It’s painful to hear Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim being ridiculed once again in the Barisan Nasional-controlled media for being “selfish” and “ambitious” by standing for the Kajang (N25) state legislative by-election.
Yet again, Anwar has to endure personal attacks and humiliation, coming even from his own supporters, all because he wishes to save the directionless and malfunctioning Pakatan Rakyat from paralysis in Selangor.
Kajang is not about Anwar’s or Azmin Ali’s ambitions. It’s about the potential failure of Pakatan Rakyat as a political alliance in the state.
The problem started in 2008 when Anwar—jubilant that Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim the corporate millionaire had agreed to join PKR—promised that Khalid would be Menteri Besar if the Pakatan captured Selangor. Anwar had previously promised Azmin the same position and credit is due to Azmin for accepting the change gracefully.
So, when Khalid became Menteri Besar, he did not take kindly to the decisions and directives made by Anwar or the party as a whole. In fact, he mostly ignored them. In my brief sojourn at PKR, I saw clearly that Khalid was “uncontrollable” from the political point of view.
One of the reasons why Datuk Salehuddin Hashim (the former Secretary-General of PKR) left in a huff in 2009 was Anwar’s inability to prevail over Khalid on key issues such as how party funds should be managed and the way Selangor could help PKR politically.
Anwar’s penchant for avoiding difficult decisions and procrastinating on important issues is the real reason for the present trouble in Selangor. Political parties that want to remain viable need adequate funds and the state must be able to provide that funding if democracy is to function.
Selangor had to find legitimate ways to channel funding to all political parties—including the Barisan Nasional—in proportion to the votes obtained at the general election. Khalid openly rebuffed this idea and Anwar didn’t have the stomach to contradict him.
Today, he wants to remove Khalid from the post but Khalid understands state politics quite well. After the 13th general election, PKR wanted Azmin appointed as Menteri Besar but the Pakatan could not agree to it. As such, it’s easy for the Sultan of Selangor to reject any request to remove Khalid if the request comes only from a single party (i.e. PKR).
Had the Pakatan Rakyat acted as a single and united political entity, then the change would have been an issue worth fighting for. It would have been a matter of the people’s democratic choice of representative government and the role the constitutional monarch plays in that choice. The people usually win such contests but the opportunity was lost.
So it is desperation with Khalid that has led Anwar to engineer the coming by-election. This move, however, will not be publicly understood unless people know about the Pakatan’s internal difficulties in Selangor.
Meanwhile, the Barisan-controlled media will go to town with Anwar’s unusual political tactics and they will probably succeed in convincing the public that Anwar is power-crazy. And truly, the outcome is unclear: Anwar might lose in Kajang; and even if he were to win, what makes anyone think the Sultan will appoint him Menteri Besar?
I suggest that it’s not too late for Anwar and other Pakatan leaders to wake up from their slumber and start acting as a single organised group. Top leaders must seek an audience with the Sultan, who will certainly not refuse them on such an important matter of state.
Leaders should provide His Highness a list of prospective candidates for Menteri Besar, and the list should not be petty and detail only PKR candidates. There are other excellent Malay-Muslim candidates in the Pakatan: Anwar and Azmin are certainly suitable, but so also are Dr Abdul Aziz Bari and Khalid Abdul Samad.
The DAP can put up Datuk Mohd Arif Sabri Abdul Aziz (better known as “Sakmongkol”). Any of these individuals will be a capable Menteri Besar. As such, leaders of the Pakatan Rakyat must start trusting one another. They must behave like an alliance in fact, not just in name. In this sense, it doesn’t really matter which party ultimately contests the Kajang by-election.
His Highness will also be required to make a stand on the matter, and any acceptable candidate will have a good chance of winning the by-election.
Anwar has sacrificed a great deal for the country but to be successful he must change his style of leadership. He must learn to trust his Pakatan Rakyat team and he must know that he cannot beat the Barisan Nasional by pandering to narrow party interests. He must galvanise the forces of change, for the rakyat will provide its support only if his intentions are clear.
The Pakatan Rakyat in Selangor must speak with one voice. It should ideally propose only one candidate for Menteri Besar and not lobby for different names from PKR as is being done now.
Unfortunately, we have come to the point where Selangor Pakatan Rakyat members must be prepared to break ranks, if necessary, in order to forge real political unity.
Neither Anwar nor the Pakatan Rakyat can survive without that unity.