Johor must fall in order for Pakatan to rule

I was even more upset than many within PKR itself as I believe they could and should have done much better if only they had treated their PR counterparts as allies and not as mere competitors. PKR would have done much better if a different strategy was deployed.

Dr Boo Cheng Hau, CPI

I must admit that Pakatan Rakyat (PR) Johor did not successfully deliver the desired 13th general election victories in the state to see PR itself become the new host in Putrajaya. In order to topple the ruling party, Johor has to yield and only then can PR successfully occupy the seat of federal government.

Johor is the birthplace and stronghold of Barisan Nasional’s anchor party Umno, and Johor PKR and PAS have to make enough inroads here for PR to capture Putrajaya. Nonetheless, Johor DAP should not be blamed for PR’s poor showing.

In many circumstances, we [DAP Johor] are more than willing to share resources and information to provide strategic advice. Nonetheless, in most circumstances before the last general election, much of our sincere advice and genuine information had fallen on deaf ears.

Worst of all, certain quarters in PAS and PKR were actually more inclined to believe Umno and BN’s orchestrated propaganda that DAP is a “Chinese chauvinist party” and that Malay dominance is at stake if DAP wins “too many seats”.

Let’s not hide the fact that PKR and PAS prefer to treat DAP’s slightly bigger number of seats in Johor as a threat to their dominance than accepting a new scenario where a concerted effort is need to break the Umno hegemony at all cost. Umno hegemony does not equal the people’s sovereignty .

Many of our own state and national leaders have failed to appreciate the changing trend where, in PR, it is impossible to have dominance by a single party unlike in BN where Umno is the boss. In other words, PR itself is not mentally prepared or willing to accept a new political scenario if Umno hegemony were to be broken.

Any attempt to replace Umno hegemony and dominance with another form of partisan hegemony is not only unethical but also unrealistic.

DAP would not be the government

Some conservative quarters within PR itself even believe in Umno’s propaganda that DAP is getting too strong and a threat to Malay and Islamic dominance in the country. It is most unfortunate that key opposition leaders have been taken in by the nationalistic agenda of Umno. They fell into the trap rather than trying to escape Umno’s divide-and-rule racial rhetoric.

On the other hand, DAP has long appreciated the fact that our party would not be able to form the government either at the national or state levels apart from in Penang.

Besides the previous proactive interactions between PAS, PKR and DAP at the Johor state level to simulate the possible formation of a joint state government, we were the first state to announce joint PR memorandums, joint alternative state budgets, joint manifestos and the like.

But what had gone wrong for PR before the GE13?

I was seen as the “bad guy” for open defiance but from my point of view, it was like a surgeon who was trying to resuscitate a bleeding patient on the verge of collapse. Swift and determined top-level intervention was needed to resuscitate PR Johor at the eleventh hour in order to deliver the desired results for PR to capture Putrajaya. Many within PR itself failed to appreciate this fact.

We had been dragging our feet the past two to three years due to unnecessary squabbles over the seats allocation among PR component parties. DAP Johor had a winning formula in mind for PR. We suggested that PAS give in by allowing PKR to contest more state seats in order to convince the more pragmatic Johor Malays of the feasibility of our coalition.

In return, DAP should be allowed to contest one or two more parliamentary seats. Seat allocation and a joint effort in determining credible candidates should have been carried out much earlier in order to kickstart our groundwork for GE13.

Getting a grip on ‘Change’

Politics is about good governance and bettering the lives of the people. One has also to be pragmatic to understand the pragmatic Johoreans, especially the Johor Malay Muslims.

Johor Malays may not come out openly to oppose fundamental religious viewpoints but it does not mean that they support these views. Mind you, balloting is secret anyway.

According to surveys done in two Johor parliamentary constituencies before GE13, 90 percent of Malays were generally concerned about bread-and-butter issues such as the domination of the economy by the elite ruling class, corruption, low wages as compared to the high cost of living, and so forth. The remaining 10 percent Johor Malays were those Muslims who were actually interested in religious issues.

Nonetheless, many failed to appreciate the true political repercussion of championing hudud on pragmatic Johorean Malays. The PAS usual religious rhetoric may work well in other states at certain times but it certainly works the other way around with Johoreans.

One has to accept the fact that if we cannot win the hearts of Johor Malays, it is impossible to win big enough to capture Putrajaya.

Don’t take non-Malay support for granted

When Umno realised that overtly playing with racial issues might not be so fruitful, the party outsourced its Malay ultra-nationalist image to NGOs like Perkasa & Co. Umno fighters no longer raise the keris now to display their nationalist credentials. Instead Perkasa do the job for them.

Hudud for PAS is like the keris symbolism for Umno. It is something that may work either way.

Ultra-nationalism once brought political dominance for Umno when non-Malay minorities tolerated it during the 1980s and 1990s economic booms. Now, the non-Malays tolerate the PAS Islamism for the sake of political change. It is only a transient sociopolitical phenomenon. My repeated advice is that one should not take it for granted.

Nonetheless, PAS has to convince pragmatic Malays in Johor, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang that it is a sensible political party which is concerned about social justice and fairness in wealth distribution as well as able to improve the socioeconomic wellbeing of the people.

