Post-Anwar apocalypse?


Praba Ganesan, Malay Mail Online

“Pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination.” ― Carl von Clausewitz.

Anwar Ibrahim’s current predicament is cruel, unusual and reprehensible, but if the leadership he left behind in the vast space of the Pakatan Rakyat universe — his own Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) in particular — do not come up with a step-by-step big-picture approach to the next general election, then he will remain in prison for the duration of his sentence. An unfathomable limbo and perhaps the death knell for the Opposition pact in its present shape.

Neither Pakatan nor I desire that, but the first week since his imprisonment there has been scant agenda setting by the coalition or its leaders. If Anwar were sitting at this metaphoric stadium where his life’s decided by this football match, he’d not look overly enthused. A case of too many hopeful long balls into the box with only five-foot tall forwards expected to head-in a result.

Let’s examine the box-to-box action so far.

There was a lukewarm gathering in the city, a shadow of the Reformasi rallies in 1998 and more importantly weak by the standard of contemporaries like BERSIH. Other than that, on the plate are intimations another daughter would be the standard bearer for the free-Anwar movement and professions — or rather confessions — of high level political subterfuges.

Meanwhile, the hired-gun prosecutor Shafee Abdullah with “ultra-progressive” minister cum Youth leader cum truth paragon Khairy Jamaluddin are out on the road to inform an allegedly ill-informed electorate of the facts regarding the trial. Where Kansas ends and Twilight Zone meets Dr Strangelove is no more a space-time concept in Malaysia.

However, incumbency has its absolute advantages and Pakatan appears to be dancing to the pied piper’s tune.

Time to skip the jitterbug and aim true at what will free Anwar, the 14th General Election.

Permatang Pauh and Pakatan leadership

Anwar’s Permatang Pauh seat and Pakatan leadership are intertwined, but for the sake of clarity let’s dissect one and then the other.

So dispensing with the niceties, I’m not a happy scout with the roundabout way of introducing Nurul Nuha Anwar as the clear as day candidate for the Permatang Pauh parliamentary constituency. Barisan Nasional’s opaque manner of running the country which irks an increasingly informed and educated electorate, and the presentation of Nurul Nuha as the face of the campaign to free-Anwar but not expound on her candidacy for the seat adds mystery to a situation that needs less if any late plot-twisters.

The party has been assailed by BN attacks unceasingly for 17 years on one point, that there is brazen nepotism. It rattles independents, and distracts younger voters from PKR’s value proposition.

The family’s anointment nullifies any other effort to ask, what is in the best interest of the Permatang Pauh PKR support base. It adds to the veracity that one family’s interest outweighs all other considerations in the party. It helps not that Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail allows this without considering the broader responsibility of party president to the membership.

Considering the sensitivities of a party present in 14 states — one more than Umno — any measures to answer the Permatang Pauh question has to be layered and in through broader party consensus.

It has to be done also to ensure that other PKR cadres have a chance to be considered with a chance of success. Umno is already looking from within the constituency and while the results of the by-election is more straightforward if the name “Anwar” appears in the voting slip, it would have long-term effects on the party’s national cohesion.

I have nothing against Nuha, but if she wants less antagonism from the rank and file, and colleagues in Parliament then allowing herself to be processed just like any other candidate placates internal concerns. Especially since sister Nurul Izzah Anwar is the co-director of the party’s election machinery and has a large say in candidate selection.

More on this as the weeks go on, but as a commoner may I offer this insight? Having a new, young and local-raised candidate is not the worst thing for Malaysian politics. He or she might have one helluva fight in the by-election, but the symbolism for GE-14 would be massive.

Then the second complication.

I say complication because PAS and DAP are non-starters to lead Pakatan. DAP won’t want it, and PAS would but then DAP won’t stand for it. However, don’t be misguided, even if PAS or DAP bosses don’t helm Pakatan does not mean there will be a pecking order inside the coalition. The leader of the coalition’s key task is to appear larger than life and to perpetually hold the ideological splinter between PAS and DAP to a minimum.

By accident or design, this is how the position has manifested itself, and anyone in PKR assuming this position will be drained very quickly.

And the new guy’s immediate challenge would be the Sarawak state election, which might be later this year to capitalise on the situation.

#KitaLawan or Ra Ra Rasputin

The low-turnout at the free-Anwar event last weekend is a reminder to politicians. People like to be asked.

The expectation that people will just show up because of a call for action only compounds the accusations of being out of touch with the masses.

Firstly, using the official hashtag #KitaLawan (We will fight) is confrontational, hugely partisan and a turnoff to independents. Hashtag aside, there has been learning from the past — need a build-up and ending line spelt out.

People need to know what they are achieving. Humans commit when there is a goal. They recommit when previous commitments have been met with achievements, or at least outcomes that suggest to them they are empowered in the said issue. Sad but true, people get tired.

If I have to say it, I apologise for being patronising but maybe it is deserved: People like to be led through consensus and not herded through streets on demand like livestock.

You want support, organise it.

Please Mr Obama, bring me a dream

All individuals are welcome to sign any petition to the US president and ask others to join in. But I’d ask Pakatan politicians and political operatives to hesitate, for the ramifications are significant.

US foreign policy is predicated on self-interest.

Malaysia means the Straits of Malacca, Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), regional security in the Spratlys, and the larger Chinese expansion to ASEAN and even to the Indian Ocean via Myanmar. Those come first.

Plus, it is a net benefit dealing with a Malaysian regime sustaining stability (which a euphemism for pliant administration, weak trade union and pro-American business policies).

But the second part is dangerous for Opposition politicians. By openly supporting a petition to the US government rather than relying on their own strengths to affect change they emasculate themselves in the eye of fence sitters.

We the people

Pakatan has to tell the people what is the plan. If getting six persons to a Chinese New Year dinner can be challenging, getting 15 million Malaysian voters to message in the two years to the general elections has all levels of challenges with minefields abound.

There has to be a narrative, one that can be repeated. Like:

“Pakatan seeks to give Malaysians a better future and will do so when it wins the next general election. A better Malaysia includes judicial integrity and fair process, which would free Anwar Ibrahim from his current incarceration. The leader of opposition is one of the many victims of a system gone wrong. He is a visible victim, a major victim, but Pakatan is equally committed to all Malaysians, whose lives generally are below what would be expected of a well-endowed country with amazing and talented people.

We have many weaknesses and we are trying hard to overcome them. We ask the people to work with us to turn this country to a nation every Malaysian can be equally proud of.”

Right now, even for members of PAS, DAP and PKR there is a purple haze of confusion. The path to freeing Anwar is no closer if all of the leaders stumble about in the mist.

A time for Malaysian leadership. Who’s up for it?