Agreeing to disagree paying off for Pakatan

"By allowing DAP and Pas to continue to beat their drums on hudud, they are given a cause to champion to their political constituents," says political consultant Khoo Kay Peng.

By Shannon Teoh, The Malaysian Insider

In the weeks following Pas's win in the Kuala Terengganu by-elections, there has hardly been a whisper about hudud or the supposed split among Indians within Pakatan Rakyat.

It appears that the gamble taken by Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to bite his tongue and sidestep those issues during the campaign has paid off.

The PKR de facto leader did not have to isolate any group of supporters by making a definite stand despite calls for him to do so.

In the end, the euphoria of victory has allowed the last embers of dissent on these matters to die out.

This has perplexed Barisan Nasional leaders, who believed that the "infighting" would have caused votes to leak from the opposition.

The governing coalition ended up losing the seat by a majority four times that which it had itself won by in the March 2008 general election.

Analysts believe that PR made gains by allowing each party the freedom to speak on issues.

"By allowing DAP and Pas to continue to beat their drums on hudud, they are given a cause to champion to their political constituents," says political consultant Khoo Kay Peng.

By conventional wisdom, such issues, when left to fester, can result in deep cracks in a coalition.

But the only conventional wisdom that Malaysian politics has had has been from BN.

PR appears to have a different idea about dealing with consensus building within a coalition.

When BN's Ketuanan Melayu or Malay supremacy achilles' heel starts to blight it, its supreme council, the highest decision-making body in the coalition, stops the rot by virtually issuing an edict on such matters.

When then Bukit Bendera Umno division chief Datuk Ahmad Ismail referred to Chinese Malaysians as "immigrants," the fierce spat between component leaders and Umno ultras saw grassroots members from both Umno and Gerakan asking for Gerakan to leave BN.

The supreme council had to step in with the final word on the matter and allowed Umno to suspend Ahmad for three years.

But while PR has an informal leadership council made up of Anwar, Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang, the body has existed in most part only to sign off on agreements designed to pledge allegiance to the coalition or on principles such as Malay rights.

Under the proposed PR charter, a presidential council made up of the top leadership of each party will be established as its highest decision-making body.

But leaders from the tripartite coalition told The Malaysian Insider that it will not operate in the same way as BN's supreme council as PR prefers to recognise different ideological stands and allow an open debate on issues to reach a consensus before implementing any policy.

"The idea to establish it is there but only to deal with major issues and not on ideals and political differences," said DAP Socialist Youth chief Anthony Loke, who is a member of the coalition's joint secretariat.

Anwar, when pressed on hudud during the Kuala Terengganu campaign trail, had maintained this line by saying: "We abide by our Constitution, but we should allow Muslims to articulate their views. I have no objections discussing it within PR."

Meanwhile, several Pas and DAP leaders such as the former's spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat and the latter's chairman Karpal Singh had voiced their opinions on the matter loudly, leading to dissent within PR supporters.

But the opposition does not see it necessary to muzzle such public disagreements.

"It takes time to reach a consensus, so we should be prepared to engage in discussion," said Khalid Samad, Pas's Shah Alam MP.

Yusmadi Yusoff, MP for Balik Pulau, added that for PKR, it was interested in real harmony not an artificial one imposed by BN.

"BN is about homogenising any dialogue and creating taboos. But in the PR setup, when Karpal or Hadi make a stand, it is based on principles and democratic convictions," he said.

In short, while both Khalid and Yusmadi agree that a BN supreme council-based mechanism would be politically expedient, it would not achieve "real reform."