The trouble is, they don’t listen

I wish Zaid good luck. I agree that the opposition needs a major overhaul. But I am not sure that the existing party structures and cultures would allow him to do what he wants to do. Would PKR, DAP and PAS agree to be ‘put to sleep’ so that a true Pakatan Rakyat can emerge in its place?


Raja Petra Kamarudin

On 13 October 2009, I republished a nine-year old article called ‘Sanggang – the BA’s wakeup call’, which was first published in Harakah on 1 April 2000. Harakah is the party newspaper for PAS, the Islamic Party of Malaysia.

On 26 November 2001, I wrote an article called ‘KeADILan’s true colours revealed – which is a shade of Umno’. What I wrote then could be regarded as quite tame compared to how I normally whack. Anyway, let’s see whether what I wrote eight years ago is still relevant. You can read the piece below.

I remember having dinner with Zaid Ibrahim and a group of friends from various civil society movements some time back. At that time he was still in Umno and not yet made a minister.

I spoke to Zaid about the possibility of him leaving Umno and, together with a group of, say, 10 or 20 Malay academicians and intellectuals, joining DAP. My wife and those from the civil society movements agreed and thought it was a good idea.

“Why DAP?” he asked. “I would have thought you would ask me to join PKR.”

“Not PKR,” I replied. “DAP. PKR is a Malay-based party so you and the 10 or 20 other Malays would just be more Malays amongst so many Malays. I think you should join DAP. DAP is perceived as a Chinese party. As much as DAP tries to shed its Chinese image it is not easy. So, if a group of 10 or 20 Malay intellectuals led by you join DAP, then you might be able to help DAP change its image from a Chinese party to a more multi-racial party. In fact, we should not even be using the term ‘multi-racial party’. We should use the term ‘non-race-based party’. Multi-racial is still racial, only that it is multi-racial. Non-race-based would be more what we would like to see.”

Zaid just smiled and said nothing. Was that a yes or was that a no?

“Anyway, you don’t have to say yes or no tonight,” I added. “Sleep on it. Take a few nights to sleep on it. Then come back in a few days and say yes.”

Zaid laughed and asked what role he could play in DAP. He did not see the logic of him leading a group of 10 or 20 Malay intellectuals to join DAP other than to make up the numbers and help give DAP a more ‘Malaysian’ image.

I stressed that DAP and PAS are the more difficult of the three in the opposition coalition. PKR is sort of in the middle, balancing the two. But it is a delicate balancing act. Ultimately, PKR can’t keep playing the role of ‘fence’ or ‘barrier’ whose only function is to keep DAP and PAS from going for each other’s throats.

Granted, thus far PKR has been able to keep DAP and PAS on opposite sides of the PKR ‘fence’. But in the end we must find a solution where DAP and PAS can meet in the middle and share a common platform. For this to happen both DAP and PAS must sacrifice some ground. It can’t be either PAS’s way or DAP’s way. It has to be a compromise. And I believe if DAP can be seen as less Chinese then we can convince the PAS people that DAP is not the enemy of Islam as some may be thinking. After all, DAP too now has Malays in the party, although liberal or intellectual Malays at that.

Imagine my surprise and disappointment a few days later when it was announced that Zaid had been made a minister. When we met even Zaid did not know yet he was going to be made a minister. He too was surprised. “Sheesh,” I told my wife. “There goes our plan.”

“Never mind,” my wife replied. “Zaid will not last in Umno. When he realises that even as a minister he can’t change the Umo culture he will leave. You watch.”

“I am not so sure,” I said. “When Anwar joined Umno he too said it was to change Umno. But instead Umno changed him. The same will happen to Zaid.”

“Not Zaid,” my wife insisted. “He will get disgusted and leave. Mark my words.”

True enough, it did happen as my wife had predicted. And after he resigned we again had lunch together with a few members of the civil society movements and tried to convince Zaid to form a new party. But Zaid did not see the prospects of a new party.

“Forming a party and running it costs a lot of money,” he replied. “I am not that rich and do not have the kind of money needed to run a party.”

“I am sure there are a lot of rich Malaysians out there who want to see a truly Malaysian party, not one based on race or religion. I am confident they would support this type of party and will contribute towards it. And this party would be able to attract middle-of-the-road Malaysians who view themselves as Malaysians rather than Malays, Chinese, Indians or whatnot. There are many who do not fit in PKR, DAP or PAS and would support a party that shuns race and religion as its platform.”

“It would cost too much money and we will not be able to sustain the party. And elections also cost a lot of money. We would not have enough funds to contest the elections,” Zaid argued.

“We don’t have to contest too many seats,” I replied. “Even if is just five parliament seats and ten state seats that would be enough.”

“Still, that would come to millions,” Zaid said. “We would never be able to find the money. And PKR, DAP and PAS would never give us seats to contest. We would be viewed as a competitor and politicians do not like competition. Which party is going to sacrifice seats for us?”

I could see Zaid was not keen on the new party idea so we just ate and talked about other things after I concluded, “Okay, sleep on it anyway. I still think you should form a new party. There are many Malaysians out there who want to see the emergence of a two-party system. And we believe you can play a role in uniting the opposition so that it can become a strong opposition, even if not the ruling party. Many Malaysians still feel that Barisan Nasional should rule. But they would like to see a strong opposition to keep the ruling party in check.”

“In that case I can still join one of the three opposition parties and do the same thing. I need not form a new party to do that.”

I, of course, disagreed because I felt that the three existing parties had a different culture, which would be very difficult to change. We need a new party with no fixed culture and which could be moulded the way we want it to be.

Anyway, the lunch ended with no resolution and, to my dismay, not long after that, Zaid joined PKR. He felt we could still achieve what we wanted, a strong and united opposition, with him in PKR. I did not think so and I told him so. But I was prepared to go along with it until I am proven wrong. And I was confident that I would be proven right.

Zaid had ideas, which are not a far departure from our own, and he needed to be ‘free’ to expand on them. In PKR he would be stifled and tied down by many of the ‘bad habits’ acquired over more than ten years and which are very difficult to change.

Now, Zaid has taken six months ‘sabbatical leave’. He wants to be free to focus on the plan to register Pakatan Rakyat and turn it into a legal entity. This would involve many things, not just a certificate from the Registrar of Societies. So the six months leave would enable him to focus on the colossal job ahead of him.

I wish Zaid good luck. I agree that the opposition needs a major overhaul. But I am not sure that the existing party structures and cultures would allow him to do what he wants to do. Would PKR, DAP and PAS agree to be ‘put to sleep’ so that a true Pakatan Rakyat can emerge in its place?

Time will tell. But if PKR, DAP and PAS face the next election as an informal coalition and not as one registered party like Barisan Nasional, then the future may not look that bright.

And this is my greatest fear. Politicians talk about struggles and sacrifices. But this is the last thing they would do if it involves their own interests. They want us, the people, to struggle and sacrifice. But they themselves are not prepared to struggle and sacrifice.

And this is what makes Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat no different.


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

26 November 2001

The media had predicted fireworks in Kemaman. Many had hoped that Parti Keadilan Nasional (keADILan) would break apart due to the intense infighting. Most people had expected nothing less than the worst when keADILan 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 wrestle 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 against 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 or chai of who to vote for. There may have been about three or four variations to 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 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 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 leading partner, UMNO. However, some of the keADILan leaders demonstrated 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 party contest will be in March 2002 when the more than 120 division posts 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 over the last month or so with reports of dirty tactics a la UMNO and even fisticuffs and punch-ups at Majlis Pimpinan Tertinggi (MPT) 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.