Pakatan: Life beyond Anwar Ibrahim

Ooi Kok Hin, The Malaysian Insider

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim flirted with his smartphone throughout the Fourth Pakatan Rakyat Convention on Monday. The fact that he took the convention so nonchalantly and let others run the show is a sign of how much things have changed in the opposition camp.

Back in 1999 when DAP, PAS and Keadilan first formed a pact, the Barisan Alternatif, he was the shadowy overarching figure behind bars. Anwar Ibrahim, the man, was the glue, the purpose and the Messiah.

Anwar is so deeply intertwined with the very existence of Pakatan and its predecessor that many people couldn’t imagine how Pakatan can move together when Anwar is no longer around. However, while the former deputy prime minister is still a very influential leader, Pakatan has outgrown the man.

The Making of Anwar and Pakatan

To know how Pakatan can take on a life of its own beyond the PKR de facto leader, we have to understand why Anwar is so important at first. He’s able to play the mediator role like no other politician, and in no small part, this is due to the fact that he and Tok Guru Abdul Hadi Awang has known each other for more than 30 years since their days in Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM).

In fact Anwar was so closely associated with PAS in his youth days and him joining Umno was seen as an act of betrayal by some. But the bond they once shared was not broken, in fact resurrected in 1999.

Anwar’s relationship with PAS is a clue to understanding his political journey. He understands PAS’s ideology, its values and its history. He knows how things work according to the party’s tradition. Hence he is able to fit in and accepted by most leaders and members, discounting those who have personal feud with him or find his history in Barisan Nasional too much to swallow.

The same principle applies to his association with DAP. Anwar’s ability to churn out verses from the Quran is as good as his ability to quote Shakespeare and Edmund Burke. He’s incredibly informed about secular and democratic principles which are cherished by the DAP.

DAP’s leaders and supporters have no better representation of an ideal Muslim-Democrat than Anwar, the Newsweek’s Asian of the Year in 1998. This is no small matter in demonstrating why he’s able to fit in. He understands them and they accept him as a man who knows their tradition and values. This is someone they can trust.

That is also the main reason Anwar Ibrahim is Pakatan’s prime minister candidate as agreed by Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat, Lim Kit Siang and well, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail.

Hadi Awang is the preferred candidate by some in PAS but that’s precisely the limit of that claim. Lim Guan Eng is even more unlikely. This is something worth clarifying. It is not that a non-Malay cannot become prime minister. It is constitutionally legal as Article 43 makes no prohibition on this matter.

But the prime minister must be someone trusted not only by the majority in Parliament but also by his or her political allies from the top to grassroots level. A non-Malay or/and a female will only become prime minister when he or she gains such trust on a large scale, like Barack Obama. And of course, good governance, fluency in the national language and appreciation of Islamic values improve one’s chances.

Beyond the man

On December 2010, Anwar did not speak at the Second Pakatan Rakyat Convention. The rejuvenation process has started without many of us noticing. Anwar was planting trees under whose shadows he would not sit. It seemed that his colleagues and him agreed that it was necessary to not be over-dependent on him and hence let others take to the platform and shine.

Over the last four years, we have seen the result of such deliberate strategy through the younger batch of leaders like Rafizi Ramli, Tony Pua and Mujahid Yusof Rawa who are playing more important roles. Faces which we barely recognize years ago are now the key spokespersons for their parties.

Just like how Anwar, Hadi Awang and their cohorts first developed their association, Pakatan’s next generation leaders are having the same, in fact more opportunity to cultivate trust and bonds.

After five or more years of working together in their 30s and 40s, the crucial years in which one’s political career, they must have established at least a working, if not a much appreciated relationship. More of such cross-party collaboration, understanding and unity are catalysts for creating trust among those young leaders. Indeed there are much more dynamic cross-party interaction and cooperation in Pakatan than ever before, especially in Selangor.

At the Shah Alam Convention Centre, Rafizi, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad and M. Kulasegaran presented the coalition’s new election manifesto. Pakatan’s decision to let the next generation leaders craft and deliver the manifesto is a clever one. Indeed this is something Barisan must learn.

Celebrated football coach Jose Mourinho said, “Individuals don’t win you trophies. Teams win you trophies.”