(This is an article on Buku Jingga that I wrote for Selangor Times)
I have spoken and written on Pakatan Rakyat’s Buku Jingga on numerous occasions lately that it feels very trite to repeat it here. When I received a request for a write up on Buku Jingga in Selangor Times, I had to think hard on what to write.
The staying power of Buku Jingga so far is a source of minor pride for the people in Pakatan Rakyat Secretariat, because it did not occur to us that it would stay in the news this long. Policy announcements are a bit of a conundrum to Pakatan Rakyat – it takes a lot of efforts and time to research and develop a new set of policies that can contrast the existing Barisan Nasional policies; yet more often than not such policy announcements come and go without much impact to the public.
There are some of us who after a while become quite wary when asked to develop “policies” for Pakatan. I joined the cogs and wheels of KEADILAN (and by extension Pakatan Rakyat) almost two years ago, armed with idealism to the teeth with the sole aim of contributing to the emergence of a two-party system in Malaysia. The ideal two-party system that comes with a complete set of shadow cabinet and distinctively different policies between one another, so that our fledgling democracy can make its leaps and bounds into the future.
I remember the early days of asking and criticising internally of the supposed policy weaknesses of Pakatan Rakyat. Sometimes I grumbled that we did not unveil new policies; sometimes I whined that we spent too much time engaging in non-productive political rhetoric. “People want to evaluate our policies” so I said over and over again to the younger set of party leaders.
Along the way, as I was given more tasks on policies within the party, I realised that the bigger challenge for Pakatan Rakyat is not really the formulation of policies. Ideas are abound, in fact too many that it takes a while to pick up the well researched ones from the not so well thought of. But we were never short of policy ideas – I guess there are many things to fix after 54-year rule of Umno/Barisan Nasional that each has his/her laundry list of what needs to be done differently.
The most difficult part of the process to promote new policies (so that the public can contrast the policies of the different parties and make informed choices, as how matured democracies are meant to function) is keeping the attention on the new policies long enough for it to be cascaded down to the public, because we operate in a media environment that is ridiculously hostile to Pakatan Rakyat.
I remember working with representatives from DAP (YB Tony Pua and YB Liew Chin Tong) and PAS (YB Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad) on Pakatan’s response to NEM. We spent weeks to produce a thick document that set out our core criticism against NEM. In the end, in spite of its unveiling in Dewan Rakyat, it only lasted in the news for a day and till this day, Pakatan Rakyat is being accused of not responding to NEM.
Given this background, after a while I became quite cynical with the middle class’ assertion that to function as a national opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat must constantly unveil its policies. I took comfort that there are enough people working on voluntary basis behind the scene who are able to focus on policies and provide the right input to the top leadership of Pakatan Rakyat. Until the media in Malaysia is liberated, too much focus on policy developments is akin to training our guns on a wrong target as elections are not won purely on the merits of policies (well, at least in Malaysia).
Buku Jingga was developed with that kind of reality check, knowing that it may not gain enough traction on the ground to last a week. But the team was quite determined to expand the Common Policy Framework into a decent policy document; as a basis for future policy discussions. Articulating the common principles spelt out in Common Policy Framework that was endorsed by Pakatan Rakyat in 2009 was important not just because it would boost up our policy credentials, it was an important test of cohesiveness between the three parties in Pakatan Rakyat.
The idea to come up with a pocket book that can be easily memorised originated from Khalid Jaafar, who along with Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, Tian Chua and Dato’ Chua Jui Meng represented KEADILAN. PAS’ representatives (Salehuddin Ayob, Dr Hatta Ramli, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad and Dr Mujahid Yusuf) vetted the text word by word and made major changes to the way the case was presented throughout the book. Anthony Loke, Tony Pua, Liew Chin Tong and Theresa Kok from DAP insisted on a summary of programs that the public will remember instantly each time they talk about Buku Jingga.
If there was one memorable achievement of Buku Jingga, it is that the process to produce Buku Jingga has become a living proof that the union of the parties in Pakatan Rakyat has long passed the stage of nascent political cooperation. The ease at which the representatives from all the parties discussed and worked towards a common solution for each issue speaks volume of the political understanding within Pakatan Rakyat.
This to me is a much bigger (and potent) achievement than the ability to present the rakyat a set of alternative policies, though Pakatan Rakyat is often accused of not spending enough efforts and time on policies. Our political enemies may try to drive a wedge and use the full media force at their disposal to break this political union, knowing full well that a united Pakatan Rakyat is the surest sign that Barisan Nasional’s reign will come to an end soon.
But the single-mindedness to undo the damage caused by Barisan Nasional’s 54-year rule has gone beyond mere political expediency. It has bound individual leaders and activists in the three parties in Pakatan Rakyat to stay on this path no matter what challenges lie ahead (this sounds corny, but I lost for words looking at the dark clouds outside ;-).
Buku Jingga is a manifestation of the political maturity in Pakatan Rakyat. The judge is still out there as to whether Buku Jingga has the staying power to capture the public’s imagination and makes a difference in the next general election, but one can only be optimistic. After all, we did not expect it to last one week in the news!