCA, when it was first mooted, was a grouping of Chinese businessmen that wanted to raise money to support the nationalist cause in China against the communists.

Gerakan, when first launched in 1968, was a multi-racial party that had the support of the Malay intellectuals and intelligentsia. My late father, who never joined Umno as he despised it — though Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak, Tun Dr Ismail, and many more of that time, were his buddies in England (Tunku’s English girlfriend was my late mother’s best friend) — was excited when Gerakan was formed and he supported it and voted for it in May 1969. Today, Gerakan is practically a ‘Chinese’ party and a far departure from what was intended when it was first formed.

PPP and DAP too are other examples of ‘good-ideas-gone-bad’. The former is now perceived as an Indian party and the latter, Chinese.

It is no wonder that keADILan too would go through many transformations since April 1999 to become what it is today. Those that do not change die; and PAS too is rapidly discovering it must transform as well or die. Probably, the only difference is, while those other parties take a decade or many decades to experience this change, keADILan suffers change every year and sometimes more than once a year. Sigh…..

Form follows function (FFF). That is the golden rule of architecture. We must decide on what function we wish to perform, then the form or shape must follow that. Many times in Malaysia we decide on the form first then try to fit the function in later. This is a recipe for disaster. That is putting the cart before the horse.

There must first be a need. Then, to fulfil this need, we furnish the ‘vehicle’ or ‘platform’ in the shape or form that satisfies the criteria of this need — and needs change as we go along. In 1946, the need was for merdeka (independence). So Umno, MCA and MIC teamed up to satisfy this need under the umbrella of the Alliance Party. 23 years later, by 1969, a new need emerged, the result of the May 13 race riots. And this new need was national unity, so all the parties, except DAP, teamed up under a new coalition called Barisan Nasional that effectively replaced the Alliance Party which had outlived its purpose and usefulness.

29 years on, in 1998, an even newer need emerged. And this need was change or reforms (reformasi). So the Reformasi Movement hit the country by storm. Dr Mahathir knew that the Reformasi Movement is dangerous. In Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, movements such as these brought their respective governments down. Mahathir’s government too would have been brought down if he had allowed the Reformasi Movement to flourish and grow. So he had to kill it.

But Mahathir could not kill it through use of force, however brutal this force may have been. In fact, brutal force, especially if it results in bloodshed or death, will only help the cause of the Reformasi Movement, as happened in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. He could not engage the Reformasi Movement in its arena. He would lose. He needed to get the Reformasi Movement to come fight in his arena.

So he goaded and challenged the Reformasi activists to set up a political party. He told them to get off the streets and face him in parliament. He told them to choose the ballot instead of the bullet — Pilehan raya instead of pilehan jalan raya (general elections instead of ‘the choice of the streets’). My response to Mahathir then (late 1998) was to write an article in Harakah called Malaysia does not need another political party. My argument was: opposition unity is more important than creating more political parties and I opposed turning the Reformasi Movement into a political party.

Unfortunately, however, the Reformasi activists took the bait and swallowed it; hook, line and sinker. Instead of the Reformasi Movement becoming the catalyst to unite all political parties, it itself became a political party. Mahathir was smart. He knew once the Reformasi Movement transformed into a political party, the Reformists would spend so much time politicking and fighting amongst themselves that they would no longer have any time to engage Umno or Barisan Nasional.

Well, it worked, so Mahathir is really as smart as they say he is. DAP’s greatest enemy is PAS, not MCA or Gerakan. PAS fights internally; the Old Guard against the Young Turks. DAP fights internally; the antiquated Lim clan and diehards against the younger reformist group. And so does keADILan; ex-ABIM, ex-Umno, ex-NGO, Islamists, anti-PAS, anti-DAP, Anwarists, ex-PRM, anti-merger, pro-merger, and many more. Sigh….sigh….and another sigh….And, of course, PAS, DAP and keADILan also fight with each other.

A Christian friend of mine told me a very blasphemous joke once, which goes as follows: On the first day, God created the Universe. On the second day….etc….and, on the seventh day, God rested. And when God rested the politicians took over the world and screwed it up. Blasphemous? Maybe! But certainly a reflection of fact don’t you think so?