The 12th KEADILAN National Congress that ended two days ago was significantly different from the annual general assemblies of other parties. The KEADILAN National Congress lasted for only one day with short speeches and a tight schedule. The tight schedule meant there was little room for delegates to heap praises on the leadership. The one day period meant that the cost of organizing the congress was only RM150,000, which did not burden the party to the extent of having to seek donations from wealthy Arabs.
Many may not realize that PKR has a different political culture. PKR’s culture is more focused on work achievement and doing away with the practice of feudal politics which is full of celebration and protocols.
18 years ago, as a 21 year old young man working in London, I joined KEADILAN from afar. I was immediately appointed to the KEADILAN Youth EXCO (at that time) from London, eventhough I have never met the KEADILAN leaders. I joined KEADILAN from London because I believed this party dared to go against the grain and will succeed in bringing about a new political culture.
Leading Public Opinion Against “Conventional Wisdom”
The annual KEADILAN National Congress is a meeting to celebrate the diversity of Malaysia. There were Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Bidayuh, Kadazans, Muruts; even some Orang Asli. There is no single party in Malaysia that represents all races and religions like KEADILAN.
However, 18 years ago when the party was founded, public opinion (or “conventional wisdom”) at the time indicated that a multi-racial party that transcends ethnic boundaries (and not only fight for the interests of a single race) will not last long. Today, KEADILAN is the first and only party in the history of Malaysia to receive all races and have MPs/ADUNs in every state from Perlis to Sabah and Sarawak.
After the 2004 General Election (GE), KEADILAN was left with only one seat. We were ridiculed as a mosquito party that was about to be buried. Three years later when Anwar Ibrahim said the opposition could seize several states and deny BN a two-thirds majority in the 2008 general election, everyone belittled the confidence of Anwar and KEADILAN. In the 2008 general election, KEADILAN proved the conventional wisdom wrong when the opposition denied Barisan Nasional the two-thirds majority and the opposition has since successfully administered Selangor and Penang.
When Anwar Ibrahim established Pakatan Rakyat after the 2008 general election, many people were not confident that the opposition coalition could last long. They said this coalition “shared the same pillow but had different dreams”. Nevertheless, Pakatan Rakyat created history as the first opposition coalition in this country to win the popular vote against BN in a general election.
When the KEADILAN President, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail established Pakatan Harapan without the participation of PAS, public opinion at that time indicated that an opposition coalition without PAS had no hope. There were also those who criticized (including NGOs and the media friendly to the opposition) the decision of the KEADILAN President as being rash and negligent.
Today, Malaysia believes that the only opposition coalition with the potential to defeat BN is Pakatan Harapan, not Gagasan Sejahtera (anchored by PAS). Therefore, the question of who will become the next Prime Minister is only posed to Pakatan Harapan, because public confidence is placed in Pakatan Harapan (and not Gagasan Sejahtera).
I mention all this to show that for 18 years, all major decisions taken by KEADILAN was always ahead of public opinion or “conventional wisdom”, but eventually we proved to be correct. The major shift brought by KEADILAN (since 1998) always began with the belittling by the intellectuals, NGOs and media at that time, before the shift actually happened (for example: the emergence of the first multi-racial party, to the founding of the first national opposition coalition to last 3 general elections, to denying two-thirds majority of Barisan Nasional and now, potentially to defeat Barisan Nasional in the upcoming GE).
The reason for this is that KEADILAN is a reformist party – many of our ideas and views were ahead of conventional wisdom (which was shaped by the entrenched socio-political culture) because we brought ideas that challenged the current thinking at that time.
The Question of Reformist Prime Minister Candidate
The same can be said for the question of who will become the Prime Minister if Pakatan Harapan won. Our answer is clear – he is Anwar Ibrahim. Current public opinion (from the perspective of political analysts, media, NGO leaders, and commentators in news portals) deride that “KEADILAN is fooling themselves” and “KEADILAN is mad” because Anwar Ibrahim is still in prison.
Whether they realise it or not, many of the ideas that drew public support to Pakatan Harapan originated from Anwar’s fight against the one-party system of government under Barisan Nasional since 1998. Calls for the government to respect the rakyat, desire for the government to be more responsible in managing the national coffers, and disgust towards the culture of corruption that enriched the ruling elite in society – all these are ideas that sparked the reformasi movement, which grew to a large scale thanks to Anwar Ibrahim and KEADILAN.
