Doubts emerging about Pakatan’s staying power

By Hawkeye, Free Malaysia Today

GEORGE TOWN: Over two years ago after the formation of Pakatan Rakyat, its leaders basked in the glory of denying the Barisan Nasional a two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat and gaining control of five states.

Its prized possessions are Penang and Selangor – the two epicentres of national economic activities.

The triangular alliance of PKR, PAS and DAP was consolidating to prepare for the so-called two-party system in the country after recovering from the pleasant surprise of the 2008 electoral outcome.

In Kedah, Pakatan had a veteran leader in Menteri Besar Azizan Abdul Razak whose initial move to cement close ties with the state ruler and reportedly hosting a luncheon for former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad saw good marks given for humility and gracious attitude.

In Penang, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng ascended to the chief minister’s throne that his father Lim Kit Siang had tried for over two decades and then, there was the emergence of fresh and young faces such as Deputy Chief Minister I Mohamed Fairus Khairuddin.

The political comeback of Bayan Baru MP Zahrain Mohd Hashim, who hails from one of the state’s pioneering political Malay families, had also strengthened a “feel-good” factor in the state.

In Perak, which has one of the country’s oldest settlements for the Malays, Indians and Chinese, there was a PAS Menteri Besar Mohamed Nizar Jamaluddin who captivated the sizeable non-Muslim communities with his ability to converse in certain Chinese dialects.

He also restored land titles to the new villages’ settlers, a populist move, which had endeared some quarters to Pakatan.

Corporate-like management

In Selangor, Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim introduced a corporate-like management of the state and proceeded to gear many of its subsidiaries into profit-making entities.

Lastly in Kelantan, Menteri Besar Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat was glorified for withstanding BN’s onslaught since 1990 and he relished the moment when he was proclaimed as an exemplary leader for the country.

However, in the next 30 months, Pakatan began to dither as developments came in at a furious pace.

In Kedah, there were defections and of late, Azizan was accused of leading a poor responsive government which became embroiled in controversy by revising upwards a Bumiputera quota for housing on certain land categories and for being slow to react to floods.

In Penang, there were defections and Fairus apparently was forced to quit both his post and his state seat for poor performance.

The state government had a tough time handling the hyper-sensitive issue of squatters, as evidenced in its confrontation with the residents in the 100-year-old Kampung Buah Pala who fought tooth and nail for eight months to avoid eviction.

Zahrain was among the defectors or technically described as someone who quit his party to become an Independent MP.

In Perak, a series of defections eventually saw Pakatan losing control of the state government to the BN despite the heroic measures by Nizar and his DAP comrades.

Blame game

In Selangor, Khalid was accused of being too “corporate-like” and his state exco members such as Ronnie Liu were subtly accused of poor management by his own DAP comrades.

There was also the sensational headline that a political aide was found dead at a Malaysian Anti- Corruption Commission (MACC) building.

In Kelantan, Nik Aziz was embroiled in a controversy surrounding his son-in-law who was appointed to head a state investment arm.

Although the PAS spiritual adviser was cleared by the MACC, damage was done as there was a perception of nepotism, fuelled by the actions of a blogger who had before played a crucial role online to trumpet the commitment of PAS in Kelantan.

In all of the above instances, Pakatan leaders’ immediate reactions were to blame BN. Initially the public believed in Pakatan’s criticisms of BN but as the months progressed, some were inclined to think it was Pakatan’s own doing.

Hence, there is now talk of a third force emerging to fight for civil liberties and justice in the country.

But what must surely be a traumatic moment for Pakatan was PKR’s party election. The bruising polls was riddled with allegations of malpractice and it culminated in the resignation of Zaid Ibrahim who was once seen as the poster boy of what Malaysia should be in the future.

Then was the Sept 16 declaration that Pakatan was ready to take over Putrajaya as Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim was allegedly behind the move to engineer a spate of defections from BN parliamentarians.

Showcasing successes

Fast forward to this coming Sunday, where 1,800 members of Pakatan will gather in Kepala Batas, Penang, for the alliance’s second national convention.

Anwar will find himself addressing more doubts than giving assurances on whether the three parties are ready to govern the country, with signs that the next general election is looming soon.

Convention director Mujahid Yusof Rawa said the gathering would be an opportunity to showcase Pakatan’s successes in the states it governs.

But the question which may persist in the minds of the participants is whether Pakatan’s successes have outweighed the problems since March, 2008.

PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution Ismail reasons that politics is, after all, an art of perception.

Giving his take on the country’s political status, Universiti Sains Malaysia’s political scientist Dr Sivamurugan Pandian reckons that Pakatan has not really delivered effectively.

Would voters move back to BN?

This remained to be seen, said Sivamurugan, adding that Pakatan’s inexperience in governance was starting to emerge.