Behaving like the master


PKR wants to make major decisions without fully consulting its partners, which could weaken its position within Pakatan Rakyat.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan, The Star

SOON after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was sacked from Government in 1998, his supporters created two organisations. One was Gerakan Keadilan Rakyat Malaysia (Malaysian People’s Justice Movement – Gerak) and the other was Pergerakan Keadilan Sosial (Social Justice Movement – Adil).

These then led to the birth of Parti Keadilan Nasional, which was launched on April 4, 1999.

The new party eventually merged with Parti Rakyat Malaysia (Malaysian People’s Party – PRM), giving birth on Aug 3, 2003, to what we know today as Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party – PKR).

Nevertheless, if we count from the actual birth of the Reformasi movement, this month is PKR’s 15th birthday.

PKR becoming a force started with Anwar Ibrahim. His sacking and subsequent impri­sonment did not weaken the party, but strengthened it instead.

If he were to go to jail again, it would be interesting to see if it has the same effect on the call for change this time.

Within 15 years, PKR has produced many young leaders.

The party does not shy away from appointing younger faces to important posts.

These young leaders are already making their mark in Malaysia’s public policy and some of them are working hard to take politics to the next level.

If you had the chance to read the book, The Spirit of Mer­deka, which was launched last Decem­ber, you will see what I mean.

The book is a collection of essays by young PKR leaders, edited by Selangor state assembly Deputy Speaker Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad and my colleague Tricia Yeoh.

The essays are wide-ranging, touching on various issues from education to the economy and the environment to healthcare.

The authors also discussed issues around federalism and decentralisation.

While many other young politicians are still stuck in the paradigm shaped by the older generation, in PKR we see a group of young aspirants eager to shape the paradigm.

This makes it a promising platform for those who want to see Malaysia reform for the better.

Not only that, PKR deputy president Azmin Ali confidently says PKR is not a “Malay-based party”.

He was reported to have said “PKR has a huge responsibility to ensure a new political culture is brought into the Malaysian political system that is comprised of various races and religions.”

That statement positions the party (or is it just Azmin?) differently from others.

After all, if PKR members want to be in a Malay-based party, then they might as well join existing and more established ethno-religious parties such as Umno or PAS.

Having said that, to me the most important strength of PKR is its ability to bring and hold together PAS and DAP in the Pakatan Rakyat coalition.

That makes PKR unique. Without PKR, I don’t know if Pakatan can survive, and without Pakatan, I doubt PKR – or DAP or PAS, for that matter – would make much progress alone either.

Pakatan presents itself as being different from the Barisan Nasional ruling coalition.

Apart from accusing Barisan of being corrupt, Pakatan regularly attacks the nature of inter-party relationships in the Barisan coalition. They accuse Barisan component parties of being too subservient to Umno, and Umno of behaving like the “master” in Barisan.

Of course there are many ways to examine this accusation against Umno, but that is not the purpose of my writing this time.

For now, what I am more interested in is the way that PKR itself behaves in the Pakatan coalition, particularly the recent “Kajang Move”.

When the Kajang state assemblyman Lee Chin Cheh resigned on Jan 27, both PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng claimed they were not aware that the move had been executed.

I wonder when PKR’s own leadership was told about the move. Were they consulted or instructed? Was the president included in the discussion?

Other PAS and DAP leaders told me they only knew about the resignation a few days earlier. But I am not sure if it was actually a discussion. It sounded like PAS and DAP were merely informed about the move, with no real room for discussion.

PKR seems to have become bigheaded.

Despite criticising Umno for acting like “big brother” in Barisan, it looks like PKR is doing the same in Pakatan, making major decisions without fully consulting its partners.

I see the Kajang Move as the first step towards the weakening of PKR in Pakatan.

It was the wrong move as it made PKR become more suspect to its coalition partners.

Unless PAS and DAP actually want to be subservient to PKR, I doubt they will continue to allow PKR to behave like a master.

Pakatan’s claim to uniqueness lies in the equality accorded to its component parties.

This coalition was formed as a marriage between equals. But, now PKR looks as if they want to don the trousers, tilt the balance and assume dominance in the marriage.

When a partner changes attitude, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the others start to contemplate divorce rather than remain in a troubled family.


Wan Saiful Wan Jan is CEO of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), Malaysia’s first think tank dedicated to promoting market-based solutions to public policy challenges. Wan Saiful writes extensively on issues that cut across the political spectrum. His ideas are much sought after at home and abroad. You can e-mail him at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @wansaiful. The views expressed here are entirely his own.