Therefore supporting these ideas of reform means supporting Anwar Ibrahim for his determination to position the government as servants of the people, and not the other way around.
I dare to write like this because the statement in paragraph above (that support for a change of government is directly correlated with the personal support of Anwar Ibrahim by most Malaysians) has been proven correct through a survey conducted by INVOKE Malaysia for three months since February 2017.
The survey involving 18,000 voters showed that the opposition leader with the highest support level to be prime minister if Pakatan Harapan wins is Anwar Ibrahim. More importantly, Anwar Ibrahim is the only opposition political figure with the support of all races in this country, making him the only opposition political leader with the moral legitimacy to become the prime minister for all Malaysians.
The full survey will be published today. I mentioned this in advance as a reminder that the selection of Anwar Ibrahim as the top choice of Malaysians is not a matter of opinion or tastes (while I respect my fellow opposition colleagues who are entitled to their own preferences and inclinations), but it is the will of the majority of people who support Pakatan Harapan and are seeking the change advocated by Anwar Ibrahim over the past two decades.
Whilst I understand that Pakatan Harapan parties have their own potential candidates, my view is that negating the people’s will based on a political calculation that Anwar Ibrahim is in prison will marginalize the majority of Pakatan Harapan supporters.
The Royal Pardon Method Is Available, Though It May Seem Difficult
The rakyat know that the royal pardon method can be used to enable Anwar Ibrahim to be released immediately and compete in a by-election. This method has been used in compassionate cases to release criminals, let alone Anwar Ibrahim is a political prisoner who is clearly being persecuted by political enemies seeking to silence the voice of the people demanding for change.
Although the general opinion (among the middle class, political commentators, NGOs and the media) may not be favourable to this method, KEADILAN knows that when Pakatan Harapan wins the 14th general election, a senior leader can hold the post of Prime Minister (as interim prime minister) and immediately seek a royal pardon for Anwar Ibrahim.
Our friends in DAP and AMANAH have also agreed that the Opposition Leader, Dato’ Seri Dr Wan Azizah, can become interim Prime Minister (representing Anwar Ibrahim) and will immediately seek the release of Anwar Ibrahim through a royal pardon. I am confident that, within one month from the date of the GE14 victory, Anwar Ibrahim can be released this way and immediately take in a by-election, before being sworn in as Prime Minister.
Indeed, it is not a simple matter.
I have read some views that this plan was too dependent on “ifs” – if Pakatan Harapan wins, if Anwar is released, if Anwar is able to contest, if he wins the by-election, and so on. All these “if” are political decisions within the purview of the federal government that can be carried out legally and within a short period of time after Pakatan Harapan wins Putrajaya.
Prior to this, there were also some important decisions (made by KEADILAN after GE13) that did not receive some quarters’ approvals at first because they too, were reliant on “ifs”. The best example is the establishment of Pakatan Harapan and the prospects of defeating Barisan Nasional in a three-cornered fight.
Many political commentators, NGO leaders and media practitioners were doubtful of Pakatan Harapan’s survival when it was first established two years ago without the membership of PAS. I note that these same political commentators, NGO leaders and media practitioners are now trying to push Pakatan Harapan to nominate a Prime Minister candidate, when two years ago they were not even confident in Pakatan Harapan.
They do not realize that by urging KEADILAN to name a Prime Minister candidate from among leaders who are outside prison (instead of Anwar Ibrahim), they are admitting their error of rejecting the establishment of Pakatan Harapan two years ago.
The same can be said for Pakatan Harapan’s prospects of winning GE14 in a three-cornered fight.
Previously, political commentators, NGO leaders, and media practitioners were equally critical of the supposed lack of consensus in Pakatan Rakyat because of the ideological differences of the respective parties. Likewise, they disagreed with Pakatan Harapan’s strategy of forging ahead without PAS. Such commentators believe that without PAS, Pakatan Harapan cannot succeed.
Yet they do not realize that the political landscape has changed completely. In this new political scenario, it has been proven empirically that only KEADILAN will benefit in the event of a straight fight, since only KEADILAN (from among the opposition parties) will receive votes from all races, while other parties tend to be more popular with a single race.
