Is Zaid Ditching the Opposition?

by Kee Thuan Chye, Malaysian Digest  

ZAID Ibrahim is bad news. He has proven he is not a party man and, worse, not a team player. Now he’s thinking of forming his own party – a move that could hurt the Opposition.

That he’s not a team player is borne out by his recent behaviour. If you join a political party, you don’t go around criticising it left, right and centre in public. That hurts the party’s image. And no matter how big your grouses are about the party for whatever reasons, you bring them up through the proper channels within the party, not by going to the media. If the party ignores you, then you resign honourably. After that, you can choose to keep your mouth shut or spill the beans about the party.

Zaid has been in politics a long time – more than 20 years in Umno – and he’s even been a minister before; he should have known that very well. But hurting the party’s image is exactly what he has been doing, especially since the PKR party elections started.

This has made him come across as someone who throws tantrums. Not only that; he told his rival for the PKR deputy presidency, Azmin Ali, to step down from the leadership. Then he went even further and asked the party’s supremo, Anwar Ibrahim, to do the same.

He said both of them were the source of the party’s problems and that they should stand aside so that the party could progress. He even offered himself as the alternative leader. This was prima donna behaviour. Some might even say, it was egotism personified.

What did he achieve by doing all these opprobrious things? He had Barisan Nasional leaders and members laughing their hearts out at the farce and feeling ecstatic that PKR was breaking apart without BN having to do a single thing against it. They are still revelling in the spectacle of the Opposition being served up to the people looking misshapen and in tatters, complete with warts and bruises.

More than ever, and especially in the wake of the two BN victories in the Batu Sapi and Galas by-elections, BN has come to feel confident that the next general election would probably be a breeze for them.

Is Zaid aware of the extent of the damage he has caused? Will he take partial responsibility at least for PKR’s – and, by extension, Pakatan Rakyat’s – drop in image and standing? Is he even aware that he has done much damage and is continuing to do it, or is his spoilt-child ego preventing him from seeing this fact?

From his interviews in the New Sunday Times and Mingguan Malaysia both published on Nov 14, it would seem the answer is no. And perhaps it’s because he doesn’t care – because he now says he may set up his own party.

He concedes on one hand that it may be just a small party, but on the other hand, he hopes that the party will encourage BN and PR to reform and transform. How could a small party perform such a major task?

He says he would be happy if his party won only one or two seats in Parliament. With that low a representation, how effective can it be? It would more likely be snuffed out by the giant coalitions. Even his declaration of wanting to be “seen as a reformist who tried to help bring maturity to the process of democracy in this country” is, in light of his recent antics, ironic.

Obviously, all of that has to do with Zaid Ibrahim the person. Including what he has just expressed in his interview with the New Sunday Times – that he would like to return to Parliament in 2012. But Malaysian politics is not all about Zaid Ibrahim, and this he has disappointingly failed to see. Given his intellectual capacity, one would have thought he was sharper than that.

Only a month and a half ago, when he gave a dinner-lecture organised by Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM), he said the next general election would be very tough, and one of the reasons for it was that the incumbent government coalition would not give up its power without doing whatever it would take to retain it. He said in view of that, not only the Opposition but the awakened public as well should be vigilant.

He said the Opposition would have to be united and work many times harder because the next general election would be many times harder to win than in 2008.

He suggested to Haris Ibrahim, prime mover of a third force comprising hand-picked individuals of impeccable integrity to contest in the next general election, to instead offer the third-force candidates to PR instead of standing on their own. From standing with PR, said Zaid, they could achieve the goal of bringing about reform more effectively.

This is a tune quite different from the one Zaid is singing now. In fact, if he were to set up his own party, he would force three-cornered fights in constituencies where his party also chooses to stand, and this could draw votes away from the Opposition. As a result, it could help BN win those constituencies.