Negotiations stalled in Johor

Perhaps ever since 2008, I have been systematically portrayed by certain quarters as “arrogant” and someone difficult to work with. This attempt to undermine my public image was done to bolster the political influence of certain fiefdoms within the PR.

Both PKR and PAS have disappointed us from the very beginning through their refusal to accept the recommendations of Johor DAP on the seat distribution between our three parties. Fact has proven that Johor DAP’s suggestions were for the benefit of the coalition. Both PKR and PAS would have won more seats if they appreciated the strategic reasons behind Johor DAP’s many suggestions.

Johor DAP was accused of trying to force three-corner fights when on the contrary, on nomination day, it was PAS and PKR who fielded their separate candidates for the Panti state seat in Johor and elsewhere across the country.

It was a bad sign of distrust as well as lack of coordination that contributed to the opposition’s defeat in Kota Damansara, Selangor and the overlap of candidates in a few other seats elsewhere.

Johor DAP had called the attention of the national leadership to the fact that five out of 11 winnable Johor parliamentary seats were in PKR hands including Batu Pahat, Muar, Ledang, Pasir Gudang and Tebrau. If we had not won most of these “winnable” seats, we would have not been able to capture Putrajaya.

Biased interpretation of a few polling streams did not help PR gain more seats in Johor either.

Did the attacks against me and Johor DAP as being anti-PKR and racist launched by our own coalition partners bring them any political advantage?

I was even more upset than many within PKR itself as I believe they could and should have done much better if only they had treated their PR counterparts as allies and not as mere competitors. PKR would have done much better if a different strategy was deployed.

Game of Democracy

Any party can make inroads in the non-traditional areas if it employs effective strategies. PAS was successful in making inroads in both rural (DUN Parit Yaani) and urban (DUN Puteri Wangsa) mixed areas. One should study the strategies employed in making these small but politically significant breakthroughs.

Controversial and divisive issues such as hudud will not only be damaging to our internal relations but it would not help PAS itself to make any inroads in southern Malay states such as Negeri Sembilan and Pahang, and especially among the Johor rural Malays. On the other hand, we just need to convince Johoreans that we are better and more sensible than the BN.

There are far more weighty issues of common concern that PR needs to address instead of hudud. Democracy is essentially an expression of what the ordinary man wants, which is not forcing religious law upon people who do not belong to the said religion.

Yes, if Pakatan wants to survive in the game of democracy, it is our duty as politicians to articulate the needs of the people. We need to go to the ground to survey what they really need, and not simply draft election strategies that are mere paperwork.

It is unfounded to say that PAS could not gain non-Malay support and DAP is only supported by the Chinese electorate. It is even more absurd to presume that PKR can win both Malays and non-Malay support without a proper political organization and structure in the state.

Drawing board for winning strategies

Johor Umno noticeably fielded two-thirds new candidates in GE13.

As one senior Umno member indicated to me, it was in response to Johor DAP’s strategy where 70% of our candidates were first-timers. Unfortunately, it was our political foe who appreciated Johor DAP’s strategy and effort more than our own allies. That bold strategy of using a large number of young blood gave Johor Umno a new lease of life.

One has to appreciate the existence of political psychology where people in general expect new blood rather than spent and stale forces in bringing about political reform. By using young Turks, Johor Umno managed to convince the Johor Malay ground that they could reform.

For PR to make more breakthroughs in Johor or even nationwide, we have to groom more young and energeticpejuang than depending on old warhorses, and prepare them earlier for the next battle.

Unlike DAP and PAS which are bogged down by historical and ideological baggage, PKR being a young party has the advantage of flexibility to model itself into a pan-Malaysian force. Yet it was PAS and DAP Johor that won mixed seats with roughly 40 percent of both Chinese and Malay electorates.

Debunking the BN race propaganda

The BN belief is that race is still a major factor.

Yet PAS state assemblymen Dr Mohd Taslim (DUN Maharani) and Dr Sheik Ibrahim Salleh (DUN Sungai Abong) won two state seats that are mixed. Both incumbents retained their seats with a bigger majority in 2013.

Another two PAS state assemblymen in the Puteri Wangsa and Parit Yaani DUNs won in urban-suburban and rural mixed areas respectively.

DAP won two non-traditional urban mixed seats Johor Jaya and Pengkalan Rinting on the back of substantial Malay support, especially among young and first-time Malay voters where certain voting streams registered Malay support as high as 60 percent and above.

Small but significant victories by PAS and DAP in the mixed seats have successfully debunked the BN propaganda. Johor’s GE13 election results overturned the prejudice that DAP is a Chinese party and PAS an Islamist party that are confined only to their own distinct communal bases.

The winning strategy for PR is to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We cannot win the federal government by blaming Pakatan allies and crediting Umno with successfully scaring rural Malays into a state of sinophobia.

PR’s lost self-confidence has to be rekindled. Our component parties must be willing to reject the Umno propaganda that Malay dominance is necessary and that this dominance is at stake should PR gain the upper hand.

The writer is Johor DAP chairman.