In the event of a one-to-one contest, surveys after surveys have shown the following projected voting patterns:
1. The non-Malay voters (Chinese and Indians) will not vote for PAS. At most, PAS will only obtain about 5% of the non-Malay votes. In all the seats where non-Malay voters exceed 20%, PAS will lose in a one-to-one fight with Umno because non-Malay voters either will not vote or even switch their support to Umno to shun PAS. Of the 165 parliamentary seats in the Peninsula, more than 75% of them are seats where non-Malay voters are more than 20%.
2. Malay voters from UMNO and PAS may not necessarily vote for BERSATU or AMANAH (even in a straight fight) because they consider both parties to be splinter parties. There is a possibility that they will not come out to vote, spoil their vote, or even vote for Umno! Moreover, with the votes of the non-Malays for BERSATU and AMANAH not being at par to the votes for DAP and PKR, it can be shown (using published data) that there is not much difference for BERSATU and AMANAH in a one-to-one or three-corner fights.
If my fellow KEADILAN leaders and I were to cave in to the opinions of a few NGO leaders and compromised our principles just for the sake of building a coalition that includes PAS (for the purpose of a straight fight), the number of seats that will be won by the opposition coalition may not be very different from what we have now.
However, when it has now become more apparent that the influence of PAS in a three-corner fight is waning as voters pay more attention to political coalitions with the potential to win Putrajaya (and not just a few seats), I am certain the same vocal political commentators and NGO representatives will silently accept that reality. Furthermore, Deputy Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Zahid Hamidi, himself had admitted that a three-corner fight does not necessarily make it any easier for Umno/Barisan Nasional to win.
Without realising it, the rakyat are mentally preparing themselves for a clash between Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan. Doubts and strong criticisms that were initially the result of ‘conventional wisdom’ at that time will eventually fade into obscurity.
Avoid Taking Shortcuts
I have repeatedly appealed to the public not choose shortcuts in bringing about change. I often remind others that changing the fate of the rakyat and the country is not a game of chess between a few groups of political elites who decide in a meeting room; isolated from the rest of the rakyat.
Lasting change must involve as many ordinary citizens as possible. Therefore, our important decisions and strategic directions cannot marginalize the sentiments of the majority of rakyat who support and participate in the wave of change, even if this leads us down a road that appears to be more difficult as it is still untested.
The same applies to strategic decisions taken by KEADILAN and Pakatan Harapan.
Preparing to face a three-corner fight and defend the coalition parties of Pakatan Harapan, such as AMANAH and BERSATU, looks much harder compared to the easy route of sacrificing AMANAH, BERSATU or DAP to fulfill the demands of PAS. But that is not the will of the majority of the rakyat. Such a shortcut does not reflect the reformasi objective which is based on the principle of justice for all and zero tolerance towards corruption.
I also agree that making Anwar Ibrahim the Prime Minister through a royal pardon and a by-election after Pakatan Harapan wins is not the easiest route to take. But that is also the route that will receive the most support from Malaysians of all races, if we truly want to remove Dato’ Seri Najib from Sri Perdana.
Most importantly, Malaysians who want change need to realize we are where we are today because of the support from the many unnamed Malaysians who have helped us. Many have not held any party positions (not even the smallest position in JKKK), yet they have supported our efforts to change the Barisan Nasional government since 1998 because they know the dangers of corruption and the over-concentration of power in the hands of the few political and business elites.
That is why I pray Pakatan Harapan leaders will not disappoint the people and will avoid the temptations of corruption and powers that is now causing the demise of Umno/Barisan Nasional. I pray that Allah will grant the fortitude and determination for Pakatan Harapan leaders to not be diverted from the struggle of the people and not be defeated by the evil of corruption, abuse of power and embezzlement.
I am not perturbed if there are a few who criticize my political opinions; whether about the establishment of Pakatan Harapan, my stance towards PAS, my view that Pakatan Harapan can win in a three corner fight, or my belief that Anwar Ibrahim can become the Prime Minister through the royal pardon route.
Because (in spite of all the critics over the years) Dato’ Seri Najib himself has recently practiced shouting “Lawan Tetap Lawan” to his army of UMNO cybertroopers as though he is ready to become the opposition. Najib himself is well aware that a three-cornered fight will not be an easy ride for him.