Voters’ dilemma : Party man or party? 

Both men, though on opposite sides of the bench are dousing internal fires. 

Terence Fernandez, The Malay Mail

IN the span of one week recently I had the opportunity of meeting two very different politicians — each from a different camp with their own idea of what the country needs and how it can go forward.

One forgets that DAP chairman Karpal Singh is in a wheelchair, a result of an accident that put him in it seven years ago.

He was his usual firebrand self, not suffering fools and steadfast by his principles — even if it makes him unpopular in his own party or coalition (evidence of which was in his views on the hudud issue in The Malay Mail on Dec 7 and Dec 14).

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, meanwhile was calm, collected and careful, yet candid in his opinions on what ails his party and not sugar coating the enormous task he has ahead of him — to consolidate a divided Umno and a bruised BN and win the next election. He knows failure to at least replicate the results of 2008 — however bad they may seem — could well mean the end of his own political career.

Karpal, 72, is conscious of the fact that time is catching up and he has nothing to lose by saying his piece. “Principles must be consistent.

You can’t sacrifice principles for expediency!” he said as we met for a two hour chat in his office off Jalan Pudu late one Wednesday night.

Najib, 59-years-old and apart from shouldering a broken BN, also has his father’s legacy to live up to. If Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, at 83, still has a say in how the SS Malaysia steered, then Najib is just getting started as far as leading the country is concerned.

“You think I’ll let my father down?” he asks as he speaks to us late one Sunday night at his official residence in Putrajaya.

Both men, though on opposite sides of the bench are dousing internal fires. Najib is focused on getting his mandate, but to do that he needs to bring the liberals and the conservatives together. Like a trapeeze artist he walks a fine line between them as appeasing one side, could also mean falling out of favour with the other.

He also recognises that Umno and to an extent the BN’s association with corruption and condoning graft has to be dealt with head on.

Again, he is caught between the good guys who want to reform the party and purge it of the lobbyists and selfinterests groups; and those who want it to be business as usual. These are the folks who joined the party to secure contracts and obtain “surat sokong”.

Dr Mahathir recognised this greed and took the Works Ministry portfolio away from Umno and entrusted it to the MIC. His reasons were simple — anyone who holds that lucrative portfolio could evolve into a warlord of his own, dishing out Class F contracts to division heads whose votes ultimately decide the party leadership.

Both Karpal and Najib face factions out to oust them — Najib for the reasons stated above; Karpal because he is too candid for the DAP and Pakatan Rakyat’s own good.

He believes in drawing a line in the sand and not hoodwinking the electorate that all is rosy.

He even in agreement that if his coalition cannot get its act together, it should not focus on capturing the federal government, as doing so would be harmful to the nation.

But Karpal has been doing this for over four decades and he knows that his immense popularity with the electorate also means he is untouchable.

Anyone in DAP who tries to go after Karpal will face the wrath of the electorate.

The muted response from the delegates and DAP leadership each time he spews rhetoric is evident of this.

Which explains why his fears that they will be factions out to get him at the convention, was unfounded.

He came back as chairman, albeit with fewer votes. The tame congress illustrating the general attitude of DAP members — to not wash dirty linen in public and look at the bigger picture — crossing the bridge over the internal divide when the time is more opportune andconvenient.

Likewise too, the popularity of Najib — who commands over a million Twitter followers — is indicative that this time around the electorate is going for the individual, not the party — as opposed to the trend four years ago.

But as I posed this question to the prime minister (which was later amended for refinement) “Najib is a good man but he is surrounded by clowns”, also illustrates the fact that individual popularity can only go so far if those who Najib relies on to prop him up are no good or up to no good.

Just as how Karpal feels compelled to comfort non-Muslims each time PAS leaders talk enthusiastically about hudud or some overzealous enforcement officer in Kota Baru imposes Islamic values on non-Muslims; Najib too has had more than his fair share of damage control — especially getting everyone on his 1Malaysia bandwagon.

The mixed responses from those closest to him does send the message that he could be alone in this — a perception he was quick to correct. “I’m not alone. 3.2 million Umno members are with me”.

As rosy a picture as that appears to be, one knows that the prickly issue of inclusiveness is the thorn in the conservatives and those who clamour for business as usual.

And this will be the premier’s biggest challenge, although he has in his arsenal, DAP’s own difficulty in shedding its image as a Chinese and Indian party, due to the reluctance of members to vote for Malay leaders.

Hence both will be capitalising on the weaknesses from within — just as how the perceived “unholy alliance” between the strange bedfellows of DAP and PAS will be sending mixed signals to the electorate.

Make no mistake, both Najib and Karpal have the best of intentions — but as far as voters are concerned, it is impossible to distinguish the man from the party because the party may not represent the values and principles of the person representing them. And this could be our dilemma as electorates on election day.