Since when did Malaysians ever vote for the Prime Minister?
The nature of the parliamentary system is such that the electorate chooses which political party (or coalition) that can best govern the country. They in turn choose who amongst their leaders to head up the executive branch i.e. to become the Prime Minister. There is no ‘direct election’ for Prime Ministership, unlike in a Presidential system. Thus, it is entirely puzzling at the examples proffered by supporters of Anwar Ibrahim’s latest move to contest in the soon-to-be-held Kajang state seat by-election. The comparison to Jacques Chirac, Lee Myung-Bak, Reccep Erdogan, Joko Widodo, among others, is totally inapt and simply strains credulity.
It is established then that the political party is the lead actor in a parliamentary system, not the individual politician. So what is the point of having Anwar Ibrahim to take over the Chief Ministership of Selangor from Khalid Ibrahim (as much as Anwar is playing it down for now)? The electorate votes for the party, not the personality that embodies it. Anwar Ibrahim is not the be-all and end-all of the Opposition
If it is about showcasing achievements of an Opposition-led state government to garner the people’s vote of confidence for the ultimate prize, Putrajaya, then replacing the Chief Minister of a well-performing state such as Selangor for no good reason is just folly. It is also not clear what Anwar Ibrahim can do to promote the success of an Opposition-led state especially in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) strongholds in the rural areas.
Two question remain:
1) How does showcasing the achievements of Selangor, Penang and Kelantan governments translate into possible victory of Pakatan Rakyat (Pakatan: People’s Alliance – the Opposition coalition) in the next general election?
2) Since the successes of the Selangor and Penang governments have been evident since 2008 but somehow did not help Pakatan to win other states in the last general election, what else is new now?
But these two questions are heavily premised on Pakatan’s eventual victory in a highly flawed and biased electoral system. Instead of replacing the Chief Minister and creating unnecessary attention to its own ineptness maybe Pakatan should find better and more effective ways to articulate the achievements of Selangor and Penang to the wider audience against the stifling restrictions on the freedom of press and speech. It does not matter who is at the helm of the Selangor state government if the stories of its success only reverberate among its supporters and fail to make a dent among non-Pakatan voters.
Respecting the electorate
There is also the eight hundred pound gorilla that still sits uneasily in the room: why did Lee Chin Cheh abruptly resign from his state seat? So far no explanation has been offered by Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). If Lee Chin Cheh had resigned with reasons that are less than dire, then it is a dereliction of his duty to serve the people who overwhelmingly voted for him in the last general election. It is a sheer betrayal of Kajang people’s trust of their representative and the political party he is a part of. It is simply impossible to claim a moral high ground when the party is engaging in the same manipulative politics as its nemesis. One is then left to choose between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. In the end the rakyat may just vote for the “evil that we know,” as opposed to the “angel we don’t know,” thus fulfilling Mahathir Mohamad’s crystal-gazing prognostication. Is this the Machiavellian “democracy” that PKR, and by extension Pakatan, envisions for Malaysia? A victory brought on by any means necessary rings hollow if the Rakyat ends up as the collateral damage.
In regards to being an effective wakil rakyat (elected member) is it advisable or even possible to simultaneously service two constituencies that differ greatly in geography, culture, socio-economic background and ethnic makeup? Is it even democratic to begin with? Being elected into office means carrying the heavy burden of rakyat’s hopes, dreams and aspirations and trying to fulfil them to the best of one’s ability. It does not give the wakil rakyat the carte blanche to treat the constituents like some meaningless pawns on the grand political chessboard to be manipulated whenever it is politically expedient.
How will Anwar Ibrahim explain this to both the constituencies of Permatang Pauh and Kajang? Simply setting up service centres in the constituency and only visiting it right before the general election does not make for an effective and trustworthy people’s representative. Plus, the job scope and focus of a member of parliament (MP) and state assemblyperson differ in many ways – one may have to deal with the burgeoning national deficit in Dewan Rakyat and the other may deal with potholes behind Pak Mat’s house in Taman Kajang Bestari. How does Anwar Ibrahim plan to reconcile them?
