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PKR rempits? Struggle for change is never perfect

I have been a follower of Dean Johns’ columns in Malaysiakini and enjoy his succinct analysis on the country’s political scene. I must however take exception to his latest piece, PKR: Parti Keadilan Rempit ? Let me first acknowledge that the concerns he raised are shared by many of our supporters.

Yes, there are pressing issues that Keadilan must address. The party and its leaders - Anwar Ibrahim included - have always been frank about our challenges and shortcomings.

It is unfortunate that Dean choses to refer to KTemoc, a partisan blogger that has been consistently anti-Anwar. He can hardly be considered an objective observer. Furthermore, while Dean unquestioningly accepts that ‘suspicions of bastardry still remain from his days as Mahathir’s deputy’ in regards to Anwar, he is silent about Zaid Ibrahim. The fact is that the latter’s record is not as liberal or flawless as some may believe.

One does not dispute that Zaid is a remarkable politician. He tried his best to rehabilitate our judiciary as a Cabinet Minister. Zaid’s books were and remain frank, thought-provoking tracts on politics and ethnicity. He very courageously decided to leave Umno to join the Opposition.

Any practising lawyer will point out however, that he played a crucial role in undermining the Bar Council during the Tun Salleh Abas affair by forming the Muslim Lawyers Association to support Dr Mahathir. He even suggested that the de facto minister of justice should be appointed as president of the Bar Council, thus undermining the independence of the legal profession.

In regards to the party elections, the 165 complaints that were lodged were primarily about the division elections. Only six complaints were about the central leadership council election in which Zaid took part. Keadilan fulfilled six out of the seven requests he made to facilitate his campaign for the deputy presidency. We unfortunately couldn’t afford his demand for transparent ballot boxes.  

Zaid’s falling behind in the elections was therefore probably not because of any supposed conspiracy or cartel but because of his rash attacks on the leadership in the press. It must also be noted that he had repeatedly absented himself from meetings and by-election campaigns in that period.

More fundamentally, Zaid simply did not strike a chord with the ordinary members, who have endured one hardship after another and don’t necessarily appreciate his attacks on party veterans like Anwar, Wan Azizah or Syed Husin Ali. Indeed, Zaid’s most vocal supporters seem to be from outside the party.

Now let us examine Anwar’s record. He tried to enact anti-corruption legislation as deputy prime minister but was blocked by Umno’s warlords. Anwar countered Mahathir and Lee Kuan Yew’s narrow thesis of “Asian Values” with a more open, humanistic Asian Renaissance. He pushed through policies aimed at fighting poverty.

Anwar ended up being sacked, beaten up and charged under spurious charges. He inspired a multiracial political movement for change and democracy. A multiracial party was formed.

For almost a decade, the party saw little success. Defying the cynics, Anwar went on to merge Keadilan with Parti Rakyat Malaysia. At a time when no mainstream Malay politician dared to, Anwar argued for the dismantling of the New Economic Policy.

With great difficulty, Anwar got PAS, DAP and Keadilan to work together in 2008 to ensure one-on-one contests with BN in Peninsular Malaysia. It was Anwar who exposed the VK Lingam video to the public. He toured the country relentlessly, covering up to five constituencies in one night during the 2008 campaign.

Of course, other factors were also in play- like the tremendous support we received from Malaysia’s civil society and the bloggers. But no one can deny that Anwar’s drive and leadership was also crucial. Let us not forget that Anwar had early on predicted that BN would lose their two-thirds majority in Parliament and up to five states, but was ignored.

It is also a fact that Keadilan’s elected representatives are the youngest and most multiracial in Malaysia’s history. If Anwar is to be blamed for the defectors, he must also be given credit for the above.  

The pact between PAS, DAP and Keadilan was formalised as Pakatan Rakyat, through the work of Anwar, Lim Kit Siang and Hadi Awang. Anwar then took the battle to Umno, by visiting Kg. Baru on the April 14t, 2008 and declaring that Pakatan Rakyat would pursue a platform of Ketuanan Rakyat as opposed to Ketuanan Melayu.

The media seems so bent on finding fault with Anwar that we rarely hear about his courage and convictions. He could easily have given up politics after his release. The party had a solitary Parliamentary seat back then and the Opposition parties were fragmented.

But his chief achievement has been strengthening the multiracial nature of Keadilan, and supporting the leader’s of PAS and DAP’s moves to the centre. Anwar could have conveniently chosen the path of Tengku Razaleigh’s Semangat ‘46 – seeking to become the ‘true Umno’ rather than a new political paradigm. But Anwar chose the more difficult path.

Things have admittedly been difficult for the Opposition since 2008. But Keadilan and Pakatan keep moving forward. People seem to forget that our alliance has been cemented by the 2009 Convention in 2009 and the Common Policy Framework. It’s true that policies alone do not win elections, but the Common Policy is PAKATAN’ sign that it means business.

Despite the federal government’s obstruction and outright sabotage, the Pakatan states can be proud of tangible results of better management, increased transparency and the introduction of specific welfare policies for the benefit of the rakyat. One wonders why Dean and Pakatan’s detractors never mention these things.

Keadilan chose to amend its constitution by introducing direct elections and lowered the age limits of the youth wing. This was a radical step, unprecedented not only in Malaysia but also Southeast Asia. This was to make our leaders accountable to the members and to reduce the incidence for money politics.

If the party wanted to pay attention to the cynics, or knowing how the media would have a field day playing up any shortcoming, then it would have been easier not to do so. But conscious on both the need for renewal in party leadership at all levels and the problematic quality of our elected representatives, Keadilan decided to go ahead with the reforms.

Zaid’s case notwithstanding, 95 percent of the elections took place without much incident. Candidates for the youth wing leadership held several debates to discuss their agendas for the party. Divisions likewise invited leadership to put forward their platforms to the members.

The party is committed to improving our electoral process and will look at ways to improve turnout and the security for the future. But simply take the mainstream media line about the supposed “mess” and dub PKR as “Parti Keadilan Rempit” is unfair.

Let me say here that we appreciate all constructive criticisms made in good faith. But we hope that our critics will also keep in mind that the struggle for change is never perfect, rarely smooth and definitely not be easy.

We need to work together to keep changing Malaysia’s  and reach Putrajaya. And if and when that happens, it will only be the end of one part of a long struggle. But voting out Umno-BN will be a good start in turning our country around. PKR and PAKATAN will do our best to be worthy of the challenge.

Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad is Keadilan’s Communication Director and Selangor State Assemblyman for Seri Setia. His articles have appeared in Malaysiakini, the Malaysian Insider and the Edge. He tweets as niknazmi