Thursday, January 05, 2012

Pakatan Rakyat: A Coalition committed to Democratic Governance

by Terence Netto (01-04-12)

COMMENT A 19th century thinker once said that before we have learned to love, we must learn to hate.John Henry Newman’s theory of moral education that a loathing for some things is the leaven on which builds a love for more enduring matters was thrown into sharp relief by the contending stances of the chief protagonists of the battle for the Malaysian voters’ allegiance.

On the one side, the head honcho of the UMNO-BN coalition has asserted that the only thing that holds the opposition Pakatan Rakyat together is their mutual hatred of the BN. Once that aversion has reached its apogee in the removal of the BN government, its current chief Najib Razak hypothesised that Pakatan would collapse like a house of cards, its disintegration occasioned by the divergent ideologies of its components.

Yesterday (January 3), the Pakatan supremo Anwar Ibrahim floated the contrary hypothesis, to wit, the coalition he leads had arrived at the higher reaches of Newman’s moral curriculum - their love of the goals of democratic governance is the glue that would hold the group together.

In other words, mutual aversion to UMNO-BN may have brought DAP, PAS and PKR together, but that loathing has transmuted into lasting adherence to the ideals of democratic governance.

Unity government

How to vet the contending hypotheses for their truth-content? Before any such thing can be done, let’s evaluate some events that have occurred. In the last 46 months of Pakatan’s genesis, UMNO has tried to lure PAS away from its coalition partners, DAP and PKR, by talking up the need for Muslim unity.

Essentially, UMNO has appealed to the faction in PAS that is said to be partial towards the idea of a unity government composed of UMNO-BN and PAS, based on the imperative of Muslim solidarity.

These attempts by UMNO have foundered on widespread skepticism within PAS that the former is properly devout about the sanctity of Islam, a focal point of PAS’ struggle. Also, the bitter experience of PAS’ past association with UMNO in coalition governance at state (in Kelantan) and federal levels (1972-77) still weighs disconcertingly in the party’s collective memory.

Last but not least, elements within PAS enough to make a majority feel that UMNO is corrupt beyond redemption which helped elect a plurality of ‘liberals’ over ‘conservatives’ in the party’s central councils following internal polls in June last year.

These factors have combined with the plausible success of the DAP-led administration of Lim Guan Eng in Penang to render the notion of Putrajaya under Pakatan rule an increasingly attractive proposition.

All this played out against a background of steadily diminishing credibility to his adversaries’ attempts to portray Anwar Ibrahim as morally reprobate and sexually deviant. Meanwhile, Anwar met with increasing success at translating his personal travails into an indictment of the criminal justice system arrayed against him.

This success has reached a point where it is quite irrelevant, in the courtroom of public opinion, what judgment the High Court would pronounce on him in Sodomy II on January 9. Both the sex video caper - in which someone looking like him is depicted in a transaction with a sex worker - and the sodomy charges against him are like coffee that has been left on a backburner overnight: insipid and cold.

‘What if something happens to me’

Thus the High Court’s judgment will be notable, should it find him guilty, as marking a new phase in Pakatan’s evolution as a credible political force.

The coalition would be deemed to have entered this new phase if it turns out to hold firm in the way its principal architect envisions it would should anything untoward happen to him.“If I am jailed, involved in an accident or get shot, we have discussed situations one, two and three, collectively and as a group,” said Anwar to the press yesterday.

He did not stop at the ‘What if something happens to me’ scenario, but went on to dilate on the “What will likely be’ with confidence that was not merely rhetorical.

“If someone in UMNO thinks that by destroying Anwar, Pakatan will be stalled, the opposite will instead take place. We will go on, for it is the policies of Pakatan that will lead,” asserted the opposition coalition’s supremo.

Take note of Pakatan’s have apparently taken due cognisance of the scenario in which corporal harm may befall its principal leader. Put that against what Prime Minister Najib said some time ago that UMNO-BN have to defend Putrajaya with their bodies if need be and you have an idea of how high the stakes are in this struggle for the soul of the nation.

Until now one would not be far off the mark if one believed that Anwar was the principal adhesive in the opposition coalition: His charisma has held it together all the time of its existence since the last general election.

If the coalition holds fast even after the High Court decides on Anwar’s (temporary) extirpation from the political arena, the conclusion would be inescapable: Pakatan had ascended from mutual loathing for BN to mutual love for the ideals of democratic governance.

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