What wrong has Khalid done?
The whole brouhaha obviously started with the internal party bickering between Khalid Ibrahim and Azmin Ali, which somehow necessitated Anwar Ibrahim’s foray into state politics to purportedly defuse the tension.
In what ways do including Anwar Ibrahim in the state government, either as a state assemblyperson and/or Chief Minister, help quell the infightings within Selangor PKR?
More pointedly, what have Khalid Ibrahim done wrong to the people of Selangor in the past six years for him to be replaced before his term ends?
Rafizi Ramli, PKR’s MP for Pandan, states that with Anwar at the helm nobody will be able to mess with him politically because he is the head honcho but what about using his gravitas instead to prop up Khalid Ibrahim’s creaky position within and without the party and make it unassailable. If Anwar Ibrahim makes it perfectly clear to every PKR cadres, especially the ones in Azmin Ali’s camp, that he is solidly behind Khalid Ibrahim and all are required to put on a united front in support of Khalid Ibrahim, then none of this fiasco would have escalated and festered into what it is now.
Rafizi Ramli’s ‘sincere but rather opaque’ written statement regarding this issue also mentions the need to fortify Selangor against the impending BN onslaught, hell-bent on wresting back the richest state in the federation even if it literally ends up in ashes and embers.
But the reasoning begs the question: what is BN, or particularly Selangor UMNO, doing now or planning to do later that is different than what they had done in the past? Lest we forget, the Selangor UMNO launched the Selamatkan Selangor campaign right after the 2008 general election to spread misinformation, lies and slanders and concoct many nefarious plans to sabotage the Pakatan state government, including stoking the racial and religious flames. But instead, the Selangor voters returned Pakatan to the state government in the last general election with an even bigger majority. If anything, setting up Anwar Ibrahim at the top of the state government will only serve as a lightning rod for Pakatan’s detractors, as opposed to the more low profile Khalid Ibrahim.
If proof is what Pakatan needs in order to show the public that it can effectively govern on the national level, then one of the better ways is to form a shadow cabinet. This idea has been mooted many times over the years but somehow perplexedly never been taken up by the Pakatan leadership. This will demonstrate that first, the component parties within Pakatan are able to work together and agree on specific policies in response to the official ones issued by the Barisan Nasional government; and second, it exemplifies Pakatan’s readiness to govern and hit the ground running when the time finally comes.
The current uproar concerning the Allah use in Malay-language bibles is a good case in point for the need of a shadow cabinet. If there is a shadow Home Minister or a shadow Minister in-charge of Islamic affairs issuing statements on behalf of the shadow government to counter the cynical ploys of UMNO to politically exploit this issue, the crisis might not have ratcheted up to the level we are seeing now. Instead, we have contradicting and convoluting pronouncements coming out of the Pakatan camp regarding this matter. Maybe Pakatan should tackle this issue first and successfully so, as a way to show the rakyat that it is able to govern and solve problems cohesively as a coalition. This would be a remarkable accomplishment as it is comprised of partners of equal standing; unlike BN, that is overwhelmingly dominated by UMNO, hence the focus on UMNO-centric policies.
Rafizi Ramli is right. The Kajang by-election will be the game-changer but not in the manner that he thinks. It is indeed another dark chapter in Malaysian democracy, and more importantly a treacherous path in the country’s transition to a genuine two-party system. One commentator in Malaysiakini wrote that this will be Anwar Ibrahim’s Waterloo. Maybe that is what is needed to facilitate more people-centric democratic practices and allow the generation of young leaders to be unencumbered by old political culture; and for them to blossom in Malaysia.
In the meantime, it is going to be a long dark journey to Putrajaya for Pakatan with democracy taking a back seat.
Azmil Tayeb is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political and Social Change, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University.